|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
To those who know well the chaste beauty of colonial interiors in America, to those who have lived amid their delicate purity and have marvelled happily on the good taste which produced them, a few pages on the subject of the Adam period in England cannot fail to be of interest.
It is in the Adam style that we find the inspiration of American work near the time of our independence. Ours was the American reflection of the English, and again illustrates richly the fate of styles or motifs when subjected to varying temperaments and political conditions. It is not to be for a moment supposed that any glory is taken from the efforts of our early designers by tracing their inspiration to an English source, nor is their honour lessened by the discovery that in a way the style they practised was not original. The application of the mode of that day to suit original conditions is no less praiseworthy than creation of new designs.
We might carry the thought still further, and ask where the Adam brothers got their ideas. But this brief sketch of these men and their time will discover that interesting fact.
In the preceding chapter we have seen that Chippendale reigned supreme, with his French thoughts dressed in English taste, and have seen how absolutely the curved styles pleased the public, - as well they might, for never have warmth and refinement been more beautifully balanced than in the carved mahogany pieces of that time. Also we have seen that this style represents the play of British temperament upon the Louis XV motif.
We now approach a time, embracing a series of decorative styles in England and in France, when the entire decorative idea reverts to the most refined classic. The radical change from eccentric curves to rigid straight lines occurred in France by reason of the change of monarchs. Possibly kings themselves would not disdain the fittings of other kings, their predecessors, but artists and craftsmen, not from cupidity but from eager desire for production, see in a new accession a chance to present their latest creations.
When Louis XVI mounted an uncertain throne the Italian influence was strong at court, as we have seen. Reluctantly we must ascribe this revival of purity of taste to the unworthy Madame de Pompadour, who had sent artists to Pompeii for study and inspiration. The story of the progress of this style is simple and logical.
Artists took it as the basis of the new method for the new king, and rapidly developed it into the style as we know it now and as adapted to modern needs.
As England turned to France for the finer embellishments of life, whether they were in dress, fashionable manners, or decoration, so she seized the new turn in matters decorative, and executed her British way on the new lines. But Italy furnished the inspiration for both countries. The subject is full of interest and bears elaborate investigation, for it relates directly to our own so-called colonial fancies, although the colonies were turning to States. Colonial work being as dear to us as ancestral trees, - with which it is closely associated, - we can never have our fill of it, and never tire in its study. Indeed, the preceding styles take point and interest as they contribute to our larger knowledge of these fashions of our American forefathers. .
With this preambling excuse for making their acquaintance, we will note one or two facts concerning the Adam brothers. There were four brothers and a father, all of the eighteenth century, all following architecture, and all leaving an impression on the art of the day.
Robert Adam, the second son, was the most famed, and associated with himself in business his brother James. The father's choice of aid was his eldest son John, who assisted in building and in rebuilding certain celebrated mansions in Scotland, where the father Adam was born and held position of Master Mason. These data show the influences in which Robert Adam was educated.
Robert, who most interests us, was born in 1728, in Scotland, just at the time when George II was taking up the affairs royal and political of England. When he was about thirty years old he made a fruitful visit to Italy, and there became saturated with the antique.
On his return he and his brother became celebrated as builders, and those who love prowling about London for what it yields in antiquity find many of their edifices to tell the tale of their great industry. Persons of consequence and the nobility gave into their hands the building of their homes, some of which, like Kenwood House, Lansdowne House, White's Club, are more than celebrated. Their methods seem delightfully modern when we learn that, besides these commissions from distinguished patrons, Robert and James Adam executed a quantity of houses on speculation for their own business profit.
The Roman influence is plain on their work, but the Pompeian refinement is stronger. Especially is this true of interior decorations. Like all true architects the Adam brothers aimed at decorating the houses they built, and it is in their interior work that they showed their talent for adaptation. Disliking the staring of too much white, they adopted the plan of introducing delicate colour in the stucco work, in cornices, frieze, etc. The anthemium or the scroll no longer threw its white curves on a white background, but one or the other was tinted in pale shades of blue or green or red, or even gilded. The idea was as old as Rome, but was none the less beautiful on that account.
