The Enduring Influence of Percier and Fontaine
Several years ago, architect and ICAA fellow Seth Weine observed that there were no current publications that generally covered the works of Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, the legendary French architects responsible for developing the influential neoclassical Empire, or Directoire, style of design. As Seth explained -
That seemed utterly strange to me, as Percier and Fontaine show up in just about every history of design (and certainly in every history of interior design), not to mention their famous association with Napoleon, them living in amazing and turbulent times, and their enormous – and highly visual – talent. The lack of a major book on Percier and Fontaine seemed like an enormous void in the world of architecture and design books.
So when Seth approached the ICAA’s Books Committee with a proposal to publish a new book on Percier and Fontaine, the Committee naturally agreed that a project of this kind deserved an investment. The ICAA was fortunate to then receive an immediate and generous grant from the Florence Gould Foundation, and we found the perfect partnership with the Princeton Architectural Press.
Book publishing is not always fast, and it’s not always easy, but this project was well worth the effort, and it is with great pleasure that we can now present The Complete Works of Percier and Fontaine.
This book consolidates the four volumes of work published by Percier and Fontaine, and includes over 400 pages, featuring the original French with English translations. Inside, one can find very rare, full-color plates, measured drawings and studies of Roman palaces and villas, and many other beautiful illustrations and narratives. Prefaced with a new introduction by Barry Bergdoll, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, it truly is the definitive edition of their work.
This book particularly resonates with me, as I have been enamored with Percier and Fontaine’s Empire style since visiting the Charles Percier exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center a few years ago. The opportunity to view rare drawings and spectacular objects from Percier gave me firsthand experience with the magnitude of his genius, and I have been a proponent of the Empire Style ever since.
I was again reminded of how far-reaching Percier and Fontaine’s influence was while on the recent ICAA travel tour, 18th Century Sweden: The Golden Age of Gustavian Style. Many of Sweden’s 18th and 19th century castles and manors were directly influenced by French neoclassical design, perhaps best exemplified by the Swedish royal residence, Rosendal Palace. Built in the early 19th century at the height of Empire Style’s popularity, one can clearly see the influence of Percier and Fontaine in Rosendal’s elaborate detailing and Greco Roman references.
In addition to being talented architects and designers, Percier and Fontaine were also celebrated teachers at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is my hope that a new generation of design practitioners and students will use this book to learn from the masters of Empire Style. It is truly a treasure for those who seek to study the past in order to make a better future.