Info

introduced a new and superior equally true that Mr. Adam pro-tecture of this country, and his particular profession. Sir Joshua style of portrait-painting. It is duced a total change in the archi-fertile genius in elegant ornament was not confined to the decoration of buildings, but has been diffused into almost every branch of manufacture. His talents extended beyond the line of his profession. The loss of Mr. Adam at this time must be peculiarly felt, as the new University of Edinburgh and other great public works, both in that city and in Glasgow, were erecting from his designs and under his direction. To the last period of his life Mr. Adam displayed an unusual vigor of genius and refinement of taste; for in the space of one year preceding his death he designed eight great public works and twenty-five private buildings, so various in their style and so beautiful in their composition that they have been allowed by the best judges sufficient of themselves to establish his fame unrivaled as an artist."

It is impossible to show the charm of the Adam style with a few illustrations. No adequate conception of the talents of the brothers can be gained from isolated examples of their work. The mantels and doors designed by them lose half their beauty when removed from the original setting. Thus the reproduction of the door to the Etruscan room in the Grosvenor Square house, and that of the chimney-piece in the same mansion, give little hint of the Adam genius. Viewed with their surroundings they become successful details of a very harmonious whole. The Adam decorations, more than that of any other style, with the possible exception of the Louis XV, lose by being separated from the construction. The watchword of the brothers was "harmony," and this quality in their work can be appreciated only when a room or series of rooms is studied. There are reprints of the interiors of

Sion House, Kenwood, Queen's House, and the mansions in Portland Place and Grosvenor Square, and these are as useful from the student's standpoint as the now priceless first editions. These books are worth volumes of descriptions.

Many learned writers have discoursed extensively on the work of James and Robert Adam, but few have so intelligently expressed the point of the matter as did Robert himself in the preface of his first book:

"If we have any claim to approbation we found it on this alone: that we have been able to seize, with some degree of success, the beautiful spirit of antiquity, and to transfuse it with novelty and variety through all our numerous works."

THE WORK OF THOMAS SHERATON.

Thomas Sheraton, last of the great English furniture-makers, was born in 1751, three years before Thomas Chippendale published The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director. "Last and least" cannot be said of Sheraton. "Last and greatest" expresses the opinion of many latter-day critics. A recent writer on the inexhaustible subject of eighteenth-century furniture, says of him: "Much as one may appreciate the workmanship of Chippendale and Hepplewhite, in the presence of a true piece of Sheraton's work one cannot help feeling that their productions are coarse, almost blatant—that they were workmen, while Sheraton was a poet, and a poet blessed with color." This is strong praise, but it comes from the pen of an Englishman who has studied his subject deeply. No American could truthfully call Chippendale "blatant," unless he used the word in turning over the pages of the Director. Chippendale's fame rests on his furniture, not his drawings, and so it is with Sheraton. The great cabinet-makers who wrote Directors, Guides, and Drawing-Books, put their extravagant ideas on paper and their simple ones into furniture. With their elaborate sketches they hope& to catch the fancy of royalty; with their actual pieces of furniture they looked for every-day patronage. And so it is that the shelves of reference libraries are full of "measurements" and "scales" and lengthy "instructions" which grow gray with dust, while the supply of the real furniture is far too little to supply one half the demand. To decide which

adam mantelpiece decorated by angelica kauffman

is 'the greatest, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, or Sheraton, is an impossibility. There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another of the stars.

Chippendale was the most versatile of the three. He could be French, Chinese, or Gothic, as the occasion demanded. His imagination, as he himself admitted, was "without an equal." It was this imaginative quality that sometimes led the St. Martin's Lane furniture-maker into the realms of the fantastic— and consequently away from the paths of simplicity. Sheraton's creations have this beautiful quality combined with perfect proportion and rare restraint. Whether it be chair, table, or sideboard, there is a completeness about the design that leaves little to be desired. Ornament for ornament's sake was never countenanced by Sheraton. Like the Adam brothers, he decorated construction; he did not con-

SHERATON CHAIRS

SHERATON CHAIRS

struct decoration.

