Interior Decoration in England and America During the 18th Century
( Originally Published 1919 )
INTRODUCTION.—In England and America, the eighteenth century and the first three decades of the nineteenth, which really belong to the preceding century through stylistic affinities and as a directly logical outcome of influences well under way before the year 1800, constitute a period of the greatest complexity as well as of the greatest interest. It will be understood that what is said in this chapter applies to the American Colonies and the infant republic, after its severance from the Mother Country, as well as to England. But it must also be distinctly understood that all the evolutions of the ^styles considered reached their full and richest fruition only in England and that they were reflected in America in less elaborate renderings. This statement does not mean to asperse in the slightest degree the culture or taste on our own side of the Atlantic, but the estates that were able to support the expense of the highest decorative achievements of the age were comparatively few in number, and although there were not wanting instances of the greatest elegance and most lavish ,expenditure in furnishing of various town houses in Philadelphia, in Boston, in Charleston and New York, and of some country houses in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, the majority of people, from force of circumstances, were obliged to be content with the simpler though not less admirable interpretation of modes that attained an hitherto unparallelled development in the British Isles.
At the very beginning of the eighteenth century we have the heritage of Baroque inspiration remaining over from the seventeenth century. Following close upon it came the severe and somewhat heavy classicism of which Kent was the chiefest and most able exponent. With the middle of the century we find an utterly new influence that was expressed in England by the Brothers Adam and those that followed in their wake, and in France, a little later, by the architects and designers who imparted to the style we know familiarly as "Louis Seize" its peculiar grace and refinement.
The Adam influence was of classic derivation as was also the heavier scheme of interpretation practised by the Kentian school, but it expressed classicism in its more attenuated and refined forms and laid emphasis, as a rule, rather upon the elegancies of decoration than upon the bold masses and the marshalling of vigorous structural or semi-structural members by way of embellishment. Adam delicacy, in turn, was in course of time supplanted by the robust and often severe forms of the Classic Revival, in which the, sterner Greek modes and the more heroic Roman phases that at times savoured of bombast were stressed with insistence.
Besides all these well-defined influences, there was "the Chinese taste," which recurred again and again in one form or another throughout the century, adding its charm to the manifold factors that contributed to make the eighteenth century one of the most opulent as well as varied decorative epochs in English history.
Architectural Background and Methods of Fixed Decoration.—One fact of tremendous importance in the art of interior decoration has already been noted in the Foreword, but too much stress cannot be laid upon it, and we therefore repeat it here. That fact is that interior decoration does not consist merely of selection and arrangement of movable furniture and garnishings; the architectural background and the fixed decorations are every whit as vitally essential to a successful and complete composition, and it is impossible to attach too much emphasis to this truth, a truth that some professional decorators too often minimise while not a few amateurs are even more prone to ignore it. In Part III special attention is paid to the treatment of plain walls where the occupancy of rented quarters, apartments and the like makes it impracticable to effect far-reaching structural changes in the background. In the paragraphs that follow, special attention will be devoted to an analysis of backgrounds and fixed decorations.
The opening years of the eighteenth century witnessed virtually the same features of interior architecture as were in vogue during the last years of the seventeenth century, features of which, however, we shall now give a somewhat more detailed description. There were spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, symmetrically de-signed with window and door openings so disposed as to contribute to the air of regularity. The window openings were large and high, while their trims were often made the objects of formal ornamentation. Doorways also shared a distinctly decorative and usually architectural treatment, traces of Baroque influence being more or less discernible in such features as continuous segmental pediments or interrupted pediments with urns.
The panels of the walls were large (Plates 7 and 8) and were often bounded by boldly profiled (Plate 138) bolection mouldings. In size the panels were graduated according to the parts of the room; shallow and broad panels would be placed between door or window heads and the cornice, tall and narrow panels between windows, a single panel for the chimney piece (Plate 137), whatever its dimensions and shape might be, while the ordinary wall panels were of generous proportions. Elaborate naturalistic carving of foliage, fruits, flowers and figures in swags and drops (Plate 137), wrought in high relief or undercut in the manner of Grinling Gibbon, were still used and were supplemented in many instances by sundry supporting architectural scrolls and by conventional motifs in low relief, such as acanthus foliage on a cyma moulding (Plate 6), classic laurelling, and all their well-known affinities.
Very fully developed and elaborate cornices adorned such rooms, and the plaster coves and ceilings, wrought with the utmost dexterity of the plasterer's art, echoed the flowers, fruit, foliage (Plate 137) and figures to be seen in the decorative wood carving. The floors, while usually of plain boards, not infrequently exhibited parquetted patterns, in the manner already mentioned in the preceding chapter, or else a device in chequered tiles of stone or marble.
It is safe to say that there was never a time when interior architectural woodwork was carried to an higher point of development or displayed more admirable characteristics. Even in the simpler houses, where three of the walls of a room would ordinarily be plastered, there was almost invariably some well-proportioned panelling above the fireplace or even covering a greater part of the whole of the wall on that side of the room. For many of the elaborately carved and panelled interiors, the wood used was oak, cedar, deal or pine. The oak and cedar were left unpainted; deal was sometimes merely waxed, or slightly stained and waxed, and sometimes painted; while pine was ordinarily painted, although not invariably, and, when left in its natural state, assumed a mellow golden brown tone from the action of the atmosphere. In at least one in-stance known to the authors, the panelling of a late seventeenth century house in Pennsylvania, belonging architecturally, however, to the category under discussion, consisted of pine and poplar together. Neither paint nor stain of any kind were ever used upon it and all of the wood took on a rich ginger brown hue of great beauty.
When the panelling was painted, white, which was much favoured in Holland at the time, was sometimes used, but by no means so universally as many people seem to imagine. Grey, grey green, buff, brown, pale yellow, blue, green and green blues of great beauty were in common use and imparted a richness and warmth that strongly commend a wider employment of similar treatments at the present day. These painted interiors were very commonly further embellished with gilding applied to mouldings and carving.
In the latter part of the seventeenth century, as previously stated, the taste for lacquer became a positive passion. Much lacquer was imported from the East, but the importations could not begin to supply the demand; much furniture was lacquered both by artisans and by amateurs, who regarded skill in this direction as an eligible and polite accomplishment. The vogue for lacquer endured throughout the reign of Queen Anne and even lasted for some time afterwards. What with the universal admiration for lacquer in an especially colour-loving epoch, and the very considerable proficiency in lacquer processes attained by British craftsmen, it is not surprising to find lacquered decoration occasionally extended to the fixed woodwork in rooms and not reserved solely as a method of nobiliary embellishment. It is worth noting that this architectural employment of lacquer has been revived in a few instances and on a limited scale in our own time, with admirable results.
