Adams Furniture - The Style And Its Motif
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
To realise the true style founded by Robert Adam, it is advisable to examine carefully examples of that style to be seen in museums and private collections. Most of his furniture was made of mahogany, carved and sometimes gilded in French style. Satin-wood also was used, relieved by urns and oval paterce. Sometimes his furniture was painted so as to harmonise with room decoration. In the more important pieces Wedgwood medallions were frequently introduced. His object throughout was to provide furniture in harmony with his style of house decoration; as in his architecture early classic Italian art influenced his design. French art also influenced some of his decorative work, especially that in which he introduced miniature paintings and plaques. Constructively, no doubt, Adam was indebted to Chippendale in his early works, but he soon deviated from the style or motif of existing furniture. It is said that Robert Adam shared Thomas Chippendale's preference for rich-toned Spanish Cuban mahogany. In his earlier works he seems to have been somewhat in-different to the coverings of his furniture, but later he designed special textile fabrics, and recommended them as being suitable for his own style.
To briefly refer to some of the characteristics of the Adam style as applied to furniture, it may be pointed out that Robert Adam was the first to make use of a splat of lyre form, a style of ornament which was much copied by Sheraton in later years. In Adam chairs, which are mostly of square form, small panels in the top row are noticeable. Griffins are sometimes introduced between the splat and the seat. There is also some low relief carving of classical designs. Classical figures form the supports of the roll back arms of chairs. Chair legs became round or square, tapering downwards, often fluted.
Robert Adam introduced a honeysuckle design, found on many pieces of furniture. Adam sideboards with pedestal cupboards surmounted by urns have already been referred to, and it is noteworthy that they were very appropriate to his style of architecture which frequently included suitable recesses, that suggested the use of a larger table than the older side or carrying tables which at one time sufficed. Cabinets were extensively designed, and some very beautiful inlaid commodes in which painted plaques were introduced are among the choicer specimens of Adam furniture. Another feature worthy of note is found in the sphinxes and classical figures which give the Adam style such characteristic decorative form. In addition to these commoner forms of furniture, Robert Adam paid much attention to fire-screens, clock-cases, bedsteads, mirror-frames, and organ-cases, and as time went on the style he propounded was applied to many smaller ornamental objects, for his main object seems to have been to provide the householder with furniture and household requisites of every kind in harmony with the home surroundings.
Fig. 50 illustrates the Adam influence in design upon a very handsome mahogany sideboard of the period 1795-1800. There are the beautiful fluted legs on square plinth feet, the oval ornament and handsome cellarets, the brass rail being suggestive of the style adopted generally in later years.
Fig. 51 is a settee of Adam design upholstered in crimson damask of the period. The chaste ornament of the legs and the central design in which an urn figures, are all characteristic of the scheme of decoration so often adopted by the Brothers Adam.
Many of the beds made at the time show traces of the Adam influence, the posts were well carved and fluted, and the lower portions decorative ; the hangings, too, being in keeping with the style then prevailing.