Coming after Chippendale and Hep-plewhite, this designer learn-e d much from their methods. Discarding the plain, tapering support, he selected the fluted form of the Louis XVI style which the Adams had introduced into England. He made use of the fluted column in his sideboards, tables, and desks, treating it with rare restraint. In his chairs he used the square support, believing that a rectangular back demanded a rectangular base. On the same theory his use of the round and fluted leg is equally consistent, for it is always combined with a curve. The table, sofa, and chest of drawers reproduced in this chapter show the combination of the fluted support and the curved surface. The table is an extremely graceful design and makes an interesting comparison with the Hepplewhite table illustrated on page 141. These designs are of the "drop leaf" type, the leaf of the table following the outlines of the supports. The square, tapering leg of the Hepplewhite table is in perfect harmony with the top, which, though curved, is completed by square corners. Sheraton's design meets the same test, the rounded corners outlining the curved supports.

The chest of drawers, or bureau in our modern acceptance of the word, is an excellent example of Sheraton's principle of construction. Here again we see the curved front in conjunction with the rounded support. The fluted column begins at the top of the second drawer and ends at the base of the lower drawer. Above the fluting is the "corn and husk" motif executed in a conventionalized manner; below is a turned leg of admirable proportions. The drawers have.narrow moldings and brass handles of a simple pattern. Narrow beading outlines each plate which is further decorated by a small rosette.

The sofa is a typical example of Sheraton's work, having the fluted support and delicate carvings in low relief. The back of the sofa shows the festoon pattern used so freely by the Adam brothers in their interiors.

sheraton drop-leaf table

Sheraton's chairs are easily distinguished from those of Chippendale and Hepplewhite. He seldom used the shield-back of the latter and never the pierced splat of the former. His treatment of the shield or heart-shaped back was unlike that of Hepplewhite. The top of the shield was straighter and the carving much more severe. In America this type of chair is seldom seen. Sheraton's fame as a chair-maker on this side of the water rests almost entirely on the rectangular back, an excellent example of which is illustrated on page 150.

Sheraton furniture may be divided into three classes—carved, inlaid, and painted. To the first division belong the pieces illustrated here, together with the beautiful sideboards, which are perhaps most characteristic of all Sheraton's designs. His desks, bookcases, and writing-tables belong also to this class, but are less familiar in America than in England. In the second list may be grouped the graceful drop-leaf tables, ornamented with narrow lines of inlay, the pretty tea-trays, knife-cases, and writing-boxes, the latter often showing an insert of sycamore and tulip-wood. The third division includes the furniture designed by Sheraton and decorated by Angelica Kauff-man, Pergolesi, and Cipriani. Many of these pieces were executed for the Adam brothers and were of exquisite workmanship. Satinwood formed the basis of the larger portion of this work, and when decorated suggested Italian "gesso." The Kensington Museum contains splendid

specimens of this furniture, and occasional pieces are found in private collections.

Like Hepplewhite and Chippendale, Sheraton worked largely in mahogany, but he did not confine himself to this wood. Sycamore, hare-wood, tulip wood, and kingwood he used liberally in his smaller pieces of furniture. He wielded the highly colored woods as a painter does his pigments, and it is on this score that he is justly called a "color-poet." Harewood, which was sycamore dyed a pale shade of brown, whitewood, stained apple-green, satinwood in its lovely natural tone, and kingwood, of deeper coloring, were

tilleraton side-board and chippendale mirror

used by this man with marvelous skill. Other cabinets makers combined these woods but, never on English soil, with such consummate art.

Sheraton was a many-sided genius and met the fate of the man who does many things well. He lived and died poor. Adam Black to whom the world is indebted for most of its knowledge of Sheraton's private life has written graphically of the cabinet-maker in his "Memoirs." Black was born in 17S3 and died in 1S72. At one time he was Lord Provost of Edinburg. In his early career he was employed by Sheraton, at a time when the great furniture-maker was devoting himself to many pursuits. Black writes: "He lived in a poor street in London, his house half shop, half dwelling, and looked himself like a Methodist preacher. He had been a cabinet-maker, and was now author, publisher, and teacher of drawing, and, I believe, occasionally, preacher." Again; he says: "This many-sided individual is an interesting character. He is a man of talent. He is a scholar, writes well, and, in my opinion, draws masterly. We may be ready to ask how comes it to pass that a man with such abilities and resources is in such a state? I believe his abilities and resources are his ruin in this respect, for by attempting to do everything he does nothing."

"Would that most people's 'nothing' might prove to be as much," says B. Wyllie, Esq., the Englishman already quoted. "I find myself wondering," he adds, "if his paintings and his writings would have given as much pleasure to the world as his furniture has undoubtedly given, supposing he had been able to devote himself to those arts."

0 0

Post a comment