Decorative Style - Robert Adam
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Robert Adam was the second of the four sons of William Adam, and was born in 1728. The Adam family was Scotch of good social position. Robert early showed a talent for drawing. He was ambitious, and, as old Roman architecture interested him above all other subjects, he decided that he could attain his ideals only by study and travel in Italy. He returned to England in 1758 after four years of hard work with the results of his labors, the chief treasure being his careful drawings of Diocletian's villa. His classical taste was firmly established, and was to be one of the important influences of the eighteenth century.
Robert and James Adam went into partnership and became the most noted architects of their day in England. The list of their buildings is long and interesting, and much of their architectural and decorative work is still in existence.
To many people it will seem like putting the cart before the horse to say that Robert Adam had in any way influenced the style we call Louis XVI, but it is a plausible theory and certainly an interesting one. Mr. G. Owen Wheeler in his interesting book on " Old English Furniture " makes a strong case in favor of the Adam Brothers. Classical taste was well established in England by 1765, before the transition from Louis XV to Louis XVI began, and Robert Adam published his book in parallel columns of French and English, which shows it must have been in some demand in France. The great influence of the excavations at Pompeii must naturally not be underestimated, as it was far reaching, but with the beautiful Adam style well developed, just across the Channel, it seems probable that it may have had its share in forming French taste. The foundation being there, the French put their characteristic touch to it and developed a much richer style than that of the Adam Brothers, but the two have so much in common that Louis XVI furniture may be put into an Adam room with perfect fitness, and vice versa. As the Adams cared only to design furniture some one else had to carry out the designs, and Chippendale was master carver and cabinet-maker under them at Harewood House, Yorkshire, and probably was also in many other instances.
The early furniture of Adam was plain, and the walls were treated with much decoration that was classic in feeling. He possessed the secret of a composition of which his exquisite decorations on walls and ceilings were made. After 1770 he simplified his walls and elaborated his furniture de-signs until they met in a beautiful and graceful harmony. He designed furniture to suit the room it was in, and with the dainty and charming coloring, the beauty of proportion and the charm of the wall decoration, the scheme had great beauty.
He used the ram's head, wreaths, honeysuckle, mythological subjects, lozenge-shaped, oval and octagonal panels, and many other designs. He was one of the first to use the French idea of decorating furniture with painting and porcelain plaques, and the furniture itself was simple and beautiful in line. The stucco ceilings designed by the brothers were picked out with delicate colors and have much beauty of line.
A great deal of the most beautiful Adam decoration was the painting on walls and ceilings and furniture by Angelica Kaufmann, Zucchi, Pergolesi, Cipriani, and Columbani. The standard of work was so high that only the best was satisfactory.
Adam usually designed his furniture for the room in which it was to stand, and he often planned the house and all its contents, even to the table silver, to say nothing of the door-locks. The chairs were of mahogany, or painted, or gilded, wood. Some .had oval upholstered backs, with the covering specially designed for the room, and some had lyre backs, later used so much by Sheraton, and others had small painted panels placed in the top rail, with beautiful carving. Mirrors were among the most charming articles designed by Adam, and had composition wreaths and cupids and medal-lions for ornament. They were usually made in pairs in both large and small sizes. A pair of antique mirrors should be kept together, as they are very much more valuable than when separated.
Adam was one of the first to assemble the pieces that later grew into the sideboard — a table, two pedestals, and a cellaret. There is a sideboard designed by him for Gillows, in which the parts are connected, and it is at least one of the ancestors of the beautiful Shearer and Hepplewhite ones and our modern useful, though not always beautiful, article. When, late in his career, Adam attempted to copy the French, he was not so successful, as he did not have their flexibility of temperament, and was unable to give the warmer touch to the classic, which they did so well. His paneled walls, however, have great dignity and purity of line and feeling, and the applied ornament was really an ornament, and not a disfigurement as too often happens in our day. With Adam one feels the surety of knowledge and the refinement of good taste led by a high ideal.