advantage of this composition-work was in its liability to warp, contract or crack under severe changes of temperature. It could never be used, with safety, for exterior work. The method of the manufacture of this composition appears to have been well kept during the lifetime of Robert Adam, but it became an open secret shortly after. Perhaps the most important factor which kept the monopoly intact was the large initial cost of the boxwood moulds.*
The work of the brothers Adam has now to be considered, but here the source of manufacture is not known in the majority of instances. Thomas Chippendale certainly worked under Robert Adam's direction at Harewood and Nostell Priory. George Ilepplewhite was also probably employed by him, but to the larger number of the Adam pieces still extant it is not possible to ascribe an exact origin. Both Chippendale and Hepplewhite may have made more than the preserved records appear to indicate, and others, such as Wallis, Carter, John Crunden and George Richardson, appear to have assimilated the style of Adam, but whether under his immediate guidance, or from independent study of Roman sources, it is not possible to say. It must be confessed, that with the exception of those who actually published books of design, we know little or nothing of the greater number of the small cabinet-makers of this period, manv of whom might easily have been employed by Robert or James Adam. In regard to the furniture, the style of the brothers was also so freely copied by others, who may have sought inspiration from the same Roman and Italian sources, that it is not always possible to ascribe an author to either the design or the workmanship of many of the pieces illustrated in the following pages. We have, therefore, to fall back on the plan adopted in the case of the work of Thomas Chippendale, and to consider the examples as being in the " Adam Style," in the same way as the pieces in the previous volume were referred to as specimens of the various manners of Chippendale.
* See account of the Liardet stucco, in the later chapter on the Adelphi Lottery. This stucco and the composition referred to above are frequently confused. In character as well as in purpose they are quite distinct.
The Work of Robert and James Adam.
N considering the furniture creations of the brothers Adam, we have to adopt a totally different method than with the work of any of the eighteenth century craftsmen. A fashionable cabinet-maker such as Chippendale, or a poor, neglected teacher of drawing like Sheraton, had each been trained in the workshop, and possessed the practical artisan's experience. Whether or no they made all or none of the furniture which they designed is immaterial ; they were capable of doing so had occasion demanded, and their creations were finished when they left their hand, and could be executed with little or no modification by any experienced workman. The reference here, in the case of Chippendale, is to his actual designs, those which were made specifically for the workshop as distinct from many of the Director patterns, which were frankly evolved to catch the eye of a wealthy public eager for any new absurdity, or to puzzle his fellow-craftsmen. The main point is, that both Chippendale and Sheraton could be rational and workmanlike in their drawings, when they chose. With the drawings of the brothers Adam, however, the case is otherwise. A comparison of the original sketches, now in the Soane Museum, with the actual articles as made, will show how deeply indebted were both Robert and James Adam to the rationalising influence of the cabinet-maker. Another noticeable point is that both the brothers showed a reckless disregard for the material in which their fancies were to be materialised. A column of an exterior portico or the leg of a table were frequently of identical design. It is obvious that one of the two must have been incongruous. Again, Robert Adam designed at least one carpet which exactly matched a ceiling of the same room, and the colourings of both, in the sketches, are identical. We find no exuberance of imagination leading the designer beyond the rational field of his material, but we do find the man of stone and plaster adapting the same motives to wood and fabrics. The introduction of composition ornament was a logical necessity with much of the furniture designed by Robert Adam. The pendant swags, unattached excepting at their extremities, which are so characteristic of the Adams' work, are logical impossibilities in wood, although in the earlier examples they were attempted in this material, with disastrous results. This proves, however, that Robert Adam did not definitely evolve his furniture style with composition ornament
specifically in his mind, but that this imitation of caning saved many of his designs from utter failure. No one with a true artistic temperament but must revolt from the use of much of this pressed-out composition ornament masquerading as carving, necessarily demanding to be either painted or gilded, as it could not stand forth in all its verity without the sham being exposed, and yet shoving its utter falseness in the method in which it is used, such as swags hanging across panels of silvered glass, or depending from the friezes of tables, and the like. Both Robert and James Adam appear to have been obsessed, in much of their work, with a craze for excessive delicacy, without regard to the cardinal principle of all proportion in architecture and in furniture, the sufficient appearance, as well as the reality, of strength to serve the necessary purpose. To carry this to a logical finality, one material should not masquerade as another, especiall) if the latter be the weaker of the two. Thus a concert grand piano could be adequately supported on steel legs two inches thick, and if the nature of the material were immediately evident, the result need not necessarily be incongruous. If, however, these legs be painted and grained to imitate wood, an uncomfortable appearance of inadequate strength is at once apparent and the proportions of the piano appear to be faulty. It must be obvious that if two tables are made from the one design, alike in every detail, but the one in wood and the other in metal, one of the two must be wrong. Either the wooden table will appear to be too delicate or the metal one too heavy.
