Georgian Chair Styles

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GEORGIAN (1720-1810)

IT is no easy matter to condense a characterization of the furniture styles of the Georgian period, for the reason that those styles varied widely with the ascendency of one master cabinet-maker after another. It was, indeed, a period in which the names of the master-designers of furniture eclipsed those of the reigning sovereigns. In general it includes the reigns of George I (1714-1727), which was the early Georgian period; George II (1727-1760), embracing the transition and Chippendale periods; and George III (1760-1820), the classic Georgian and the decadence.

The period was marked by the decline of walnut and the rise of mahogany as the fashionable furniture material. Mahogany was known and used in Queen Anne's day, but it did not reach the height of its popularity until about 1745, in Chippendale's time.

English furniture of the early Georgian and tran-[no]

sition periods shows a tendency to drop the purely Dutch characteristics of Queen Anne. Chair-backs became shorter and more varied in outline, and new types of furniture and new forms of decoration came into vogue. The cabriole leg persisted, to be sure, but the ball-and-claw foot superseded the round Dutch foot.

It was not until Chippendale's time that the Georgian period may be said to have really begun. From that time on the Dutch elements passed away, and English furniture styles passed through periods in which the French rococo of Louis XV, Chinese and Gothic elements, and finally classic and Louis XVI features became successively paramount. Thomas Chippendale began to work obscurely during the latter part of the reign of George I, making walnut furniture in the transition styles, but it was not until 1735 or later that the real Chippendale began to emerge and the Georgian period was firmly established.

Chippendale was a wonderful adapter of styles, obtaining his inspiration from various sources. He was remarkably versatile. His was the ability to combine inconsistent elements in a harmonious whole. His workmanship and skill as a carver were of the highest order. His designs were daring, and varied

[ml from the bizarre to the exquisite." They ranged from the Dutch school of the early Georgian period, through the rococo of Louis XV, the Chinese and Gothic fads, finally leading up to the classic and Louis XVI.

Chippendale was the dominant figure in English furniture design for a quarter of a century, or up to about 1770. The first edition of his book of designs, "The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director," appeared in 1753, and the third edition in 1762. He impressed his personality on the styles of the period more than any other designer of furniture had ever been able to do.

He began first with Queen Anne types, making bandy-legged, fiddle-backed chairs, among other things, very broad in the seat and with ball-and-claw feet. As the style of the transition advanced, Chippendale improved his cabriole leg and abandoned the Queen Anne chair-back for a squarer form with rounded corners, to be followed soon by the bow-shaped or slightly curved top rail with which his name is chiefly associated.

The attempts that are often made to divide Chippendale's work into three distinct periods—Anglo-Dutch, French, and Chinese-Gothic—are somewhat misleading, for though fashions changed, there were

A small stand of the (Juecn Anne period, with two drop leaves supported on swing ing cabriole legs of the Dutch type

Georgian Chair

liarly Georgian chair ol" walnut veneer, showing the ball-aml-claw feet of 1715 and aftir

Tripod tea-tabh: with lacquered piuerust top and ball-and-clo'» f-"'

no such sharp divisions as these. He began to design furniture in the Louis XV manner somewhere about 1745, and he continued to produce French designs till the day of his death. It is true, however, that his best work is found in the fairly unmixed French designs of 1750-60. After that the combination of rococo and Chinese, with a dash of Gothic, proved too much for him.

Chippendale's typical chair-back consisted of a moderately carved frame, rectangular in its general outlines, and a pierced splat, developed from the solid splat of the Queen Anne period. This splat appeared in the earlier chairs of the Dutch type and in those of the Louis XV type, including the famous ribbon-back chairs. He also made a roundabout chair with these splats. Almost as familiar is the ladder-back chair, with its four or five bow-shaped cross-pieces. The Chinese and Gothic designs were made up of various forms of fretwork in the chair-backs. The Chinese element appeared in a more elaborate form in the pagoda and waterfall carving of mirror-frames, bookcase-tops, etc.

Chippendale did not always use the cabriole leg with his French chairs, but sometimes the straight, square legs that also appear on.his other types. His seats were usually wide, square cornered, and up holstered. Some of his chairs were made with un-derbraces; some without them.

He also made a wide variety of card-tables, sofas, settees, desks, bureaus, secretaries, bookcases, etc., in French and Chinese-Gothic styles, and he published designs for clock-cases, mirror-frames, and numerous other pieces.

Toward the end of his career his work showed a decided deterioration, having a leaning toward grotesque mixtures of style.

Chippendale was a master-carver, and seldom if ever used inlay for decoration. Mahogany was his favorite wood, but he also employed walnut, maple, cherry, and birch.

Robert and James Adam must be mentioned in any consideration of the Georgian period, for though they were not cabinet-makers, but architects and decorators, they designed furniture and exerted a strong influence on style. To them is due the credit for the classic revival, which had already been inspired in architecture by Sir Christopher Wren, and which in the realm of furniture design was in full swing as early as 1760 and persisted throughout the rest of the century. Both Hepplewhite and Sheraton owed much to the pioneer work of the Adam brothers.

Robert Adam returned from a tour of Italy in 1754, embued with the spirit of Roman and classic Italian art, and adopted a style which had already found expression in the French school of Louis XVI. In 1764 the two brothers published a folio of Roman designs, and in 1788 their "Works in Architecture."

They designed furniture to suit their houses, and these designs marked the emergence from the bad styles of the late Chippendale period and set the current of popular taste running toward a preference for the simplicity and grace of the classic. Rococo, Dutch, and Chinese elements were utterly abandoned. The cabriole leg was superseded by the straight, tapering leg before 1785, and lighter construction became the rule. The Adam style is characterized by simplicity and delicacy, elegant slender-ness, and fine proportions. Carving, when used, was in low relief. The later work was rich in inlay of tulip-wood, satinwood, and ebony, and some of it was painted. Carving and inlay were in classic details—the urn, the laurel wreath, the oval sunburst, the acanthus leaf, arabesques, ribbon-bands, festoons, and garlands.

Furniture made from Adam designs is rare. The chairs were small and delicate, the backs low and narrow and often oval in shape, the legs straight and slender, but never cabriole.

It was not untU George Hepplewhite's work became popular, however, somewhere between 1765 and 1775, that the new- taste became crystallized, though Hepplewhite was never as thorough a classicist as Adam or Sheraton. Hepplewhite built, as well as designed, a large amount of furniture, though his output was not as gre^t as that of Chippendale. It marked, in a way, the transition from the Chippendale to the classic influence. His book of designs, "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide," appeared in 1789, two years after his death, and was published by A. Hepplewhite & Co., the business having been carried on by his widow.

Hepplewhite is best known for his shield-back chairs, his square, tapering legs, often ending in the spade foot, and for his splendid sideboards. The sideboard was being gradually developed during Chippendale's later years, and was brought to perfection by Hepplewhite and Shearer. Hepplewhite also made wardrobes that supplanted the old highboy, dressing-tables with heart-shaped mirrors, and cabinets with long, tapering legs. His chairs were mostly made with shield-shaped or oval backs,-and were distinguished by their beauty of curve and

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