Biedermeier

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Biedermeier

Biedermeier (bē´dərmīər), name applied, at first in a joking spirit, to a period of European culture and a style of furniture, decoration, and art originating in Germany early in the 19th cent. and especially popular there and in Austria. It is believed to have been named for the worthy, bourgeois-minded "Papa Biedermeier," a humorous character featured in a series of verses by Ludwig Eichrodt, published in Fliegende Blätter. The Biedermeier period found expression in comfortable, homelike furnishings, simple in design and inexpensive in material, fitting the requirements of the German people in a time of little wealth following the Napoleonic Wars. Although the best Biedermeier furniture was produced between 1820 and 1830, the period is regarded as extending from 1815 to 1848.

Biedermeier designs were simplified forms of the French Empire and Directoire styles and of some 18th-century English styles, and were often elegant in their utilitarian simplicity. Later pieces, however, were frequently clumsy and tasteless. At their best, cabinets and other large pieces are handsome and severe in line and surface. Chairs and sofas show curved lines, frequently graceful, but sometimes exaggerated into swellings and contortions. Light-colored native fruitwoods were typically used, with contrasting bands of black lacquer often effectively substituted for the costly ebony of Empire pieces. Painted decorations reminiscent of peasant types were common. The furniture style regained popularity in the latter part of the 20th cent. and, in its stylized simplicity, has been cited as a forerunner of art deco, Bauhaus, and other modern styles of design. In painting, the preference during the Biedermeier period was for cheerful and detailed landscapes, historical subjects, and genre scenes. Artists of the era include Moritz von Schwind, Karl Spitzweg, Franz Krüger, and Ferdinand Waldmüller.

See studies by G. Hemmelheber (1976), W. Quoika-Stanka (1987), A. Wilkie (1987), and R. Pressler (1996).

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