In the more sumptuous interiors of this type, the fireplace surrounds and facings were of carefully chosen marble or stone, while in the simpler interiors the surrounds were of wood and the facings frequently of glazed tiles, sometimes plain, but more usually of Delft make with monochrome blue or rose devices or else with polychrome decorations. The surround commonly consisted of a bold bolection moulding and there was generally no mantel shelf or else only a very narrow one.
The fixed decorations were rich and adequate. There were mirrors empanelled in the walls or set in the doors, decorative paintings set in panels over doorways, in chimney pieces and in central positions on the sides of walls. There were cupboards (Plate 7) built into the woodwork, usually in corners, with coved tops care-fully scalloped and enriched with carving and some-times parcel gilt, or with smooth surfaces in the coving covered with decorative painting. Coves and the flat surfaces of ceilings, likewise, in addition to the rich cast plaster reliefs, were often adorned with paintings.
When the walls were not fully panelled, they were sometimes painted, sometimes covered with wall paper in highly decorative and bright-coloured patterns, and sometimes hung with rich fabrics tacked tightly in place. Occasionally the panels of the doors themselves were embellished with mirrors or with decorative paintings.
Sconces, lanthorns and chandeliers of varied forms in plain brass, in wrought-iron painted and parcel gilt, in wood richly carved and gilt or painted and parcel gilt, and in brass or cut glass profusely hung with crystals added greatly to the rich effect of the permanent background.
Such were the possibilities and characteristics of the fixed architectural interior settings during the reign of Queen Anne and in the years immediately following her demise.
Early in the Georgian period, under the influence of such men as James Gibbs, Sir John Vanbrugh, Sir William Chambers and, above all, Sir William Kent, there was a clearly marked departure from the freedom and flexibility of architectural and decorative interpretation, as practised by Sir Christopher Wren and his immediate school, and a reversion to what was fancied to be a purer and more scholarly presentation of classic principles as set forth by the great architectural exponents of the Italian Renaissance. For this reason the work of Inigo Jones evoked a renewed measure of praise and admiration but, quite apart from any enthusiasm for the achievements of earlier Engish architects, the men of the day, one and all, placed themselves at the feet of Vitruvius, Vignola and Palladio and followed the precepts of these great men of the past with the most meticulous and sometimes simian precision. To the votaries of the new school Palladio was especially dear and they so generally accepted him as their standard and so glorified his work and precepts that they " raised him in their time almost to the position of a demigod." Actuated as they were by this harrow and almost fanatical admiration for merely one individual's explication of classicism, it is scarcely to be wondered at that they were "unreasonably prejudiced against the work of the Wren period by the discovery that, although classic in principle, the rules laid down by the great architects of the Italian Renaissance had by no means been strictly adhered to." This attitude, quite apart from any other agency, explains in large measure "the prejudice that existed against Sir Christopher at the close of his brilliant career and the exaltation of the earlier work of Inigo Jones." Wren had both displayed a perceptible tinge of French influence and also shown not a little personal independence in his interpretations, and this damned him in the eyes of the early Georgian purists who "accepted so fervently the principles of Italian classicism as the only form of true culture that all buildings which exhibited variations were regarded by them as beneath notice or consideration." In their zeal of archaelogical solicitude—to quote Sir Horace Walpole, architecture had "resumed all her rights" and buildings were designed "in the purest style of antique composition"—they often produced work that savoured of pedantry and missed the spontaneous inspiration and elastic quality necessary to give it the vital significance of an understanding contemporary expression.
At the same time, while the spirit of classic purism was dominant, there were numerous successful and acceptable adventures into the realm of Baroque design, as witnessed, for instance, by some of the creations of James Gibbs, but it was restrained and chastened Baroque, conceived and executed in the light of classic severity. Notwithstanding the rigidity of ideals and the conscientious exactitude with which the foremost architects held themselves to precedent, a great proportion of the early Georgian work possessed merit of an high order and exhibited both dignity and charm. It is an enduring memorial to the skill and good taste of the designers and also equally a striking testimony to the intelligence and appreciation of a clientele that made possible the realisation of such designs. It was, indeed, a golden age of appreciative interest and liberal patronage on the part of wealthy laymen in the persons of the great nobles and landed gentry, who found that the "court of the first two Georges offered" them few attractions and that there was little "scope for competion in politics during the long and all-powerful sway of Walpole." Furthermore, in the entire absence of foreign hostilities, there were no openings for gaining distinction in military or naval careers and, consequently, "it would seem that numbers of these great nobles and men of leisure embraced the study of art as the principal occupation of their lives. The particular branch of art which interested them most keenly was the pure classic architecture of Ancient Rome," and their extensive diversions in this field of research rendered them both capable critics and enthusiastic patrons.
The interiors of the great houses then erected displayed a sense of architectural composition that has never been surpassed in English domestic building and even the less pretentious dwellings of the period clearly reflected the prevailing sense of symmetry and architectural amenity that had permeated all ranks of society. So thoroughly had Palladianism and a feeling for elegant proportions taken hold of the popular imagination that they may truly be said to have become endemic among English-speaking people of that day. Both inside and out, houses were planned to convey the impression of symmetrical balance and the same care for symmetrical composition was observed in the treatment of the individual rooms, which were, as a rule, approximately square and high-ceiled. Structural features that is to say, doorways, windows and fireplaces, were symmetrically placed so as to emphasise the effect of balance (Plate 9) and were given such architectural adornment that they constituted an important item in the decoration of the room and to a great extent dominated the placing of the movable furnishings and deter-mined their character.
