When Thomas Jefferson came to Paris in 1788 to negotiate the peace treaty that established the independence of the United States, he made a close study of the works of his fellow architects.
He found there furniture made by the best-known cabinetmakers, picture frames gilded on the spot, clocks, busts (some of them from the atelier of Houdon), sumptuous wall hangings made at Lyons in the style of Philippe de la Salle, and even simple cloth printed at the Jouy manufactory near Versailles.
Jefferson gave Benjamin Latrobe the job of carrying out the plans which the French architect L'Enfant drew for Washington. He himself was one of the most elegant of the neoclassical architects, as his design for the University of Charlottesville shows. Thus a simplified Louis Seize style flourished in the United States until about 1825. Furnishings and silverware remained under English influence; on the other hand, tapestries, wallpaper and porcelain usually came from France. The French liberal émigrés, such as Talleyrand, Chateaubriand and the Marquise de la Tour du Pin, who were so warmly welcomed in America, and did much to make their style current in the years when relations with England were still strained. However, the French Empire style had little influence, and the English Regency style was de rigueur until about 1840. The Louis Seize manner became heavier in the Victorian era and then sank into pastiche-to this we owe the smaller version of the Place de la Concorde in Philadelphia, and Doris Duke's house in New York, the exact replica of a house in Bordeaux; but it remains the style of people with social pretensions, and French decorators have exported miles of Louis Seize paneling, generally stripped, to form a background for hundreds of Impressionist paintings and countless bergeres and console tables, the latter regilded for town houses or painted in monochrome for the country. The Louis Seize style, then, is the mark of good taste, while Louis Quinze can be, well, nouveau riche, for it is not so well adapted to the simplicity welcomed by the founders of the Republic.
Since the close of the 18th century, Americans celebrated in the political, literary and social worlds have come to Europe in search of luxury, refinement, and curiosities they could not find at home.
But they, in their turn, have given the Europeans lessons in common sense and simplicity: from Jefferson to Calder, from "The Fall of the House of Usher" to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." On occasion, you will find on this blog essays speculating on these exchanges.