Quick History: Guéridons

Quick History: Guéridons

Anna Hoffman
Feb 10, 2011

Do you have any guéridons in your home? You may without even realizing it — they answer to names like occasional tables, side tables, night tables, a dinner spot for one, or a pedestal for plants or sculptures. Let's take a look at what guéridons are and what they used to be.

Today, the word 'guéridon' describes any small round occasional table. When they were first introduced in 17th-century Europe, guéridons were typically one-legged pedestals used as stands for candles or candelabra. They would often be placed on either side of a pier table or positioned in front of mirrors so the candlelight could be reflected and multiplied in the glass (images 3 & 4).

Early guéridons were typically in the form of statues built into pedestal or column (images 1,4-5), and it was particularly fashionable to have the statues be 'blackamoors,' or Moorish slaves (image 5) (17th-century Europeans? Not politically-correct.) In fact, this convention may explain the origins of the name 'guéridon,' though sources differ on how exactly it explains it. Guéridon was the name of a Moorish slave at Louis XIV's court, so some historians believe that therefore candle-stands were termed guéridons, and retained the name even when the forms changed.

Another explanation is that around 1614 the name Guéridon appeared simultaneously in a French farce, a ballet, and a genre of popular songs, in which the character Guéridon (not a Moor, but rather a Frenchman from the provinces) was the object of light mocking by the other characters, and in one instance stood holding a torch while other characters danced around him and kissed him (the remake comes out next year.) This could be a chicken/egg question, but it seems that the first instance of 'guéridon' being used to describe the piece of furniture was in 1650, a generation after the fictional character, and a few decades before Louis XIV's Guéridon.

By the end of the 18th century, guéridons had become closer to the modern definition. They often had three legs, and could be lower and wider than the original tall candle stands of a century before (image 1). New designs reflected the late-18th-century mania for classical antiquity, with Egyptian sphinxes and delicate Roman lines replacing Baroque statues and Rococo scrolls. These tables were also designed for portability, since light and movable furniture was the fashion of the day (image 2 features a modern reproduction of some of these late 18th-century guéridons), and helped increase the versatility of the useful tables.

In the early 20th century, Braque and Picasso deconstructed a guéridon as part of their invention of Cubism (image 7). They used familiar objects, like newspapers and guitars, so as to emphasize the style over the subject of their work, so you can imagine why they opted for a ubiquitous occasional table. This year, Brad Ascalon designed the 'Lovey' table for Ligne Roset (image 8 — Aaron wrote about seeing it at Maison & Objet), itself a kind of deconstruction of the traditional pedestal table, but still unmistakably part of the guéridon lineage.

Images 1 Château de Versailles; 2 dmagazine.com; 3 The Royal Danish Collections; 4 Château de Versailles; 5 Trace Mayer Antiques; 6 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; 7 Metropolitan Museum of Art; 8 Aaron Able.

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