About Biedermeier

Louis-Seize (circa 1770-1790), Empire (1790-1815) and the early Biedermeier (1815-1830) form the three neoclassical styles of the late 18th and early 19th century AD in Europe.

Classicism (circa 1770-1830), known as Neoclassicism in English, is characterized by its classic, simple and timeless aesthetics. I rejects the pompous, overloaded furnishings of the preceding Baroque and oriented himself again to the old models of antiquity.

Triggered by the Age of Enlightenment, in which many ancient, Greek and Roman principles were rediscovered, as well as by Napoleon’s expeditions and campaigns to distant countries such as Egypt, art and architecture in Europe were shaped in a lasting way.


EMPIRE (1800-1815)

Inspired by the noble simplicity and quiet grandeur (Winckelmann) of antiquity, this influence caused forms and contours in furniture art to be reduced to basic geometric shapes and archetypes. One moved away from the large, turgid and closed sets of the Baroque and Rococo and designed small, mobile groups of furniture that belonged to one another.

The ancient styles of the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians are often grotesquely mixed up here. For example, Egyptian ornaments can be found on a secretaire’s cubus, the shape of which resembles a Greek temple.

Precious woods such as mahogany as well as bronzes, gilding and Corinthian capitals are typical.

The original motifs from ancient buildings were used as ornaments, such as acanthus leaves, laurels, garlands, egg sticks, kymata and medallions.

Nevertheless, the so-called Style Empire, which was mainly commissioned by the nobility and the upper educated middle classes, was not a residential style but a publicly representative style. In private, they set themselves up even more simply.


BIEDERMEIER (1815-1848)

The Biedermeier period can be located after the Napoleonic wars of liberation and the Congress of Vienna (1815). In its pure, classicist form, one speaks of the short period from 1815 to 1830.

In contrast to the Empire, which was created in Paris as an imperial French style, a German style spread with the Biedermeier period, which was only widespread in German-speaking countries and neighboring areas. Vienna was considered the largest center with the most carpenters.

In the architecture of classicism, Karl Friedrich von Schinkel deserves special mention, who built classicist buildings in Berlin, as well as the buildings built by King Ludwig I. in Bavaria: the Walhalla in Donaustauf near Regensburg and the Liberation Hall in Kelheim, both designed by Leo von Klenze.



Everything is simple and smooth: one no longer wants carvings or gilding (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Herrmann und Dorothea, 1797)

The essential feature of Biedermeier architecture is the elegant and simple form. Great value was also placed on quality craftsmanship. The individual pieces were mostly one-of-a-kind commissioned works.

Large, smooth surfaces with beautiful veneer patterns, often book-matched and continuous across the fronts, emphasize the natural grain of the wood.

Decorative elements recede and are subordinated to flatness. The furniture is economical but classy, the wood grain of the polished veneer is enough for decoration.

The surfaces were hand polished to high gloss with shellac (french polished) in order to obtain a clear, glassy surface that really brings out the veneer pattern and gives it an incomparable depth effect.

The simple design was often accentuated by ebonized edges and contours and the interplay of ebonized, black wood and light wood like maple. With the fabric, too, borders and keder play with color contrasts.

Due to the small dimensions of the furniture, they appear lighter and more mobile, which allows creative and variable living.

Clear forms, the focus on the front view and local woods in light, friendly tones and lively grain were on vogue. Expensive fabrics, costly appliques, exotic veneers, marble slabs, gilding and lavishly carved parts were deliberately avoided.

Unadorned simplicity and unity were the basic principles of good design in the early 19th century, and the authors of the Weimar Classics such as Goethe and Schiller also felt obliged to simplicity and plainness.

North German furniture, more oriented towards England, is usually heavier in shape and made of woods such as mahogany or birch.

South German Biedermeier furniture, more oriented towards Vienna, is lighter, simpler and made of light local fruit woods such as cherry, walnut, pear or ash. Munich Biedermeier furniture is generally built a little more strictly than Viennese products.