The details were vigorous in line and classic in fashion—fluted pilasters with appropriate capitals, correct architectural entablatures, pediments of several types, accurately designed friezes and cornices and bold, well-considered mouldings. Doorways frequently were graced with superimposed pediments (Plate 7), either straight, or interrupted with a central urn or bust, and the same motif was apt to be echoed in the chimney piece which extended all the way or almost all the way to the ceiling. When there was no pediment above the doorway, the note of decorous architectural formality was often sustained by a fitly conceived panel with suit-able embellishments. The overmantel panel with its imposing architectural setting was made a central feature for the reception of a portrait (Plate 7) or a decorative painting or, when the chimney piece was less structurally elaborate, a mirror in a frame of strongly architectural design, perhaps with the additional decoration of a painting in the head or in side panels, might be placed directly above the mantel shelf. The mantel-piece itself was of wood or of marble (Plates 7 and 137), often elaborately carved with devices inspired by designs of classic provenance pourtrayed in the works of the Renaissance exponents of Greek and Roman antiquity.
About the middle of the century, under the influence of Sir William Chambers, the elaborate chimney piece, reaching nearly to the ceiling, which had received the sanction and best efforts of previous architects, gradually fell into disfavour and gave place to a newer mode of Continental fashion.
"When he [Sir William Chambers] returned to England in 1755 [from the Continent], he was accompanied by Wilton and Cipriani, afterwards so well known as an artist and decorator. He also brought Italian sculptors to carve the marble mantel-pieces he introduced into English houses.
These were made from his own designs, and the ornament of figures, scrolls and foliage was free in character. Strange to say, these mantel-pieces, de-signed and made by an architect, were yet the means of taking away this important part of interior decoration from the hands of the architect altogether and causing it to become quite a separate production, made and sold along with the grates.
In former times it had been an integrant portion of the room, reaching from floor to ceiling, balanced and made part of the wall by having its main lines carried round in panelling and enriched friezes. It was the keynote of decoration, and the master builder of the times grew fanciful and exerted his utmost skill upon its carving and quaint imagery, centralising the whole ornament of the room around the household shrine.
Mantel-pieces had gradually come down in height, though still retaining much of their finer proportions and classic design. Many causes had contributed to this, the chief being the disuse of wood panelling and the preference given to hangings of damask, foreign leather and wall-paper. In the reigns of Queen Anne and the Little Dutchman the custom of panelling was partially kept up. . . . At this time the upper half of the chimney piece was still retained, but only reached about half way up the wall [in many instances]. Gibbs, Kent, and Ware kept the superstructure as much as they could, but Sir William Chambers dealt it the most crushing blow it had yet received by copying the later French and Italian styles and giving minute detail more consideration than fine proportion. He discarded the upper part altogether and helped to make `continued chimney pieces' things of the past."—( Warren Clouston's "Treatise on Chippendale.")
Window trims, while vigorously designed, were comparatively plain and nearly all of the carved and moulded architectural enrichment was bestowed upon the overdoor decorations, cornices and friezes and, up to the time of Chambers, the chimney piece. The window openings were tall and sufficiently wide and were often somewhat recessed with carefully panelled jambs and soffits. The sashes themselves had heavy muntins and the rectangular panes were the same size or slightly larger than those in use during the Queen Anne period.
During much of the early Georgian era the walls continued to be fully panelled with large panels (Plate 9), frequently of the bevel flush type (Plate 7), separated by broad stiles and rails with thumbnail mouldings. Very often a moulded chair rail separated the base panelling from the upper panels. The panels were generally of a uniform size, but were graduated to the exigencies of space when there was occasion. Cupboards and buffets, and occasionally niches with coved and scalloped tops, continued in many instances to be built into the panelling at appropriate places and were generally given an additional enrichment of intricately wrought mouldings and other carving of a character to correspond with the ornate cornices that not infrequently exhibited a wealth of carved foliation, egg and dart motifs or similar devices. It will thus be seen that the carved and panelled woodwork was an highly important item in the decoration of an early Georgian room.
The ceilings, though sometimes comparatively plain, were also occasionally embellished with lavish foliated and floriated bands and mouldings and other designs, wrought with all the dexterity of which the highly skilled plaster craftsmen were capable. On such ceilings colour and gilding were likewise wont to play an important part. When the walls were not fully panelled—the abandonment of full panelling, as already noted, became more common as the century advanced—they were apt to be covered with rich fabrics, wall-paper or, sometimes, with fine leather appropriately decorated.
It is most important, in our process of visualising the panelled rooms of the early Georgian period, to bear in mind that the use of unpainted woodwork was abandoned comparatively early in the century. We have seen that the earlier architects and decorators, when they did use paint as a variant to the deal, pine, cedar, oak or walnut panelling, did net confine them-selves to white or cream white, as people sometimes fancy, but resorted very frequently to colours such as those already mentioned. In the early Georgian epoch, while not eschewing white—white, it is true, was more commonly used in the American Colonies than colours —they quite as often or oftener employed full-bodied tones of cream, cream yellow, green, blue green, drab and brown and these tones contributed materially to give the appearance of richness and "comfort for which the rooms of the period are noted. Frequently additional grandeur was obtained by gilding or partly gilding some of the carving."
In addition to the fixed decoration supplied by the rich woodwork, the stately chimney pieces and the plaster adornment of the ceilings, decorative paintings were often incorporated in the scheme where a suitable over-door or other similar space invited their employment, mirrors were permanently affixed in suitable positions and choice specimens of sculpture were placed in niches especially provided for them or upon pedestals Where their presence would contribute to the general aspect of balanced dignity and elegance.
While surveying this particular period of eighteenth century decoration, we must not fail to take due note of two influences that marked a wide and striking departure from the prevailing Palladianism—the "Chinese Taste," fostered by Sir William Chambers, and a fanciful pseudo-Gothic manifestation largely abetted by Sir Horace Walpole. The former movement coincided with and gave especial emphasis to one of the periodic recrudescences of unusual interest in things Oriental whose recurrence in the history of English and Continental decoration afforded an agreeable and inspiring note of variety and gave rise to many features of permanent worth; the latter movement was not happy in its conception, was taken up as a fad by dilettanti who were not in sympathy with the Gothic spirit and did not really understand it, and produced no results of lasting importance. The Chinese work of Sir William Chambers, and of those who imitated or emulated his endeavours, was in the main performed in an honest and legitimate manner, created an interesting and not unwelcome relief to the predominant classicism of the period, and extended its application to movable equipment as well as to fixed decoration. The Gothic work of the day was palpably a piece of affectation and even, at times, grotesque in its forms and we may be thankful that its ephemeral course left no momentous traces behind it.
