When people speak about antique furniture, I always seem to think they are referring to Georgian Furniture. The Georgian period in England began with the beginning of the rule of the Hanoverian Kings in 1714 and lasts until the death of William IV in 1837. The era was significant across all the Arts, giving us the novels of Shelley and Austen, the poems of Keats and Blake, the architecture of Nash and Adam and the paintings of Gainsborough and Reynolds among others. This period also saw the expansion of the English Empire, the Napoleonic Wars and the rapid expansion of the middle class fueled by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. I am always fascinated by the social underpinnings of furniture design and the Georgian Period saw not only intellectual expansion but also the growth of a nascent middle class with expanded purchasing power and limited social power.
Georgian Furniture is a prime example of the adaptation of the major artistic movements of the era translating into the everyday objects adorning peoples homes. Before the Georgian era, Dutch influences on English Furniture design were predominant, the Georgian era turned its back on the Dutch and moved away from locally produced woods such as walnut into the newly available Mahogany (first imported from Cuba in the 1720’s). The styles of furniture in this era are generally referred to by the name of the Monarch ruling when they were popular, but there were transitional periods as new styles were introduced and made their way into popularity.
George I, Baroque
In Chairs, Ball and claw foot replaces the Dutch trifid or ball foot on cabriole legs, mahogany is introduced, allowing for more elaborate carvings. George I is defined as heavy, ponderous designs, made to work with the Palladian architecture of the likes of William Kent.
George II, Introduction of Rococo
To many, the 18th Century is defined by the introduction and explosion of the Rococo style in Europe, England was no different. Whimsical, naturistic designs, elaborate carvings of foliage and rocailles and use of asymmetry dominated the look. English furniture design can be interpreted as a more restrained version of the full-blown Louis XV style in France. Secretary Bookcases were introduced to the market in this time period, around 1740.
George III, Designers and Neoclassicism
The transition from the elaborate Rococo style to the more restrained Neoclassical style was aided by the influence of designers such as Chippendale, Adam, Hepplewhite, and later Sheraton. Their advertising and business acumen was such that if you could afford it, they could make it. They each had their own unique take on Neoclassicism but in general, we begin to see the introduction of straight or tapered legs and replacing of rocailles with more restrained acanthus leaves. Furniture is often referred to as a “Chippendale” Desk or a “Hepplewhite” Chair or something like that. It is a reference to the designer, but keep in mind that in formal cataloging for auctions etc, we will always refer to the piece as a George III and probably reference the design in the description.
Regency and Beyond, Heavy Neoclassicism
George III was crazy...if you have not watched the movie “The Madness of King George” you should. We date the Regency period in furniture from 1800 to the 1830s. The 1830s saw the beginning of mass production of furniture and revival styles started to show up. The movement is named for the Regency Political period when George III’s son, George, acted as head of state from 1810-1820. The Regency sees heavy use of brass, with forms moving away from the light interpretation of classical design to a heavier, much more substantial look. Sofa tables were introduced during this period.
There you have it, quick and dirty, certainly not exhaustive…