International Inter-Period Decoration
( Originally Published 1919 )
A BROADENING OF SCOPE
IN these days of greater public enlightenment and appreciation of beauty it is scarcely worth while to argue the question of period furnishing. It is, rather, the purpose of these chapters to show how its scope may be broadened, rendered more flexible and adaptable to modern life, and how the disadvantages urged against what is commonly considered period furnishing may be eliminated. If such a system is to continue in use, if it is to become more than a matter of accurate copying of the past, it must prove itself alive, capable of growth and adaptable to changing conditions.
Period furnishing is commonly considered to be the reproduction in our modern dwellings and apartments of the interior decoration and furnishing of some one past period in a particular country, and it has been objected that such a method does not properly represent us today. The present writers are not greatly concerned in confuting this point for the simple reason that a much better method is to be presented; but it might be observed that wherever the one-period style is adopted because the person is filled with such admiration and love for the work of the great designers of that period that he wishes to surround himself with its beauty and charm, there is small chance of its not being suited to his personality; for in a sense it is, he and so is representative.
There is, however, a flaw in the one-period manner of furnishing which is less, if at all, noted—that with a wide knowledge and appreciation comes the wareness that there are other, and many other, objects of beauty that do not come within the narrow province of his particular choice.
It was doubtless some dim appreciation of this that led decorators, as the next step, to attempt an enlargement of scope or to suit varying tastes by the employment of different period styles in the various rooms of the same establishment—a dumping down, so to speak, of separate epochs under one roof—a method that utterly violated the unities and the result of which presented the appearance of a series of show-rooms in a decorator's shop.
And now, during the last few years, we have been hearing much of a reasonable eclecticism. Just what would constitute it such must have been a puzzle to the many who have given but scant attention to matters of household decoration. Doubtless even decorators who have practised this method with a fair measure of success have secured their results through their general taste and information rather than by any very careful consideration or formulation of the principles involved : so that it is by no means surprising that the decorator who is scarcely more than a tradesman and the house-holder unlearned in such affairs should often "come a cropper" in a field that requires knowledge and the nicest discrimination.
The word eclecticism itself is scarcely the best that could be used in this connexion, as it implies "a selection from different systems or sources," a taking here and there that would be faulty practice; but it at least makes some approach to what is the only really satisfying and scientific method of decoration, whether for palatial establishments or for small homes or apartments where the occupant wishes to secure results in accord with cultured taste, breadth of appreciation and wideness of life.
The difficulty with period decoration in the past has lain in that, except in the hands of a few architects of distinction, it has not been true to its name; that it has taken account of but a selected period in but one country and in but one phase of the existing movement, and not that movement viewed as an whole and as manifested throughout neighbouring nations all under the same influence or decorative impulse. It is the old fault of narrowness, of insularity, of want of catholicity in outlook.
In our modern egotism we' have been wont to consider the present the only cosmopolitan age : those who have not pursued the subject might be astonished at the amount of communication between nations at all periods, at the wareness that always existed among artists and craftsmen as to what their brothers of far away were about, at the universality with which decorative impulses spread from land to land.
It is those impulses that we shall now take into account, the four waves of influence spreading horizon-tally, so to speak, across the civilised world ; and it will be done so simply and so practically that all may under-stand. They will be considered broadly and even baldly here, so as quickly to arrive at their helpful and practical application to-day. Not only will the more elaborate phases, suited to palatial homes, be considered, but also the simpler and more neglected aspects of each period, those adapted to the modest house and to property that is not owned by the occupant. The several influences will be treated in sequence, down to the debacle of all decorative art in the early nineteenth century; and the characteristics of each will be so shown that the reader may readily see which makes its strongest appeal to his own personality, is there-fore most individual to him and most representative of himself, his general circumstances and his life. It will thus be no less a guide to the decorator in his endeavour to endue his client with appropriate surroundings and to the retail dealer in any of the allied branches of furnishing in his advice to possible purchasers.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLES
Let us begin at the beginnings of modern art. During the Dark Ages the Church saved culture and civilisation, and the Church was Gothic. (The East and Venice were Byzantine and the West had been Romanesque, which style developed into Gothic.) This Gothic style was naturally modified in each country by national influences, as, for instance, by the Moorish element in Spain. With exceptions, Italy remained Romanesque, because there the overmastering influence of the great Classic remains and the national characteristics and tastes largely prevented the Gothic from "taking hold."
In that country, at about the year 1400, began the "Revival of Learning," a Renaissance of the Classic spirit—an awakened interest hi the literature and art of "the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome "—a revival that almost revolutionised thought and art and which swept with mighty impetus over the face of all but most northern and eastern Europe.
One civilization or art seldom wholly routs and displaces another; but, even though absolutely different in principle, the new, somehow, grafts itself upon the old. In France this blending became the styles Francois Premier and Henri II : in England it became what we know as Elizabethan or Tudor.
Does our plan now begin to emerge? If one possesses an Elizabethan house not only may there be used in it Elizabethan furniture, but also furniture of Renaissance France, Flanders, Italy, Spain or Portugal—for all were of the same spirit! The Renaissance also found its way to Germany, but Germany has no consideration here.
Naturally, this is not to say that in every epoch every individual furnishing or piece of furniture made under one influence, will properly accompany every other single piece, for there are qualifications which, later, will be entered into, but the recognition of the international extent of this and subsequent movements gives a wide basis upon which to work; so that with a proper regard to the unities, we may add, for example, to the English furnishings of any epoch treasures from these other countries, or reproductions thereof.
The international extent of this method of furnishing now having been established, we may go further.
Such a momentous impulse as that of the Renaissance does not soon exhaust itself; indeed, that impulse has never died, and, though temporarily obscured, revived and is exceedingly alive today. Before its partial obscuration it ran through several reigns in England—and England is used as a key because of its greater familiarity to most readers. The architecture (exterior and interior) of that country never there-after lost its Classic feeling, but in furniture the Classic was, in the Jacobean period, blended with, and finally in the reign of Queen Anne almost driven out, by the succeeding Baroque influence. In other countries the Renaissance also persisted until succeeded by the Baroque.
So, to the international extent of this plan—its horizontal aspect, so to speak—we may add the chronological or vertical element, the two giving a wide field of choice, and adapting the Renaissance influence (as others which are to follow) to an extensive range of circumstances in our modern life. A chart is given at the end of this volume, showing both the international and the chronological extent of each influence.