Furniture design in England

The definition of Georgian style is quite difficult because of the time-span involved, but it is generally accepted as the styles established during the reigns of four King Georges: King George the first (1714-1727), George the second (1727-1760) George the third (1760-1820) and George the fourth (1820-1830). However, during the years 1714 and 1760 the style acquired the characteristics that are implied by the word "Georgian." (Sassone, A et al 172) William Kent is believed to be the first English Architect to design furniture for a particular setting. Robert Adam took this concept even further making furniture an integral part of the interior of his buildings.

Under the reigns of Georges I and II the powerful aristocratic Whig Party brought in a period of greater opulence and splendor.(Great Styles of Furniture 27). During this time great country palaces were built. It is in these palaces that the architects like Kent began their furniture designs to fit into a specific place. Appendix I is a photo of Holkham Hall in Norfolk which demonstrates Kent's talent. (Furniture designed by architects 14) The walls are covered in velvet, as are the gilt chairs. The chairs and the table to the left of the picture have claw and ball feet. The fireplaces have the Palladian pillars. On the Continent the fashion was Rococo a style that was elaborate and exotic. However, in England a Group led by Lord Burlington and William Kent and known as the Palladian Group prevented the English style from assuming the Continental Rococo's excess elaboration. (Great Styles of Furniture 27)

The early Georgian period incorporates the years 1714 to 1735. This period saw a resurgence of Baroque, but it was less exuberant than the Carolean version. The new form was decorated with a delicate precision, and carving was done in Gesso which gave more freedom as the carver was not limited by the grain of the wood. Gesso is a composition of parchment, size and whitening. It was built up in successive layers on a wood base. "Carved into soft and flowing lines and gilded, gesso became a characteristic of the new phase of Baroque." (Gloag. 128) William Kent achieved such fame for his interpretation of Baroque that he was consulted by the leaders of society to the extent that nothing was considered finished without his assistance. (Gloag.128). While most of his work was based on architectural composition, it was lavishly decorated with carvings and gilt finishes. Some of his decorations were: acanthus scrolls, shells, realistic masks, grotesque faces and fierce lions. He placed the masks on the knees of cabriole legs, on the arms and backs of his chairs and on the aprons of tables. Table and chair legs sat on claw and ball feet, or on carved shaggy paws. Appendix II is a picture of a carved and gilt side table showing a grotesque mask, with scrolls and swags. (Gloag .129).

Around 1730 Mahogany became the wood of choice. It was imported from Jamaica where it was grown and the Jamaican merchants also dealt in imported Spanish mahogany from Cuba and Honduras. While Mahogany was not a new wood to the carvers they had previously used walnut and other varieties by choice. However, around this time the characteristics of the wood became better understood, it was found to be reliable, pest resistant, and easily polished. The gloss and colour of the wood gave a natural beauty that reduced the need for inlay, veneer and carving. Due to the size of the pieces of wood cut from the trunk, one section could be used as a table top. At the same time it could be used for delicate pieces as well. Mahogany blended well with bronze, gold and silver. "It is to the use of this wood that the simplicity, elegance and clean lines that have given English furniture of the eighteenth century such a desirable and special reputation are largely owed." (Sassone et al.173). Appendix III shows illustrations of tables in mahogany from this period note the claw and ball feet, masks, and vines. (Sassone et al 184).

During the early Georgian period the principles of architectural composition was mastered by the cabinet makers of the time. There were copy books printed with plates on the order of joining, proportions and moulding details. James Gibbs published a book in 1728 entitled "A Book of Architecture" which contained his own designs, later books contained illustrations of furniture, sometimes by architects like William Jones who published in 1739 "The Gentlemens or Builders Companion, Containing Variety of usefull Designs for Doors, Gateways, Peers, Pavilions, Temples, Chimney pieces, Slab Tables, Pier Glasses or Tabernacle Frames, Ceiling pieces etc." About 1740 Batty Langley and his brother Thomas established a school of architectural drawing in Soho.