Significant joinery companies of his time included Joseph Danhauser in Vienna and the court joinery Daniel in Munich.

Some of the carpenters were known, but the majority remained anonymous.

Biedermeier is only spoken of in German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, mainly in Germany, Austria and Denmark. The period 1815-1848 is known as the Regency in England and the Restoration in France.


BIEDERMEIER – A bourgeois style?

The restoration of the aristocratic rule of German princes, which began after the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), as it had been before Napoleon’s European campaigns, led to large sections of the population falling into poverty as a result of an economic depression. The bourgeoisie in the cities withdrew into their private lives (so-called inner emigration) and only a small part of the population was part of the ideal world of Biedermeier.

The princely style of the Empire with its expensive materials was no longer compatible with the bourgeois way of thinking and the surrounding poverty from 1815 and led to a move away from representative, monumental ceremonial furniture towards simple, unadorned, more contemporary furniture.

At the same time, however, there were also some constructive innovations that benefited the art of furniture. The dissolution of the guild system meant that furniture concepts could not only be created at noble courts, as was previously the case, but also by the freedom of trade of the independent master carpenters on an entrepreneurial basis.

The new epoch of style begins with a longing for a new attitude towards life and artistic expression. The furniture is given a new function: not for representation, but as a means of comfortable living within the family.

At that time, the nobility and the upper bourgeoisie cultivated an elegant modesty shaped by the Enlightenment, which should also be reflected in their private rooms.

Their establishment of the so-called “urban” Biedermeier furniture in metropolises such as Vienna, Munich, Berlin or Copenhagen mainly drove the pure classicist (neoclassical) style of the early Biedermeier up to 1830.

At that time, furnishing a room in cherry wood cost about 200 Gulden, which corresponded to the annual salary of a normal civil servant or craftsman. The expensive veneered furniture was therefore not affordable for average earners and most bourgeois circles.

Those who could afford it afforded new furnishings in the style of the new modesty. This new humble aesthetic developed in Germany around 1798-1804 and came to fruition in designs from around 1818-1830. (Ottomeyer, 2006, p. 52).

Although research often regards Biedermeier as a bourgeois style, it later turned out that this was not the case and Biedermeier furniture found its origins in the upper classes.

The furniture and interiors of the Biedermeier period may arise from our ideas of bourgeois values, but their forms and divisions result from the change in values of the aristocratic world, which from the end of the 18th century also gave up the original unity of public and private spheres and two developed separate ways of life. (Ottomeyer, 2006, p. 62)

After 1827 the style of objectivity increasingly disappeared. After the Vormärz from 1830 until the German Revolution in 1848, one speaks of the late Biedermeier period, in which new techniques were already being used and the style became more playful, ornamented and curvy again. 

Later, after 1848, furniture was also built in the Biedermeier style (so-called “second Biedermeier”), sometimes already using industrial methods like veneer cutting machines. Original of the period Biedermeier furniture has already been restored for the first time and often covered with what was later referred to as “Biedermeier fabric”, although it did not correspond to the original period. Bentwood furniture by Michael Thonet was also added at the end of the Biedermeier era when he moved to Vienna in 1842.

Only after this period, when in the course of the Vienna Secession around 1900 people were looking for a pure, practical style that had emerged from the artistic world, was the epoch referred to as Biedermeier as such.



In 1848, two poems by Josef Victor von Scheffel entitled “Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit” and “Bummelmaier’s complaint” were published in the Munich “Flying Leaves”.

Later, Ludwig Eichrodt, together with Adolf Kußmaul, combined the names Biedermann and Bummelmaier into the good-natured but bourgeois fictional character “. Starting in 1855, they published various poems under his pseudonym in the same newspaper, some of which satirized the poet Samuel Friedrich Sauter and caricatured the past as comfortable conservativeness.

The name “Biedermaier” was changed to “Biedermeier” from 1869 and thus gave the era between 1818 and 1848 its name. After 1900, the term Biedermeier, which initially had negative connotations, was understood to be more value-neutral and describes the middle-class

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