Introduction

In England and America, the eighteenth century and the first three decades of the nineteenth, which really belong to the pre-ceding century through stylistic affinities and as a directly logical outcome of influences well under way before the year 1800, constitute a period of the greatest complexity as well as of the greatest interest. It will be understood that what is said in this chapter applies to the American Colonies and the infant republic, after its severance from the Mother Country, as well as to England. But it must also be distinctly understood that all the evolutions of the styles considered reached their full and richest fruition only in England and that they were reflected in America in less elaborate renderings. This statement does not mean to asperse in the slightest degree the culture or taste on our own side of the Atlantic, but the estates that were able to support the expense of the highest decorative achievements of the age were comparatively few in number, and although there were not wanting instances of the greatest elegance and most lavish expenditure in furnishing of various town houses in Philadelphia, in Boston, in Charleston and New York, and of some country houses in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, the majority of people, from force of circumstances, were obliged to be content with the simpler though not less admirable interpretation of modes that attained an hitherto unparallelled development in the British Isles.

At the very beginning of the eighteenth century we have the heritage of Baroque inspiration remaining over from the seventeenth century. Following close upon it came the severe and somewhat heavy classicism of which Kent was the chief est and most able exponent. With the middle of the century we find an utterly new influence that was expressed in England by the Brothers Adam and those that followed in their wake, and in France, a little later, by the architects and designers who imparted to the style we know familiarly as "Louis Seize" its peculiar grace and refinement.

The Adam influence was of classic derivation as was also the heavier scheme of interpretation practised by the Kentian school, but it expressed classicism in its more attenuated and refined forms and laid emphasis, as a rule, rather upon the elegancies of decoration than upon the bold masses and the marshalling of vigorous structural or semi-structural members by way of embellishment. Adam delicacy, in turn, was in course of time supplanted by the robust and often severe forms of the Classic Revival, in which the sterner Greek modes and the more heroic Roman phases that at times savoured of bombast were stressed with insistence.

Besides all these well-defined influences, there was "the Chinese taste," which recurred again and again in one form or another throughout the century, adding its charm to the manifold factors that contributed to make the eighteenth century one of the most opulent as well as varied decorative epochs in English history.

Architectural Background And Methods Of Fixed Decoration

One fact of tremendous importance in the art of interior decoration has already been noted in the Foreword, but too much stress cannot be laid upon it, and we therefore repeat it here. That fact is that interior decoration does not consist merely of selection and arrangement of movable furniture and garnishings; the architectural background and the fixed decorations are every whit as vitally essential to a sue-cessful and complete composition, and it is impossible to attach too muoh emphasis to this truth, a truth that some professional decorators too often minimise while not a few amateurs are even more prone to ignore it. In Part III special attention is paid to the treatment of plain walls where the occupancy of rented quarters, apartments and the like makes it impracticable to effect far-reaching structural changes in the background..

In the paragraphs that follow, special attention will be devoted to an analysis of backgrounds and fixed decorations.

The opening years of the eighteenth century witnessed virtually the same features of interior architecture as were in vogue during the last years of the seventeenth ceoitury, features of which, however, we shall now give a somewhat more detailed description. There were spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, symmetrically designed with window and door openings so disposed as to contribute to the air of regularity. The window openings were large and high, while their trims were often made the objects of formal ornamentation. Doorways also shared a distinctly decorative and usually architectural treatment, traces of Baroque influence being more or less discernible in such features as continuous segmental pediments or interrupted pediments with urns. (Plate 7.)

The panels of the walls were large (Plates 7 and 8) and were often bounded by boldly profiled (Plate 138) bolection mouldings. In size the panels were graduated according to the parts of the room; shallow and broad panels would be placed between door or window heads and the cornice, tall and narrow panels between windows, a single panel for the chimney piece (Plate 137), whatever its dimensions and shape might be, while the ordinary wall panels were of generous proportions. Elaborate naturalistic carving of foliage, fruits, flowers and figures in swags and drops (Plate 137), wrought in high relief or undercut in the manner of Grinling Gibbon, were still used and were supplemented in many instances by sundry supporting architectural scrolls and by conventional motifs in low relief, such as acanthus foliage on a cyma moulding (Plate 6), classic laurelling, and all their well-known affinities.

Very fully developed and elaborate cornices adorned such rooms, and the plaster coves and ceilings, wrought with the utmost dexterity of the plasterer's art, echoed the flowers, fruit, foliage (Plate 137) and figures to be seen in the decorative wood carving. The floors, while usually of plain boards, not infrequently exhibited par-quetted patterns, in the manner already mentioned in the preceding chapter, or else a device in chequered tiles of stone or marble.