Appendix IV is a picture of an architectural bookcase designed by Batty Langley which lacks the finesse of the bookcase, Appendix V, designed with the influence of William Kent. (Gloag 134/5)

By mid eighteenth century independent engravers and craftsmen found it hard to compete with the large firms manufacturing furniture. These firms employed armies of specialists, craftsmen, designers, gilders and lacquerers. Some of the best known firms were, James Whittle, Samuel Norman, John Mayhew and William Ince. Vile and Cobb combined their talents to become one of the foremost workshops of the mid eighteenth century and both became "Royal Cabinet Maker" during their careers and are credited with the invention of a table with a moveable surface that was very useful to draughtsman and artists. Norman and Whittle went into partnership and Mayhew joined them for a time. (Sassone et al.189). Another workshop under John Channon made furniture inlaid with brass and applied with ormolu decoration. Ormolu means bronze gilded by the mercury process. (Sassone et al.191).

The Early Georgian style owed much to William Kent and "like the great designers who came after him, Kent knew where to place ornament, never lost control of it, and conferred on all his designs the impeccable proportions of classic architecture."(Gloag 136)

Mid Georgian 1740s and 1750s.

The name Thomas Chippendale is synonymous with this era. He was the first cabinet maker to issue a book of designs (1754) entitled "The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director." This book had two more editions published. In the preface to this book Chippendale says that all his designs could be executed by skilled workman. The designs in this book reflected the tastes of the time and covered Georgian, Rococo, Chinese, Gothic and neoclassical styles. Chippendale and his contemporaries had a style that could be used by country workman as well as by firms like Vile and Cobb. The

Director gave details of Tuscan, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian and Composite orders. (Gloag 137).Appendix VI has pictures that show how columns and pilasters were used in case furniture. Between 1730 and 60 large architectural bookcases saw the heavy glazing bars replaced by thinner moulded or flat sectioned bars arranged in geometric patterns. (Gloag.130) Appendix VI pictures represent the classic, mid Georgian style. The square-sectioned straight leg was introduced but the cabriole leg, claw and ball foot, the club foot with a pad, the knurl foot and the upturned whorl foot were all still used. Society of the period had a huge range and variety of furniture from which to make their selections. One book published in 1760 by a Society of Upholsterers, Cabinet Makers etc. incorporated upwards of one hundred and eighty designs covering everything from tea kettles to book cases. The mid-Georgian style incorporated the Rococo, Chinese and Gothic tastes in all aspects of furnishings. (Gloag 141).

The Rococo style was popular in France in the early decades of the eighteenth century and succeeded the Kent Baroque in England in the late 1730s. At this time the Chinese Taste was becoming of interest to society and the Rococo's semi oriental character made it acceptable. Chippendale and his associates anglicized rococo but it was the silversmiths and engravers who were the first English craftsmen to interpret the classical motifs. Appendix VII "Rococo device from the tile page of "Fables for the Female Sex."" (Gloag 149). The carver and gilders established a preference for carved wood ornament instead of ormolu mounts in their development of English Rococo. The English carvers used a soft wood like pine that enabled the carving of ornamental forms. Gesso was used to smooth over joints and wood faults and gilt, either burnished or matt added richness to the carvings. Mahogany, a dark, polished wood did not lend itself to this type of design. (Gloag 151).

English buyers would not have given up comfort for fragile design, so the distortions of the French Rococo were not incorporated into English Rococo. Chippendale's ribband back chairs were an exception to this rule. Appendix VIII (Gloag 156) Very few chairs of this design were actually made. English Rococo was a short lived fashion. Thomas Johnson carved girandoles in formalized rococo with boldly naturalistic motifs that included ruins, animals, leaves and flowers. (Gloag 151).

Until the mid century the Chinese influence had been limited to ornaments, and smaller bric-a-brac. In the middle Georgian period this changed, the style known as Chinese Chippendale an oriental design became popular. Wallpaper painted with oriental buildings, figures in Chinese costume, birds and flowering trees became fashionable and Chinese style furniture and accessories followed. Case furniture depicted in gold the European idea of Chinese landscapes. Included in these designs were gardens threaded by streams, arched bridges, temples, pavilions, pagodas, and also exotic birds and blossom.