Shortly after the middle of the eighteenth century, an entirely new architectural influence became paramount and as the introduction of this influence was due almost wholly to the Brothers Adam, and as they and their contemporaries and imitators were its accredited exponents, we shall be justified in calling the second half of the century, and, indeed, the first decade of the nineteenth, the Adam Age. Impelled by their extended studies of classic art and architecture at fountain head, and realising clearly what their architectural predecessors in England had completely failed to realise—that classic precedents were susceptible of a far wider and more elastic interpretation than had hitherto been given them, that architecture and the decorative arts in the golden ages of Greek and Roman development had not been straitly confined by an unalterably rigid set of rules and interpretative conventions whose authoritative exposition was to be found only in the works of Vitruvius, Vignola and the other dogmatists to whom Kent and his school had tightly pinned their faith, and that classicism, without being adulterated or distorted and robbed of its fundamental genius, was susceptible of a previously undreamed of urbanity, refinement and even playful exuberance of expression—the Adelphi proceeded to. refine, enrich, revivify and even revolutionise the architectural and decorative conceptions of their day and generation. They not only introduced the epoch-marking notes of attenuation and slender grace, along with a more exuberant, lively, diversified and elegant system of decorative motifs, all derived, however, from classic precedent, but, at the same time, they also showed how classic architectural interpretation could be thoroughly domestic, intimate and lively in tone as well as ponderous and monumental. When they began to practise, domestic architecture in England had fallen somewhat into a groove and was in danger of becoming narrow, rigid and pedantic. Without sacrificing any principles of classicism, they rendered it human, infinitely more interesting, and elastic in scope.
The Adeiphi were no less formal in their modes of expression than their predecessors, but their formality was vastly more varied, richer and intensely genial. There was a finesse and a polish about their conceptions that fully accorded with the spirit of the day, a period which someone has aptly termed the "age of the drawing-room." Indeed, they may be regarded as in no small degree responsible for the creation of that spirit. One of the eminently pleasing forms in which their humanised formality found a fresh outlet was in the varied shapes of the rooms frequently introduced into their compositions. Hitherto, although rooms were designed with a due regard for satisfying symmetry in their proportions, they were habitually rectangular in shape. Not content with confining themselves to the monotonous convention of rectangularity, the Brothers Adam made the very shapes of their rooms fulfill a decorative purpose and frequently designed circular, semi-circular, octagonal, oval and elliptical apartments or rooms with semi-circular, arc-shaped, tribune or arcaded ends when they deemed that, by so doing, they could enhance the elegance, vivacity or interest of their creations. At the same time they made the ceilings (Plates 10 and 159) and floors enter into a comprehensive and inter-related scheme of decorative unity that had rarely before been equalled.
To a greater extent, perhaps, than had ever been done previously, they treated the walls of their more important rooms as architectural compositions (Plate 10), distinct and complete in themselves, with a due and ordered disposition of panels (Plate 10), pilasters, capitals, pediments, friezes and cornices. All of these features were usually in low and rather flat projection so as to emphasise the sense of space and prevent them from seeming unduly obtrusive, unless the apartment was so large that it could easily stand a succession of bold projections without their becoming oppressive or destroying the aspect of spacious freedom. The decorative details, both upon these architectural members and upon the panelled or other intervening flat surfaces, were refined and delicate in scale and in low relief. Pilasters, pediments and other dominant projections were sometimes fashioned in carved wood, but more frequently were executed in plaster; the low relief wall panels and other ornamental details were almost invariably done in plaster or compo. Never before had the art of the plasterer or of the worker in compo been given so ample an opportunity to display its manifold possibilities and charms.
The panels, or successions of panels, were often covered with a complete and sufficient decorative design of airy arabesques, urns, patere and other motifs in low relief and the effect of this rich mural adornment was generally further enhanced by the use of a pale-coloured background in order to throw the raised work into sharp contrast. At other times the wall panels exhibited no plaster or compo relief but were painted, upon a solid body colour, with devices similar to those employed in the reliefs just mentioned.
Even with their plainer and less pretentious walls, on which there was no display of architectural features, decorative panels, either in relief or painted, were used to good effect and constituted a valuable item of fixed embellishment. On walls of a still less elaborate type—walls in the Adam mode varied from the utmost exuberance of detail to the opposite extreme of classic austerity—countersunk panels and niches were introduced, either in conjunction or separately, and were so disposed that the most striking results were obtained from the agreeable alternation of light and shadow, for the Adelphi were masters in the management of this simple but often neglected and misapplied resource, as they also were in their handling of low relief. On the plainest walls, whose surfaces were unbroken by either projections or depressions, the rich and delicate detail of the cornice (Plate 69), along with the decoration of door and window trims, was skillfully manipulated to present an elegant contrast between concentrated ornament and foil. Wooden panelling entered little if at all into the interior decorative schemes of the Brothers Adam for they were too deeply imbued with the ideals they had formed during their travels and researches in classic lands to be much enamoured of this method of wall treatment, notwithstanding the great body of previous English precedent and the materials at their disposal. Instead of wooden panelling, they occasionally employed marble, but their methods of treating plaster were capable of such agreeable variety that there was little need to resort to other means of interior finish. In a great number of cases, especially with the plainer walls, a chair rail or moulding was carried around the room, thus creating the appearance of a base for the treatment above. In some instances, also, fabrics and wall-paper were used, but painted walls seem to have accorded more nearly with the spirit of Adam interior backgrounds. The system of colouring commonly employed will be more fully discussed in a subsequent section, but it seems advisable at this point to call attention to what an extent the ensemble of Adam interiors was dependent upon the light, delicate and often pale tones of the flat wall surfaces.
Decorative paintings of landscapes (Plate 159) and architectural subjects, in the Italian manner worthily represented in England by Cipriani and others of his fellow-countrymen who had heeded the invitation of the Adelphi, were plentifully used and were set either in countersunk panels or in flush panels surrounded with plaster or compo mouldings in the fashion of a frame. These panels were introduced with great frequency and in various shapes over (Plate 11) doorways, above fire-places and wherever else decorative expediency dictated. Wedgwood plaques (Plate 159), with designs by Flaxman or Lady Templetown, were often made the central features of arabesque panels, and large plaster or Wedgwood medallions, with heads or with classic figures in low relief, frequently occurred either with an accompaniment of flowing arabesques to enrich a large wall or overmantel panel, or else in a severely chaste composition as the sole enrichment of one of the smaller countersunk panels already mentioned. Busts or other pieces of sculpture (Plate 10) were sometimes strikingly used for wall decoration and so placed that the shadow of a niche behind them supplied a most impressive background against which they were silhouetted.
