seminar: Prof. David Garrioch (Monash) 'Innovation by foreign furniture-makers in eighteenth-century Paris'
Presentation, refreshments, discussion. All are welcome.
One of the leading sectors in the booming Paris luxury trades of the 18th century was furniture making. Within this industry, foreign immigrants played a central role. Names such as Van Risen Burgh, Criaerd, Cramer, Latz, and Oeben are inseparable from the history of French furniture, and all came from the small states to the north of France. They and others introduced innovations in style and technique, as well as creating new types of furniture. But they were part of a larger movement of workers. As Alexandre Pradère points out in his classic work on French Furniture Makers, ‘a good third of the French ébénistes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were first or second generation immigrants.’ This paper asks why immigrants were so successful in the furniture trades. It argues that explanations in terms of their technical skills, or that emphasise ways of evading guild rules, are insufficient. It suggests that there were other factors specific to this trade that made it possible for them to gain a foothold in the crowded Paris market. Once they were established, both the nature of that market and the experience of migration encouraged innovation.