The early nineteenth century is called the Regency period in England or the Empire style in France. The style of the period in both countries aimed to adapt newly discovered archaeological remains and the furniture therein to represent their new society. In 1804 Baron Denon published the results of his exploration in Egypt following Napoleon's campaign, and this provided authentic sources for copying models for the Egyptian craze that followed. In addition to this style there was a taste for the Oriental and Chinese in particular. To achieve these effects the use of beech, turned and painted to imitate bamboo, was common. The use of lacquered or japanned panels in carcase furniture was also part of the taste.
Regency furniture can be identified by dark, glossy wood offset by brass inlay, trellis work galleries, lion's paw feet, masks, star-shaped bolt heads and studs. Angularity of shapes was often accentuated by reeding on chair legs and cabinets as it was considered that ancient furniture was nearly always angular.
Early Victorian furniture was characterized by the revivals mentioned above but from the 1850s onwards upholstered lounge suites were popular, comprising: sofa, a pair of spoon-back chairs and a number of smaller balloon-back side or dining chairs. These remained available well into the next century in one form or another.
High-quality cabinet work was produced during the period and is evidenced in the international exhibitions where countries and manufacturers tried to outdo each other with the spectacle of their products. However, it is as well to remember that the exhibition pieces were just that, and are not representative of the productions made for the retail market.
In Germany and Austria, the rectangular, plain, neo-classical style named Biedermeier was popular. It had similarities with the more academic classicism of Schinkel. The success of the bentwood industry run by Thonet and others is discussed below. It was not until the unification of Germany in 1870 that the individual states and their local traditions began to be subsumed into a German style.
In France, the high-quality eighteenth century traditions continued, with Paris remaining the centre of the trade. Oak continued to be used as a base timber for cabinets, whilst beech was used for chair frames. There are examples of drawer linings and chair frames being made in walnut, but these are exceptions. The French construction process continued to use the goujon or peg that was used in the eighteenth century though its use gradually died out during the nineteenth century.
From the 1870s, attempts to influence furniture design by the Aesthetic movement were successful. The ideas taken from Japanese art and design produced a lighter and more delicate range of furniture. This was made by art furniture-makers. E.W. Godwin was the most important designer in this field, his productions using carefully balanced components, combined with Japanese materials such as stamped leather and netsuke. They were often ebonized and fitted with silver components. The Japanese taste extended to poor copies of art furniture, often comprising standard designs embellished with fretwork. Far more successful on a less elite level was the use of bamboo and other Japanese products such as grass cloth, lacquer panels and leather papers.
The last quarter of the century saw a taste for Moorish and Middle Eastern styles characterized by pierced and carved fretwork (sometimes imported from Cairo and named Cairene), inlay, carpets and cushions and potted palms.
In the United States this style was also promoted by designers and makers such as the Herter Brothers and Louis Comfort Tiffany who worked for clients who wanted furniture to reflect the contemporary aesthetic sensibilities. On the other hand the Colonial revival of the 1870s onward, revealed a nostalgia for America's past, whether it be from 1620 or 1820. As well as an interest in the antiques of the past, the revival was also a response to the fully blown Victorian furniture that was rejected by other groups such as the Arts and Crafts movement and often for similar reasons.
During the century the attempts by the furniture industry to meet the demands of the growing population for stylish and even ostentatious furniture were decried by design reformers. The problem was that reformers could not break out of the system. Reviving traditional methods and materials would inevitably have been very expensive and the introduction of plain, simple furniture would not have been appreciated by most people. This is not to say that efforts were not made to attempt to improve taste. The reformers mentioned above all tried to introduce new ways of thinking about furniture design but most missed the point about the public's demand for quantity of 'work' and costly looking materials.
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