An examination, however, of many of the designs of the brothers Adam, either of those in the Soane Museum, or in the published Works in Architecture, will show that the nature of the material to be used is not indicated bv the nature of the drawing itself. The decoration of some of the tables and mirror frames suggest wood, the proportions metal or some material equally as strong.
In considering, therefore, the work of the brothers, it will be as well to divide the field to be surveyed into two parts. In the one, the Adam Style as expounded in drawing or engraving, and in the other the furniture actually made, will have to be separately reviewed. In many instances the two will not necessarily differ to any great extent, as many of the engraved designs, for example, in the folio volumes published by the brothers were taken from pieces after they were made, and represent therefore the original Adams' ideas as modified in the process of manufacture. In many of the Soane Museum designs, however, this difference of proportion between the piece as conceived and as actually made, will be noticed by any one with a designer's eye for proportion.
In considering the Adam style the first noticeable point is either the paucity of imagination, or the rigid fidelity to the one style—call it what you will—as compared with the work of Chippendale. The versatility of the latter, as we have seen in the second volume of this work, obliged us to differentiate very carefully between the style and the actual work of Chippendale, but in the case of the brothers Adam we are under no such obligations. Although Robert Adam was frequently imitated by the craftsmen and designers of his time, such as Crunden, Carter and Richardson, he never followed others when his style was once fully developed. When, therefore, we refer to the work of the brothers Adam, their style is also indicated in an equal degree without exception. It is, therefore, unnecessary to adduce a large number of illustrations, as in the case of the work of Thomas Chippendale. The latter passed through many phases in his career, and his designs exhibit a considerable degree of evolution. With the work of the brothers Adam no such development ever takes place. Their style once fixed, every new design simply revolves round the original nucleus of ideas, being merely repetitions with variations, as it were. Perhaps this is the penalty which genius pays to fashion ; certainly the brothers moved in good society, and as equals with the highest in their circle. Robert Adam was a person of far too much dignity to play Johnson to a Chesterfield, and his burial in Westminster Abbey is sufficient testimony to the high esteem in which he was held, and shows that he met and served his noble clients on a footing of equality, in houses where Chippendale, even in the zenith of his fame, was merely a tradesman in the estimation of his patrons.
T is curious to notice, on a careful examination of the drawings of Robert and James Adam in the Soane Museum, how the influence which the former especially exercised on the furniture-makers of his time is reciprocated by them. The Adam style is not merely a matter of ornament, although some half-dozen of conventional design-foims are repeated over and over again ; it is in both the general scheme and the purpose of each piece of furniture which Robert Adam designed that the principles of his style are involved. We have seen, in the case of Chippendale, that general form played a very unimportant part in his designs. Stripped of his characteristic Gothic, fretted, or Chinese details, many of the pieces which he illustrated could be referred to any style, or probably to none in particular. The case is quite otherwise with the really chaiacteristic work of Robert Adam. He probably began with reproducing an ancient Roman palace in an English park, and then found that any piece of furniture of the type common at his day disturbed the harmony of hi? severe classicalism. Thomas Hope experienced the same difficulty some forty ye later with his " English Empire," and the style of furniture which he evolved to correspond with his interiors was a sheer barbarism.
The cabinet-makers of Robert Adam's day had not the same scruples as the architect. They took his details of the swag, the pendant husks, the honeysuckle, and the other Roman and Grecian forms, and recklessly applied them to the furniture then in common use. The result is a continual battle between the man of stone and marble and the men of wood; the result was—composition. Adam was by no means victorious ; he capitulated on numberless points, and this influence of the workers in wood is seen, in very marked fashion, in his later work. Adam would have preferred to furnish with the Roman trestle, the built-in side table, the architectural bookcase, and the like, but his patrons evidently demanded comfort, and he was obliged to conform. Even to the last he was never quite successful with chairs. The principles of his style, essentially one of stone, marble, stucco, and compo, translated into wood, were much more successfully handled by men such as Hepplewhite, than by the author of the style himself. Adam furniture only really begins when his personality becomes submerged and that of the Hepplewhite school is superimposed.
GILT PEDESTAL. (One of a pair.)
GILT PEDESTAL. (One of a pair.)
GILT PEDESTAL. (One of a pair.)
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