Mirrors fulfilled an important function in the fixed decoration of many Adam rooms and were set above mantels, over consoles in symmetrical placings or some-times in the panelling of doors, the gilded frames being designed to accord with the light and airy interpretations of classicism elsewhere in evidence. Not a few door heads contained semi-elliptical fan lights, filled with clear glass or with mirrors, and traversed with delicately moulded leaden tracery. The effect of these door heads was singularly rich and beautiful.
Mantel pieces, as might be expected, were the objects of no less solicitous care (Plates 10 and 69) than was lavished upon all the other permanent accessories. They were of the finest white marble carved in the characteristic Adam motifs, consisting of urns, swags, drops, flutings and the like, sometimes with a central panel above the fireplace opening exhibiting a Flaxman or a Templetown design in low relief, and frequently yellow (Plate 69), buff, black or green Italian marbles were so combined as to throw the carved devices into conspicuous relief, or else the whole mantel structure was of wood carved in the same refined and delicate fashion or with the more intricate detail modelled in compo and applied to the wooden ground before painting. There were few architectural superstructures or attached and "continued" chimney pieces, as in the days of Kent, and the chimney breast above the mantel shelf was adorned with a mirror or in some one of the other ways previously indicated. For many of the fireplaces, grates of burnished steel or of brass were designed in a fashion to coincide with the rest of the decoration.
The woodwork of doors and of door and window trims (Plate 69) displayed refined mouldings of rather low relief and the same chaste and delicate decorative detail, sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple, as al-ready noted in the wooden mantels and other permanent features. Straight door heads often carried a considerable degree of elaboration and occasionally central panels in the manner shown in Plate 69. The refining effect of flutings and of other close parallel lines was especially well exemplified in Adam woodwork. As the century advanced the size of window panes gradually increased and, although there was no approximation to the horrors of large sheets of glass with which we are now sometimes afflicted and which utterly destroy the character of a window, the lights were perceptibly larger than they were during the first half of the century. The muntins, also, were appreciably pared down in dimensions. Wrought ironwork, while used chiefly in exterior embellishment, also often made its appearance in the composition of stair rails and balustrades and was fashioned in graceful, light and frequently attenuated devices to correspond with the interior ensemble.
The ceilings (Plates 10, 69 and 159), designed by the Brothers Adam were among the most beautiful and finished of all their exquisite compositions. The Adelphi not only had a goodly heritage of plaster tradition behind them in the work of English designers and artificers, but they also had constantly in their mind's eye the wonderful ceiling enrichments of the classic precedents upon which they drew so freely for inspiration. In the matter of physical execution they were able to avail themselves of the services of skilled plasterers, adepts in every minute detail of their craft, and also, in addition to this, they made extensive use of a newly perfected process of applying compo ornament in large moulded sections. The low reliefs, which the Adelphi knew how to employ with such marvellous effect upon walls, they used to no less advantage in the decoration of their ceilings. Motifs of the same description as those already noted were, of course, employed in ceiling treatment. Sometimes the ceilings were uncoloured, sometimes there was a pale ground colour to throw the low reliefs into sharp contrast, and some-times whole surfaces were covered with painted panels or frescoes, polychrome enrichment and gilding. A great many of the ceilings were flat, but it was not uncommon to find them coved and still others domed and vaulted. Some of these vaulted and domed ceilings were quite plain except for the ornamentation around the cornice and, we may add, were exceedingly beautiful and effective, one of their great merits being the perfection of their proportions. There was the same relative gradation between the elaboration of ceilings and the elaboration of walls, some of them being exceedingly ornate while others were quite simple, but even where the walls were almost devoid of ornamentation there was usually some attempt at more decorative amenity on the ceiling, especially if it was a flat ceiling and had not the interest of curving lines to fascinate the eye.
Floors were made of both wood and marble and a certain degree of restrained decoration was sometimes employed, but in most cases the floor was either regarded as a plain foundation for the rest of the composition or else intended to be carpeted so that a fixed decoration thereon would have been lost. The increasing vogue of full-sized carpets or rugs, both of which were often especially designed and woven for the rooms in which they were to be used, discouraged the elaborate ornamental parquetting of floors, a fashion that had obtained at an earlier date when large floor coverings were not so numerous.
A survey of the elements entering into the fixed decoration of Adam rooms, as indicated in the fore-going paragraphs, shows that a hitherto unprecedented degree of refinement and completeness had been attained—indeed, we may say that it has never since been excelled—and that punctilious care was bestowed upon the least as well as upon the greatest factors comprehended in a decorative scheme. That this thorough and painstaking care was contributory in a great degree to the success of the Brothers Adam in their domestic work we need hardly emphasise.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, although the architectural and decorative influence of the Adelphi was still strong and far-reaching and constituted a force to be reckoned with, other influences were beginning to creep in from France as a reflection of the Empire mode, a mode altogether heavier and less in-spired than the creations of the Adam Brothers. Architecturally it may be termed the style of the " Greek Revival"; in mobiliary and decorative parlance we know it as the Empire mode. In England the process of architectural change at this time was not so clearly marked as in America. Architectural traditions were, perhaps, more firmly established or, at least, more widely established; and, in the second place, there was not the widespread building activity that occurred at the very end of the eighteenth century and in the first three decades of the nineteenth in the recently established republic, where population was rapidly increasing and where a great many men, rejoicing in a fresh burst of prosperity and new-found wealth, were erecting for themselves homes commensurate with their affluence. We might, indeed, say that in England the architectural change was chiefly to be observed in a gradual falling away from those vital and blithesome qualities that had distinguished the work of earlier days and a slipping into a more sombre, stolid and inelastic form of expression. It was as though both architecture and interior decoration were suffering from an incipient hardening of the arteries. Details grew heavier and more pompous, there was less variety in the forms employed, and the numerous enlivening devices of fixed decoration, that had so glorified and characterised the hey-day of Adam influence, one by one dropped out of fashion until we come to a full realisation of the architectural and decorative bathos in the prevailing vision of great rectangular rooms wth plain plaster walls, whose monotony was now and then relieved by a niche; door and window trims heavily detailed in severe and rather monumental Greek and Roman motifs, among which the key fret and the anthemion were conspicuous ; plaster cornices echoing the same inspiration, heavy plaster ornaments to match around the edges and in the centres of ceilings ; and plain, vigorously moulded black marble mantels without any fixed architectural adornment above them on the chimney breast, a place that seemed now to have become sacred either to a family portrait or else to a large mirror set in a heavy gilt frame. Altogether, it will be observed, the ground had become well prepared for the final plunge and slump into Victorian desolation, dullness and materialistic commercialism without a ray of imagination to lighten and redeem the benighted epoch.
