Biedermeier furniture is functional, frequently blond, curvy and beautiful. It is pleasingly modern to our eyes but was never a singular design movement. Biedermeier furniture originally appeared in Austria and Germany at the conclusion of the bloody Napoleonic Wars, around 1815. Unlike overly stylized and stiff furniture made in other parts of Europe at the time, Biedermeier furniture was designed to accommodate the human form.
Furnishings clearly designed for common daily activities such as writing or sewing abound. Furniture buyers sought the Wohninsel, or the home as the family’s living island.
Early Biedermeier furnishings don’t take inspiration from the grandeur of Italian or French designs. Austrian craftsmen used local timber to reduce costs. Generous couches and chairs, tables, cabinets and chests invite owners to use and enjoy them. The Biedermeier theme is reflected in metalwork, glass, art, china/crockery and clothes of the day. Masterpiece Antiques of Linz offer a variety of fine original Biedermeier pieces, such as this Chest of Drawers (c. 1830).
Prominent Biedermeier Design
Some Biedermeier furniture designers became well-known to a wider universe of furniture buyers. Josef Dannhauser of Vienna produced beautiful examples of the early era. When he died in 1830, his factory employed more than 300 Viennese furniture craftsmen whose creations were mostly sold to middle class customers in Austria, Sweden and Scandinavia, Russia, and throughout the House of Hapsburg’s Astro-Hungarian Empire.
The quality of his work was considered so remarkable that even Austria’s Imperial Family commissioned furniture from Dannhauser.
Biedermeier is Everyman
Biedermeier isn’t the name of a famous furniture artisan and wasn’t used in the original 1815-1848 era. Later in the 19th century, a well-to-do satiric character named Weiland Gottlieb Biedermeier (c. 1850) seemed to embody the plodding or provincial “grandparents” generation that searched for innocence and contentment in a complex world. Biedermeier furniture adorned the homes of grandparents in central and northern Europe by this time.
Biedermeier actually means commonplace steward, evoking the image of the stalwart middle class citizen of the early 19th century. The Biedermeier worshipped God (Gottfried means God and peace) and contributed to local community.
Biedermeier furniture captures European post-war sentiment about living a comfortable or even pastoral life. Importantly, many members of the middle class left the rural countryside to get jobs in the cities. They longed for a simpler time.
Although the Biedermeier era isn’t considered a reflection of politics or romanticism of the time, the romantic poets such as Byron, the musicians Beethoven, Schubert, Lanner and Strauss the Elder, the novelist (Jane) Austen, and the artist Delacroix were cultural lightning rods.
Lesser known artists created landscapes of Austrian and German landscapes featuring the serenity of the natural world’s lakes, woods, forests, and mountains. The love of outdoors is evidenced indoors. The waters are always still, the mountains are not ominous, and the skies are never dark and forbidding.
Furniture designed in the Biedermeier era (usually considered from 1815 to 1848) exhibits architectural simplicity that reminds many art historians of the later Art Deco period.
It was part of everyman’s dream to make a cozy warm home as the strong center of loving family life. Peasant furniture themes, such as the heart, harp, and lyre, recall the family’s love of music in the home. Chairs and couches, originally padded with horsehair or fabric and upholstered in skin-friendly fabrics, were meant to be used and loved.
After Napoleon’s years of chaos, Europeans yearned for peace. During the Biedermeier era, central Europe’s middle class aspired to a life of culture and learning. Much of today’s prized Biedermeier era furniture was made by now-anonymous craftsman for middle-class buyers. Biedermeier actually means “commonplace steward,” evoking the image of the stalwart middle class citizen of the early 19th century.
Collectors of original Biedermeier seek genuine pieces that retain their beauty and value year after year. Biedermeier furnishings are frequently chosen by interior designers because it works well in an expansive home floor plan or in small urban spaces.
Clean Lines and Elegance
Biedermeier furniture was frequently made from light fruit woods such as pear, walnut and cherry but beautiful walnut and mahogany specimens from the early Biedermeier era are also found. Commonplace household items, including unfussy tea tables made of birch and grained ash (or popular Hungarian watered ash) are streamlined but elegant in functionality.
Biedermeier designs include life’s accessories including wood spittoons designed in Vienna.
Biedermeier furniture isn’t one-size-fits-all: both massive and delicate pieces were made to suit the original owner’s perspective of scale. Delightful contrasting maple inlay or ebony bands in many pieces recall the earlier Empire period with distinct differences.
After 1830, Biedermeier era artisans added more carving to their designs. Common motifs include swans, garlands, sphinx, dolphins, (lion) paws, and acanthus.
Biedermeier Furniture Characteristics
Biedermeier furniture removes the excess of Empire furnishings. Gilding isn’t excessive and none of the pieces make the kind of aggressive statement of later Victorian pieces. Ormolu mounts aren’t featured. Geometric shapes draw the eyes and make us wonder if later furniture designers took inspiration from Biedermeier.
Biedermeier is considered the final phase of the neoclassic furnishings design period and reflects the middle class’ desire to enjoy some of the finer things of life. Europe’s earlier repressive governments were abolished at last: the Congress of Vienna (and later assembly of the German Federation) signaled better times for the people.
Biedermeier collectors search for fine original furnishings and many believe it is prudent to develop relationships with established Austrian antique furniture dealers. They see many reproduction pieces that sometimes cost as much or more than original Biedermeier purchased from reputable dealers.
Located in Linz, Masterpiece Antiques identify, restore, and sell the highest quality collectible furnishings, including pieces from most important epochs of furniture design.
Fine antique European furniture is considered an investment by many collectors. Masterpiece Antiques takes care to collect provenance information that typically affects the value of these precious items.
Contact Masterpiece Antiques to learn more about antique Biedermeier furniture. Our Masterpiece Detective service helps clients achieve their antique furniture dreams.