But as Rome was voluptuous and England, if not ascetic, was at least restrained, the Adam style became attenuated, copying rather the delicacy than the richness of the antique, and so it is called by its detractors thin and stringy. Possibly it is, in some of its detail, or when used in its entirety, but more than pleasing are its evidences of daintiness.
Closely allied with architecture is decoration, and the sequence leads to furniture. Robert Adam and his brother James felt that to preserve harmony a different style of furniture from that of Chippendale should fill the rooms of their rectangular schemes and classic decoration. Their attention was then turned to furniture, and thence comes a radical change. It is almost unnecessary to say that it was the same change that took place in France when the style Louis XVI deposed the style Louis XV.
Adam furniture bears a marked resemblance to the Louis Seize, with which it was cotemporaneous, and yet a little examination into its shapes would prevent their ever being confounded. The rectangularity insisted on in the French style is missing, although the same feeling of chasteness is imparted. Chairs are small and fine, and seem more suited to the fluttering visits of ladies than to the substantial repose of men. Their backs are low and narrow, more as a warning not to fall than as an asylum to embrace, and arms are slightly if ever uphol stered. The legs are for the most part straight, this rule being followed to the exclusion of the cabriole leg, but not ignoring a gently sweeping curve or the classic motif seen on all cross-chairs.
Sofas were made delicate in appearance, with a strong inclination toward Greek effects, and the somewhat frail and uncomfortable couch, with straight arms and no back-the style which has been made immortal by Madame Recamier, whose superior wit enabled her to pose with exquisite grace on its spidery shape for the portrait by David. A temporary perch at best is such a sofa, agreeable only for the bad quarter of an hour when guests have assembled and dinner has not been announced.
One peculiarity of this style of interest to us is the use of the curved leg, which takes a concave outward sweep from the sofa or table it supports, and which usually terminates in a neat brass claw or a simpler cap. This leg may have originated in the cornucopia, a modification of that ornate classic form, for its curves are the same. At the opening of the nineteenth century a cabinet-maker named Phyffe identified himself with this leg. He was an American, with a shop in Fulton Street, New York, and his works are highly esteemed by those fortunate enough to possess them.
As mahogany was to Chippendale, so was satinwood to Adam. It was a new wood in his time and especially adapted to his style of work. His method of decoration differed materially from that of his predecessors, for in place of carving his new wood, his embellishment was painting. The effect of classic designs of excessive daintiness executed in soft colours on the golden glow of varnished satinwood has a charm which none can resist. His method was to paint these designs very much after the manner of using inlay, which they were, however, never meant to imitate.
While on the subject of Adam's use of painting, it is pertinent to speak of two or three conspicuous artists whose work he used. One of these was Pergolesi, although his designs were mainly in relief work. Antonio Zucchi, an Italian, was another, and his personality is the more interesting because he it was who won the heart of Angelica Kauffmann, whose ceiling painting for Adam is world-celebrated. A glow of romance always associates itself with this gifted and charming young woman, the friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and lightens the history of her architect master.
Before leaving Adam and his delicate painted furniture, a note must be made of the fact that he frequently employed cane as a panel for the backs of chairs and sofas. The cane-work was not, however, of the coarse modern kind, but was skilfully woven with elegant effect. This is especially true of the rounded panels, where the cane is woven in circles to conform to the wooden frame.
To make American application of the work of this man, the designs we deem essentially colonial are from him, -the oval windows, the spider's web effect in glass or decoration, the festoons of husks, and a hundred other chaste adaptations of classic detail which could never have brought to our forbears more keen artistic delight and appreciation than they do now to us, their descendants, when we spy them in some forgotten doorway or some drawing-room in process of demolition.
Perhaps the esteem in which Robert Adam was held by England is most eloquently expressed by the fact that after his death in 1792 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.