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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Painted Furniture

A RECENT development in the decorating of modern furniture has been the introduction of touches of color here and there on the carvings and turned legs and spindles of modern made furniture. Cabinets and tables, chairs and chests in forms inspired by old English and Spanish designs have their oak, walnut or maple surfaces enriched in this manner. Not only these pieces, which repeat peasant practices in decoration, but the highly sophisticated painted decorations of Heppelwhite, Adam and Sheraton furniture are becoming popular. Examples of this latter art, with which the name of a brilliant eighteenth century woman painter, Angelica Kauffmann, is linked, are not only being sought in auctions and shops of antiques, but craftsmen are making reproductions in quantity.

Modern copies or adaptations of the painted decoration are applied to many objects. There is the cabinet, now so useful for the radio, or a cupboard, where the bit of color in the centre of each door and perhaps a band running along the top of the front are kept subdued and do not interfere with the general effect of the wood. Touches of old gold with the color are sometimes used and when not too heavy handed are pleasant.

In no form of decoration, perhaps, is there such need for good taste on the part of the painter. It is encouraging to see, however, the large percentage of furniture on which the decorations are an effective addition.

The Tudor furniture now being much used allows in the deep turnings of the legs of chairs and tables, and on the apparently crude carving which ornaments other pieces opportunities for restrained touches of color. This use of color on old English wood is really going back to the custom which was in vogue not only in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, but before. Like the white stone of Grecian statues, most of the examples of the furniture of those periods have come down with little to remind us of the polychrome art which decorated some of them.

With the high color now used in interior furnishings, the furniture adorned with painted decorations easily becomes at home. The more highly decorated pieces are best used as single examples in living room or library, as contrast to other furniture. Simply decorated pieces, such as a bed with its head and foot board each ornamented with a single floral plaque, may be associated harmlessly with other furniture decorated in a similar reserved manner.

For those who desire the more pictorial furniture of the late eighteenth century a period between about 1770 and 1800 when this method of decoration was in fashion in England-there are the pieces both old and new of which the decoration was inspired by that remarkable woman, Angelica Kauffmann. This Swiss artist, feted by high society as well as by artists during her sixteen years' sojourn in England, was, with Pergolesi, Cipriani and Zucchi, responsible for the fashion of decorated furniture. She aided the Adam brothers in decorating rooms and in painting furniture to go in them, and her art set the style of decoration of both Hepplewhite and Sheraton.

Of painted decorated furniture, one style covered the wood with a thin coat of color to form a background for the design. Hepplewhite, with his love for fine wood, gen erally dispensed with this background painting and had his decorations placed directly on the satinwood, hardwood or mahogany.

Today, in reproductions, one may select furniture on which only a touch of floral decoration is used. Or one may have a Lord Bolingbroke secretary-desk, an authentic copy of an eighteenth century piece on which the art of Kauffmann is reproduced with all amplitude. In the midst of a panel decorated with garlands and sprays of flowers, oval plaques are placed on which Psyche dances in flowing draperies or Venus is surrounded by Italian cupids lolling on a grassy woodland bank. Kauffmann gave to the decorative art of Heppelwhite, Adam and by inspiration to Sheraton, a light touch which, though of Italian origin, became as English by adoption as a highboy or a Pembroke table.

The painter Reynolds was a particular admirer of Kauffmann and stood by her when, in 1767, she was trapped into a clandestine marriage with a bogus Swedish Count. Her fickle public for a while turned against her; Reynolds painted her portrait and no doubt stood sponsor for her as a member of the newly formed Royal Academy. Eventually, "Count" de Horn, who married her, died, and Angelica married Zucchi, a decorative painter like herself, with whom in 1781 she returned to Italy.

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