Acquired by the Art Institute 1927, the Percier and Fontaine Collection spans the career of Pierre-Francois-Léonard Fontaine and encompasses his own published and unpublished works as well as architectural treatises of his predecessors and several of his successors. An architect, interior designer, and decorative artist, Fontaine and his partner, Charles Percier, are best remembered as the official architects for Napoleon. As such, Percier and Fontaine—usually referred to as a pair—were key proponents of the Empire style in France in the early 19th century.
Percier and Fontaine helped craft the visual imagery and iconography that would define Napoleon’s reign, a project they pursued along with Vivant Denon, the director of the imperial museums, and the painter Jacques-Louis David. The Napoleonic regime had to navigate the thorny task of co-opting the symbols of the revolution while incorporating the traditional trappings of the French monarchy. The Empire style, with its mixture of aesthetic programs and influences, created a complex visual language that was well suited to the propaganda of the Napoleonic Empire. Empire style is ensconced under the larger category of Neoclassicism and can be characterized as an amalgam of Greek models (sometimes called Etruscan), imperial Roman imagery, Gothic elements, forms from the Italian and French Renaissances, and Egyptian motifs, the latter newly popular due to Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.
Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine. Plate 19: Bed made for Mme. M in Paris from Recueil de décorations intérieures... Paris: Chez les Auteurs, 1812.