In America, the Adam influence had borne ripe fruit and continued to make itself felt in a somewhat modified, but nevertheless beautiful, form through the work of such men as Samuel McIntire of Salem. Adam expression, however, had never attained the far-reaching spread that it had in England and in the very late eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, when there was so much building to be done along the whole Atlantic seaboard, building both public and domestic, in order to keep pace with the, access of a newly stimulated national expansion, and when, moreover, there was the greatest enthusiasm everywhere through-out the country for all things French, it is not surprising that the style which we know as the "Classic" or "Greek Revival," echoing the current phase of French architectural sentiment should have taken deep root and achieved a wide development, modified, it is true, by local conditions and necessities, but unmistakable in its parentage.
The interiors in this new evolution of domestic architecture were commonly characterised by a great deal of solid dignity and decorum, an impression materially assisted by the customarily spacious dimensions of the rooms, without much enlivening imagination or decorative resourcefulness to give to the ensemble that vitality that had always radiated from the background of a room conceived by the Brothers Adam or by the, men who professedly followed their lead. The walls were plain, unrelieved expanses of smooth plaster (Plate 12) extending from baseboard to cornice and were either painted or tinted some pale, cool colour—grey, pearl, drab, buff, and a light green inherited from Adam usage, were in high favour—or else they were covered with wall-paper, usually of a very excellent quality and meant to last.
About the end of the eighteenth century and in the very beginning of the nineteenth, the landscape papers were extensively used alike in rooms and in halls and many of them, both polychrome and monochrome, were both beautiful and dignified and lent a peculiar charm and breadth to the rooms in which they were hung, a charm that nothing else has ever quite taken the place of. In addition to these landscape papers, papers with striking Chinese motifs of figures, animals, pagodas, bridges, birds and flowers, frequently in vital colouring, enjoyed some vogue. There were, also, the mono-chrome French papers printed with carefully out wood blocks from cartoons by David * and other equally noted contemporary French artists. These papers pourtrayed scenes from classic mythology and were designed as panels to be hung in a sequence. Of all the early wall-papers, they were, perhaps, the finest in both conception and execution.
A little later on in the nineteenth century, when these beautiful wall coverings had either passed out of fashion or were no longer obtainable, their place was taken by papers designed to represent moulded panels, or by paper marbled, mottled and veined and laid off in vertical and horizontal lines to simulate the joints of masonry. The best of these masonry papers—and some of them were by no means bad—contained cartouches in the centre of each oblong block and within the car-touches were small monochrome scenes of classic or historical provenance. Some tone of grey was usually chosen for the execution of such papers and, it may be added, the masonry papers were as a rule hung in halls, where their pattern did not conflict with the movable decorations and where their pictorial note lent a touch of interest in default of other features to arrest or amuse the eye.
Door and window trims were bold and heavy in de-tail and, when any attempt was made at ornamentation beyond flat, rectangular mouldings, Greek key fret and anthemion motifs generally appeared and also square thistle or acanthus leaf pater e at the angles. The panels of doors and shutters were small, with the occasional exception of large panels in the lower halves of doors, and were defined by a number of small, flat mouldings which often gave them a complex appearance. The woodwork was usually painted white, al-though such pale colours as pearl or light grey were now and then used by way of variety. Green, or some-times white, Venetian blinds were much in fashion at this period and added a touch of decorative interest to the windows which otherwise they would not have possessed. Floors were of plain boards without any essay at adornment. In hallways marble tiles were sometimes used, either solid white or black and white chequered.
Plaster decoration consisted of moulded cornices and of ceiling borders and central ornaments that echoed the motifs of the woodwork in the manner al-ready mentioned as occurring in contemporary houses in England. Ceiling borders were not invariably used, but the central ornaments in the larger and more important rooms were rarely omitted as they formed a point of departure from the ceiling for the imposing chandelier which had by now come to be regarded as an almost indispensable adjunct.
Mantel-pieces of black or dark grey veined marble, oftentimes with two plain pillars supporting the shelf, were in common use. White marble and wood painted white, and fashioned in the same pattern, were also much used. In some of the more elegantly equipped rooms the low mantels of white marble were elaborately carved in the current French style and in some in-stances displayed griffin or caryatid side supports in-stead of the pillars just alluded to. These latter pieces of sculpture were really very beautiful and imparted an air of elegance and distinction to any room in which they were placed, quite sufficient to redeem any impression of heaviness conveyed by the other items of fixed equipment.
The architectural and decorative mode that followed the Classic Revival, which, indeed, grew from it and into which the Classic Revival gradually declined when its period of decadence set in, is discussed in Chapter IX.
Furniture and Decoration.—In the early part of the eighteenth century—the last years of the reign of William and Mary and the reign of Queen Anne—every article of furniture that we now have was in use and, besides this, there were some things that we have since allowed to fall more or less into oblivion to our own great decorative loss. While many of the 'nobiliary fashions of an earlier date persisted to some extent
the panelled oak pieces and the more elaborate walnut creations of late Stuart times and the walnut, marqueterie and lacquer achievements of the William and Mary era—and especially in the provincial towns and country districts, a new and powerful influence in furniture design was everywhere apparent. This new element has been called the curvilinear influence and was particularly manifest in the prevalence of cabriole legs for seating furniture, tables and cabinet work, shaped aprons for tables and wall furniture, shaped and curving tops or cresting for bureau bookcases, cupboards, cabinets, highboys and other pieces of wall furniture, shaped heads with cyma curves for panelling and mirror tops, and even the introduction of curved lines into structural features such as the fronts of bombe or "kettle-front" cabinets and chests of drawers. This influence came into England directly through Dutch channels, but was only one instance of similar concurrent influences prevailing throughout Europe which may be attributed to a complex and mixed Baroque and Oriental parentage.
