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Early Republic Mirrors

Two forms of early Republic mirrors are today being used more in original examples and in reproductions than at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when they first appeared in this country. The circular "bullseye" mirror, with its convex glass, and the tall, rectangular type in the Empire style, with its upper portion spaced off for a picture or other decoration, quaintly remind of other days. Either of these two popular mirrors will go well with Sheraton mahogany or Duncan Phyfe furniture, as well as with earlier forms of pine and maple. With careful arrangement, one of these looking-glasses of early Republic days will also fit into a room where there is only a suggestive air of bygone days rather than a note of a definite period.

The use of mirrors is growing, and demand has resurrected a multitude of styles. Every decorative need and almost every personal whim may be satisfied. In rooms that have ample daylight a mirror multiplies the brightness; in interiors that need brightening a mirror, when hung opposite a window adds to the light. A decorative looking-glass, placed so as to be seen through a doorway from an adjoining room or hallway, makes a pleasing vista, as well as helping to give a sense of largeness to a room.

With the swing toward French fashions after the American Revolution, the Georgian styles of furnishings began to be superseded by more ornate furniture. On this wave there came, about the end of the eighteenth century, the circular mirror, which, when provided with candle brackets, was also known as a girandole. We know it today as a "bullseye." The glass itself was usually convex, although there were also concave examples. With lighted candles, provided, perhaps, with crystal pendants, and with a wealth of polished gilding, these mirrors gave a showy spot of light and gold in the drawing rooms, dining rooms and parlors of the period. Every home with any pretensions to fashion had a circular looking-glass or girandole on the wall, especially imported in many cases from Paris.

This period of 1800 was one of tremendous industrial activity., and while many of these mirrors were imported, Mr. Lockwood, in his book "Colonial Furniture," surmises that the frames of many examples were made in this country by local craftsmen. The glass, however, generally came from France or England, for the art of making fine mirror glass had not yet been developed in America.

The most characteristic type of bullseye looking-glass has a deep, wide frame with a carved eagle perched on the top. Acanthus leaf decorations adorn the upper and lower edges, and in many examples the inner side of the frame is ornamented with small gilded balls. Some examples of carved and gilded wood, which were doubtless done in this country, have a beautiful air of simplicity about them. The acanthus leaf decorations are reduced to the minimum and the carved eagle is of exactly the right proportion to dominate the entire design.

Other types suggest the opulent decoration familiar in French and English furnishings of the time and the earlier Chippendale period, when all the art of the wood-carver was lavished on the mirrors. Dolphins adorning either the top or the sides of the mirror, waterfalls, interlacing flower forms are typical.

The other form popular in this country in the same period, and also during the nineteenth century, is the rectangular Empire type. This has been found in a greater number of designs than the bullseye. The most interesting examples were made in the earlier years of the century, although this type was in use through the decadent period, when the fine lines of the early Empire furniture were becoming heavy and ugly-finally to be lost in the black walnut of Victorian times.

The Empire-style looking-glass, in its general design, continued the architectural spirit that one finds in some of the Adam mirrors of the latter part of the eighteenth century. In detail, however, these mirrors were unlike the fine examples of classic art the brothers Adam had made for their interiors. The columns were often turned in spiral fashion, or, in later examples, the round-turned columns showed many combinations of balustrade forms. Mahogany was used, as well as gilded wood.

In the earliest examples the upper third of the glass space was divided from the rest and carried either a carved and gilded ornamentation or a painted decoration. Some of these glass decorations show important naval battles of the War of 1812, and on other examples the fancy of the artist, or perhaps of the patron for whom the lookingglass was made, dictated a landscape or a patriotic combination of eagle and stars.

It is interesting to note that when Eli Terry began, about this time, to make his popular shelf clock, he took over the general form of these mirrors with their columns at the side and placed a painted decoration on the space below the face of the clock. Some of the early clocks even had mirror fronts.

The painting of decorations was quite an important craft in the time of Empire looking-glasses and decorated clocks. Classical and historical subjects were favorites, but a close second was lugubrious scenes of churchyards with weeping willows in funereal limpness bending over gravestones or inscribed urns. Landscape painting in those days had nothing of the bright color we know today; dark green leaves and brown shadows were characteristic of the art.

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