The furniture also had pagoda surmounts. (Gloag 164) Appendix IX shows examples of the furniture of this period. Interest in the use of lacquered pieces was renewed. "English furniture in the Chinese taste derived is character from an imaginative use of a few basic motifs; was only slightly affiliated to rococo and the term "Chinese Chippendale", invented in the present century is apt." (Gloag 168) Other cabinet makers of importance in this period were Adam and Hepplewhite.

The Georgian Gothic Revival was supported by Horace Walpole who designed and built a house at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham in the 1750s. This house inspired the term "Strawberry Hill Gothic." The Society of Antiquaries of London raised an interest in mediaeval art and architecture when they encouraged the study of ruins around the English countryside. Walpole formed a committee of taste, which included John Chute, an advocate of a more strictly conventional approach to Gothic, and Richard Bentley a draughtsman and designer. These three men designed and decorated the eastern half of Strawberry Hill and "unconsciously created a new phase of the Gothic taste" (Gloag 170/4). Another name for "Strawberry Hill Gothic," was used by Lord Clark who named this style Gothic Rococo. The Gothic taste survived the second half of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth. Appendix X shows a china cabinet and bookcase in Georgian Gothic. (Gloag 172).

Neoclassicism: RobertAdam. The chief supporters of the neoclassicism in England were, Sir William Chambers, James Stuart, and Robert Adam. Chambers was an architect and cabinet maker in the neoclassical style and perhaps the first to design a piece of furniture in the new design. Adam and his brother published a collection of engravings entitled "The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam." Adam drew on many sources for his designs and they include Greek, Roman, and the Palladian influence. Adam created light and delicate interiors using pale green and white with light Havana brown and his chimney pieces were Italian marble. Adams ceilings were painted with mythological scenes. Adam passed through various phases in furniture design. His neoclassic style was adhered to by Ince and Mayhew, Chippendale, Lock and Darly. (Sassone et al 198). Into his chair designs he introduced the oval backed chair and the shield backed chair. Horace Walpole referred to Adam's neoclassical designs as "gingerbread and scraps of embroidery" and this attitude hardened during the Regency period. By the mid 1770s Adam's dominant position in the interior design field started to decline. Hepplewhite was the most important supporter of Adam's style. In the preface to his book, printed posthumously, Hepplewhite declares the purpose of the book is "To unite elegance and utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable." (Sassone et al 201) Researchers say that Hepplewhite's furniture falls into four main categories. There are pieces that show the influence of Adam, Louis XIV with curved outlines and cabriole legs, Louis XVI with fluted legs and his own chair designs ladder back, serpentine top rails, hoop back, shield back, and some heart back had tapering legs ending in moulded feet. Hepplewhite furniture reverted to the use of mahogany which under Adam had been replaced with soft wood, either gilded or painted. (Sassone et al 204).

Late Georgian is also known as the Regency period so called because the Prince acted as Regent for his father King George the third, who was unable to rule due to madness. The mainstream of designs for furniture around 1800 was neo classicism. Egyptian motifs were to be found on some of the furniture. The severe lines were offset by more elaborate upholstery and drapery. George IV had a passion for building and decorating and exerted considerable influence on style during his reign. The Pavilion at Brighton gives a very clear demonstration of the succeeding fancies of the monarch. The earliest pieces within this building are fairly simple but the later ones became increasingly fantastic as romantic oriental elements became popular. The Chinese Music room at the Pavilion is decorated in scarlet lacquer with red and gold dragons supporting the ceiling, carvings, bells, and fretwork and almost any type of decorative device can be seen within. (Sassone et al). Sheraton is a name connected with the end of the Georgian period but he was more of a designer than a cabinet maker. The Regency period lasted only nine years and is most famous for the Greek revival. Sheraton gave the name Grecian to some seat furniture but he used Greek ornamentation and not the style klismos. Klismos was a Greek design of chair that had concave legs that splayed outwards, the back legs and uprights forming a continuous curve. The neo-Greek style that carried into the 1800s owed much to the work of Thomas Hope and was fashionable because it was favoured by King George IV. (Gloag .211)

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