Although oak continued to be used to some extent for furniture making, the favourite and fashionable, and we may also say the standard, wood was walnut, either solid or as a figured veneer laid on over a base of oak or of some other wood. The cabinet makers of the period, however, did not restrict themselves in their finer work to the expression of their talents in walnut alone. They made considerable use of other woods which increasing commercial facilities were placing within their grasp; they freely employed marqueterie in the more refined "sea weed" patterns which had superseded the larger multi-colored floral and foliated motifs; they continued to produce many pieces of lacquer, admirable in colour—red, green, cream, yellow, blue, brown, silver and black—and in decoration; they decorated not a few pieces with paint and parcel gilding; they strained various fabrics over carved and moulded wood bases; and last, but not least in significance, under the impetus of designs furnished by such men as Kent and his school, who required pieces of a certain scale and pomp to. accord with the stately interiors then being created, they executed massive and heavily carved tables and consoles, coated with gesso richly gilt and topped with slabs of marble or vari-coloured scagliola, as well as other pieces in a similar monumental vein to match.
About 1720 mahogany began to be used and the advent of this wood as a material for furniture construction opened the way for developments in both structure and ornamentation that would not have been possible in any of the previous media. Before speaking more explicitly, however, of the changes induced by the popularisation of mahogany as a cabinet wood, attention should be called to what has aptly been termed "Architects' Furniture," a species of mobiliary equipment that exercised a profound effect upon the appearance of a great many interiors during the first half of the eighteenth century. Architects were designing stately rooms with lofty ceilings and broad wall spaces on a scale and in a style hitherto unknown in England. For these spacious interiors the "small calibre" furniture of the familiar "Queen Anne" pattern was totally in-adequate in scale and often unsatisfactory in the minutiae of style. The want of something more imposing was partially filled by the heavy carved and gilded pieces of which mention has already been made, but there was still an obvious need for something further in the way of large case work. And this further need was met by the architects who proceeded to design large book-cases, cupboards, presses and cabinets in a scale commensurate with the positions they were to occupy and in a style that was distinctly architectural in conception, even to the details of ornamentation, free use being made of pillars, pilasters, entablatures, pediments of various types, urns and cornices whose every feature was transferred from architectural to mobiliary usage. This was one step farther than, and a logical development from, the built-in cupboards and buffets previously discussed. This "architects' furniture" was constructed either in the natural cabinet woods current at the time, chiefly walnut and mahogany, or else was made of pine or deal and painted to accord with the fixed woodwork of the room in which it was placed.
During the early Georgian period, and synchronously with the carved and gilt Kentian pieces and the "architects' furniture," a great deal of the other furniture underwent a process of elaboration that was more observable in decorative details and the amount of decoration applied than in structural forms. It began with what is known as the "Decorated Queen Anne" type and progressed through the heavily, and often overly, embellished creations of chair and cabinet makers up to the rise of Thomas Chippendale into prominence as the arbiter of furniture fashions. About the middle of the century there had been a recrudeseence of the "Chinese taste" in the Oriental and pseudo-Oriental forms inspired by the designs of Sir William Chambers. It was left for Chippendale to temper and correct the excesses of design that had prevailed prior to his regime, to adapt and improve upon the. precedents that he found previously established, and to introduce new elements by which he sought to elevate mobiliary taste of his day and, needless to say, this he succeeded in doing.
The heritage of English precedent that Chippendale found ready to his hand, he refined and, in many cases, elaborated with the utmost skill, displaying his genius and originality, not in the futile effort to create some-thing utterly different from all preexistent fashions, but through a sane and reasonable adaptation to contemporary requirements as he conceived them and as the means at his disposal prompted him. The "Chinese taste" he interpreted in a manner perfectly consistent with the needs and environment for which he was working; the "Gothic style" in its undiluted form, though obviously an anachronism and a piece of affectation, altogether out of keeping with the architectural settings then being created, he handled with tactful ad-dress and contrived to keep it from being aggressively offensive; the Rococo inspiration, derived from current French models, he translated successfully into an English body and, although there was nothing in any of the phases of British architectural and decorative backgrounds to which it in any way corresponded, managed so to express the style that it did not conflict with its environment. But it was in what might be called his "composite" work, in the expression of which he freely drew from various sources and commingled elements Chinese, Gothic and Rococo in the same piece along with traditions of earlier English derivation, that he achieved his most signal successes as a great master of style. Whatever diversities of origin such pieces might reveal upon close and searching scrutiny, there can be no question that their ensemble was in full and harmonious accord with the architectural environment of the day.
Early in the second half of the eighteenth century, under the revived classic impulse imparted by the Brothers Adam, the whole spirit of furniture design underwent a radical change and the mobiliary equipment of the period was created with the avowed and patent intent of close coincidence with the newer phase of architectural expression. Emphasis was laid upon straight structural lines and the decorative details were of obviously architectural provenance. The attenuation and restraint discernible in architectural forms were communicated to the structure of the furniture and also visibly affected not only the forms of the ornament employed but also the amount of ornament and the manner of its distribution. While Chippendale, so long as he followed the bent of his own inspiration, worked almost exclusively in mahogany and carried the manipulation of his chosen medium to the highest development of which even so facile and accommodating a material was susceptible, the access of Adam influence popularised a great diversity of materials which, while they did not displace mahogany as a cabinet wood, were freely used concurrently with it and vastly added to the resources of colour possibility and contributed to the general lightening effect of contemporary interior decoration. Satinwood especially came into high favour. At the same time painting and inlay were exploited to the full extent of their capabilities as decorative factors. Hepplewhite, Shearer, Sheraton, and also the lesser lights who wrought at the same time and followed in their wake, were all profoundly influenced by the new ideals of which the Adelphi were successful protagonists and the work of all these cabinet makers and designers exhibited a kindred regard for and observance of the reversion to purer classic principles with the attendant attenuation of proportions and dominance of straight lines as well as the use of motifs of more or less immediate classical provenance.
At the very end of the century we discover the classic forms merging gradually into the "Directoire" phase of expression, while early in the nineteenth century—a period synchronous with the very apparent decadence of Sheraton design—we find the more bombastic manifestations corresponding to the Empire fashion in France for, notwithstanding the abhorrence of France and of French politics, French styles were as potent and pervasive as ever. For a detailed discussion of Empire forms, as well as for the minute particulars of all the furniture variations during the period included in this chapter, the reader is referred to the "Practical Book of Period Furniture," Eberlein and McClure.
