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Lucky are the inheritors of a pair of wall-lights of a bygone age, or those who have found articles of this sort in attics or antique shops. For others not so blessed there are available reproductions in brass, silver and gilt, together with beautiful examples adorned with crystal prisms and glass jewels.
The wall-light was first used in England somewhere in the middle of the sixteenth century. Since that day great designers, such as Daniel Marot in France, Chippendale and the Adam brothers in England, and in our own time Stanford White, the architect, and Rene Lalique, one of the leaders of modernist interior decoration in France, have all lent their skill to its designing.
Inspection of the showrooms of one large manufacturer of these lighting fixtures gives one a feeling of the astonishing vitality of today's design and the equal vitality of the public's good taste-which, after all, calls forth the work of the designers. Hundreds of styles are available, to suit any personal whim or fashion or room arrangement.
Some of the models are adaptations, rather than copies, of the characteristic motives used in decoration in former great periods of design. For example, a design found carved on old sixteenth century English chests is the "linen fold" design. This suggests long, regularly pleated folds of heavy linen. Used as the pattern on the brass backplate of a wall fixture, it is effectively reminiscent of Tudor days.
One wall-light, faithfully reproducing a light in the American wing in the Metropolitan Museum, is a circular concave mirror, or "bullseye," framed in brass and with a brass eagle perched over it. Two graceful arms, which once carried candles but are now, in the reproduction, fitted for electric lights, spring from the lower part of the circular frame. Use of the American eagle, popular after the Revolution, on mirrors and clocks is characteristic of the period and distinguishes it as an American type.
Framed or unframed pieces of mirror are often used for the wall-plates of side lights. In the old days these aided in reflecting the light of the candles. Some have designs etched on the glass, as in the old mirrors; some are a modified form of the elaborate girandoles that Chippendale carved out of wood with such skill and enthusiasm.
Designs reproduced from old forms include not only such wall-lights as have been described, but also the simple and much more primitive examples in use in early Colonial days. One type has a circular convex reflector made up of small squares of mirror glass, with the candle brackets in front. Others of this type had reflectors of pewter or of tin, the surface covered with small circular concave depressions.
While most of the designs reproduced today have a Colonial or an English or a French pedigree, one may obtain examples of fine designs suggestive oŁ Spanish and Italian art as well, for the design of wall-lights has much to do with giving the feeling of a certain period or character to a room. Even though the furniture be of an assortment of styles, the effect of a given decorative period can be suggested by the character of the lighting fixtures.