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The Late Georgian Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



1750-1800

AN important development in the second half of the 18th century was the building of a vast number of town houses. They were erected for both noblemen and the well-to-do professional classes. In plan they were necessarily different from the large country mansions. In the latter the entire plan took the form of an immense hall, with a saloon and series of reception rooms placed adjacently and in immediate communication one with the other. They were considered and treated as the most important rooms in the houses, and were situated all on the ground-floor. The town houses required a different arrangement, and it was to these that a great number of the later Palladian architects turned their attention.

During the middle of the 18th century the general tendency of the Palladian designers was to introduce a theatrical degree of exuberance in their treatment of the interiors. Comfort and homeliness had been sacrificed to obtain rooms of vast and massive dimensions, which in many instances exhibited a rather meaningless display of ornamentation.

The most prominent architect in the second half of the century was Sir William Chambers, who served as a corrective to the rather debased tendencies of the period. Although his chief energies were spent in connection with public buildings, his influence spread to those architects engaged in buildings of a more domestic nature. It was mainly owing to him that the later Palladian work assumed a more sober character than the tendencies of the age pointed to. His rooms were architectural in their treatment, and he favoured the plaster or stone walls in preference to panelling. His work showed a certain French influence, which was probably caused by his visits to that country. In common with many other designers he produced a book on his subject termed "A Treatise on Civil Architecture," in which he gave a series of rules for designers working in the manner of Palladio.

Two other rather lesser architects who, like Chambers, followed the Palladian School, were Sir Robert Taylor and Carr of York. Both men were responsible for a great number of the fine interiors, although their work was not so ambitious as that of Chambers.

A view of the upper landing in the staircase at Ely House, Dover Street, London, is given in Fig. 80. It was designed by Sir Robert Taylor, and is typical of the later Palladian work. The treatment is of a reserved character. The vaulting rests upon a classical entablature supported by Corinthian pilasters which, with the wall against which they stand, are severely plain. Detail of the wreath formed by chains of husks beneath the dome is given at B, Fig. 80. The balustrading is a good example of the metalwork used in many of the stone staircases of the period. The hand-rail is of wood. In some in-stances when the rail assumed very slight proportions, a metal core was fitted into a groove on the underside to strengthen it. The absence of any form of newel should be noticed.

The doors and their casings are very plain. A more ornate example by the same architect is shown at A, Fig. 81. In this the frieze is decorated with a flowing design of acanthus leafage centred with a Greek honey-suckle ornament. The Palladian designers often used forms of pilasters to support the cornice above the door-way. Another example by Sir William Chambers is given at C, Fig. 81, in which half pilasters with voluted capitals are used.

Rather later in the century a new school sprang up under the leadership of the brothers Adam. Both men had studied in Italy, and some ten or fifteen years after the middle of the century returned to London and commenced in their profession as fashionable architects. Their original and resourceful work soon created a school of followers who designed in their style. Although they were to a certain extent influenced by Palladian motifs they showed a powerful individuality, and created a style which showed in strong contrast with the purely Palladian School. Refinement and elegance was the keynote of their work. An outstanding feature was their use of delicate detail worked in stucco, in low-relief and of exquisite modelling. The ceilings were particularly notice-able in this particular. Their designs were usually based upon geometrical figures and treated with a wonderful intricacy of delicate stucco ornament. Small painted panels and plaques were often interspersed in the design, and the whole effect was wonderfully rich and graceful. Their work at its worst tended towards overcrowding and effeminacy. They made considerable use of colour in their schemes. The walls were often painted with flat washes of delicate shades, and were panelled out with fine mouldings. Great use was also made of the painter's art. Angelica Kaufmann, Cipriani, and others were employed to paint their ceilings or the small panels and plaques which were an important feature in the design.

They devoted a good deal of attention to their treatment of fireplaces. Marble of various colours was used as well as wood. The latter was usually painted. They were carved with the classic orders, Greek ornamentation, etc. Mantelpieces of the mantelshelf height only were the type they usually favoured, the upper portion havinga mirror in a delicate frame or a mural painting framed with stucco ornamentation.

They carried out a tremendous amount of work, and introduced as great changes in house-planning as in decorative design. The majority of their work was purely domestic. Chief among the designers who took their cue from the brothers Adam were Leverton and Milne. Their rooms had usually plain walls treated with flat washes of colour and terminated at the bottom with a skirting above which was a chair rail. Both were usually delicately moulded and often carved with small egg and tongue enrichments.

The dining-room at Portman Square, London, shown in Fig. 82, exemplifies the type of decoration used by the brothers Adam. The fireplace is of mantelshelf height only, and the lintel is decorated with the typical centre panel carved with classical subjects. At the sides of the chimney-breast are pendants carried out in stucco and of the usual delicate modelling. One of these is shown at A, Fig. 83. The curved end of the room was a very favourite feature with the brothers Adam. The doorway has the semi-elliptical heading, and at either side are coved niches with cupboards below. The tall pilasters are decorated with acanthus scrolls and the Greek honey-suckle ornamentation. The treatment of the frieze with its paterae and draped festoons is shown at B, Fig. 83. At D is a portion of the delicate scrolling with which the ceiling is decorated. A vast number of ceilings designed by the brothers Adam had the small circular paintings as in this room.

The hall of a town house is shown in Fig. 84, and is typical of the Adam School. It was designed by Leverton. In place of the classical orders used by the Palladians the arches are supported by thin pilasters with flatly curved brackets at the top. In the centre is a shallow dome with fan-like decoration. The arches are particularly flat, and the soffits have a series of small circles in low-relief. The stone staircase with its metal balustrading is quite typical. The use of separate balusters, as in this and the staircase at Ely House (Fig. 8o), was generally preferred in place of the series of panels filled with scrolls and leafage adopted in the previous century and early in the 18th century. In many cases the staircase was built in a cylindrical well without the central newel.

In Fig. 85 several portions of details used by the Adam School are shown. The vase A with pendants or festoons pending from the sides or from the handles was used in almost every type of decoration. B shows the key ornamentation with a corner patera often used in the treatment of bandings, friezes, and panel rails, etc. C is a mythical subject with a human head. D illustrates one of the delicate scrolls. At E a part of a door casing is shown. The Adam School usually preferred the use of shallow brackets on the framing in place of the classical capitals used by the Palladian architects.

Fig. 86 shows the upper landing of the staircase at the old War Office, Pall Mall, London, now no longer existing. It was the work of Sir John Soane, who was one of the last of the 18th-century architects. The deeply over-hanging cornice of the semicircular end is supported by a series of draped figures in the classical style, and below are a number of plaques carved with classical subjects. Soane's work shows a quaint mixture in the retention of the classical precept combined with his own original ideas. The majority of his work is rather overcrowded with decorative detail.

Wallpaper was introduced about the middle of the century, and increasing use was made of it from then onwards. The finer paper came from China, and was designed with non-repeating patterns.



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