Other Decorative Accessories and Movable Decorations.—During the early part of the eighteenth century, the tapestries which had played so important a part in the decorative composition of former times, retained somewhat of their pristine popularity and remained to a certain extent in evidence, although they did not constitute one of the distinctively characteristic features of the time.
Hangings for windows consisted of either brocades, damasks or velvets in bright colours and strong patterns, much like the fabrics used for covering upholstered furniture, or else of printed linens and chintzes of agreeably bright colouring and in designs similar to those shown in the illustration. Both kinds of hangings were used either with or without valances and were often hung from box heads which were covered with the same material strained over the wood.
In large rooms chandeliers, were often used; some-times they were made of carved wood, painted and parcel gilt, sometimes of brass, sometimes of wrought iron which was occasionally embellished by colour and gilding, and sometimes of glass with large crystal pendants. Sconces, too, were conspicuous items of decorative equipment and were made in the manner just noted in the description of chandeliers as well as with various other devices of embellishment.
In addition to the mirrors employed in fixed decorative treatments, great numbers of mirrors, both large and small, were in common use. Some were tall and narrow, others were long and low, while others still were quite small. It was quite a usual thing for a mirror to be made in several divisions. The edges were often bevelled, even where the head of the mirror was elaborately shaped, and it was not an uncommon thing for the surface of the glass to be adorned with shallow cutting where such decoration would not interfere with practical utility. Then again, side panels in large tripartite mirrors were frequently adorned with poly-chrome paintings in reverse, in the Chinese manner, which added greatly to their decorative value. A number of the early mirrors were framed with bevelled glass of a different colour, very often a rich deep blue, although other colours were used. Most of the mirror frames, however, were of walnut and were either adorned with marqueterie or were carved and parcel gilt; or they were of pine or some other soft wood, carved and coated with gesso and wholly gilt; or else they were of lacquer with gilt, and also sometimes with polychrome decorations. Sconces, when not of metal or of carved wood, painted and parcel gilt, were often made in combination with small mirrors and were framed in the manner just indicated. A number of mirrors, especially those intended for overmantel decoration, were framed in combination with decorative paintings, the mirror forming the lower part of the composition and the painting the upper portion.
Pictures—portraits, landscapes and decorative paintings of fruits and flowers or of combined architectural and landscape subjects—constituted another valuable and much used decorative resource, and likewise framed prints, both plain and coloured, were extensively employed.
Sculptures, especially in marble but to some extent also in bronze, were much in vogue and were placed either on pedestals or in niches designed to receive them. These marbles and bronzes were often in the form of urns and vases as well as busts, figures and groups. Porcelains, in the shape of urns, vases, jars and other articles, both large and small, especially during the China-mad days in the early part of the century, were freely employed as decorative adjuncts.
From the middle of the century onward, when the Adam influence had become dominant, the same decorative accessories as just enumerated continued to be used, but their forms naturally underwent such modifications as rendered them in keeping with the altered conceptions of elegant design. With the ornate wall surfaces of many of the Adam rooms, there was less opportunity to use the tapestries which earlier in the century had continued to enjoy at least a certain cur-tailed degree of favour. The method of draping window hangings was often more involved and the cornices surmounting them frequently assumed more pretentious forms than had hitherto been common. Chandeliers were lighter in line and more intricate in design and there was a preference for metal with numerous pendent glass prisms rather than for wood painted and gilt or for brass alone in its more robust but graceful designs. Sconces, too, reflected the same trend toward attenuation and were quite generally adorned with cut glass drops and pendent prisms which greatly added to the brilliance and lustre of the illumination when the candles were lighted. The sconces, also, not uncommonly displayed, along with mirror frames, the airy surmounting or surrounding ornaments wrought in gilt compo supported on wires. In the heads of mirrors were often inserted paintings with classic motifs or de-signs in gilt relief on a ground of plain colour or else devices painted in reverse on the under side of the glass.
Materials and Colour.—In the early part of the century the woods chiefly used were oak, walnut and, for panelling, deal and pine and fir also. About 1720 mahogany, while not wholly displacing the others, came into use for cabinet purposes and grew more and more popular. Gesso laid over a pine foundation and gilt was also an important source of decoration.
The fabrics were brocades, velvets, plain and with cut pile figures, brocatelles, damasks and silks. The simpler fabrics were printed linens, muslins and chintzes. In both cases the colours were strong and vigorous and the designs usually bold and often large in detail. As the century wore on the diversity and brilliance of colouring became less pronounced. Pale and delicate pastel colours were freely employed and stripes had a tremendous vogue. The patterns on the brocades were refined in scale and often attenuated in accord with the prevalent trend of contemporary style. Even when the colours used were fairly vigorous, they were so disposed in quantity that their emphasis was appreciably modified. Needlework in petit point and gros point also played a prominent part for the covering of furniture.
After the middle of the century and all through the period of Adam ascendency, while mahogany retained a place of honour, satinwood and other light coloured woods, such as sycamore or harewood, maple and similar light toned materials enjoyed huge popularity, for the whole tendency of the time was toward a lighter and more cheerful and blithesome colour scheme. Not only was furniture very commonly made of light coloured wood or painted some light tone, but the fixed wood-work also was painted in various pale hues, as were the walls and ceilings. The scale of the earlier work, both in architectural usage and in furniture contours and decorative motifs was heavier and required heavier colours; the lighter scale and refined, attenuated motifs of the Adam period demanded lighter colours and would have looked utterly out of place with the full-bodied tones of an earlier era.
The same thing was true of fabrics. The silks, damasks, brocades, velvets and other stuffs used for hangings and upholstery were light in colour and refined in the details of their pattern. At this time also Aubusson tapestry, by the nature of its colour, design and texture, came into vogue for furniture covering and also for rugs and carpets.
Arrangement.—During the earlier part of the century, while symmetry and formality of arrangement were duly considered in the disposition of the movable furnishings, there was still a certain amount of the casual latitude of earlier days to be seen in the placement of the principal articles that entered into the composition of a room. Under the Adam regime, however, the principles of formality and balanced symmetry were oaried to their fullest limit. It was the period of the dominance of pairs. It might be pairs of consoles, or pairs of sconces, or pairs of sofas, or pairs of candelabra—but wherever there was an opportunity to introduce the element of balance by the use of duplicates, the opportunity was seized and made the most of.