This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, although the architectural and decorative influence of the Adelphi was still strong and far-reaching and constituted a force to be reckoned with, other influences were beginning to creep in from France as a reflection of the Empire mode, a mode altogether heavier and less inspired than the creations of the Adam Brothers. Arcjii-tecturally it may be termed the style of the " Greek Revival"; in mobiliary and decorative parlance we know it as the Empire mode. In England the process of architectural change at this time was not so clearly marked as in America. Architectural traditions were, perhaps, more firmly established or, at least, more widely established; and, in the second place, there was not the widespread building activity that occurred at the very end of the eighteenth century and in the first three decades of the nineteenth in the recently established republic, where population was rapidly increasing and where a great many men, rejoicing in a fresh burst of prosperity and new-found wealth, were erecting for themselves homes commensurate with their affluence. We might, indeed, say that in England the architectural change was chiefly to be observed in a gradual falling away from those vital and blithesome qualities that had distinguished the work of earlier days and a slipping into a more sombre, stolid and inelastic form of expression. It was as though both architecture and interior decoration were suffering from an incipient hardening of the arteries. Details grew heavier and more pompous, there was less variety in the forms em-ployed, and the numerous enlivening devices of fixed decoration, that had so glorified and characterised the hey-day of Adam influence, one by one dropped out of fashion until we come to a full realisation of the architectural and decorative bathos in the prevailing vision of great rectangular rooms wth plain plaster walls, whose monotony was now and then relieved by a niche; door and window trims heavily detailed in severe and rather monumental Greek and Roman motifs, among which the key fret and the anthemion were conspicuous; plaster cornices echoing the same inspiration, heavy plaster ornaments to match around the edges and in the centres of ceilings; and plain, vigorously moulded black marble mantels without any fixed architectural adornment above them on the chimney breast, a place that seemed now to have become sacred either to a family portrait or else to a large mirror set in a heavy gilt frame. Altogether, it will be observed, the ground had become well prepared for the final plunge and slump into Victorian desolation, dullness and materialistic commercialism without a ray of imagination to lighten and redeem the benighted epoch.
In America, the Adam influence had borne ripe fruit and continued to make itself felt in a somewhat modified, but nevertheless beautiful, form through the work of such men as Samuel Mclntire of Salem. Adam expression, however, had never attained the far-reaching spread that it had in England and in the very late eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, when there was so much building to be done along the whole Atlantic seaboard, building both public and domestic, in order to keep pace with the access of a newly stimulated national expansion, and when, moreover, there was the greatest enthusiasm everywhere throughout the country for all things French, it is not surprising that the style which we know as the "Classic" or "Greek Revival," echoing the current phase of French architectural sentiment should have taken deep root and achieved a wide development, modified, it is true, by local conditions and necessities, but unmistakable in its parentage.
The interiors in this new evolution of domestic architecture were commonly characterised by a great deal of solid dignity and decorum, an impression materially assisted by the customarily spacious dimensions of the rooms, without much enlivening imagination or decorative resourcefulness to give to the ensemble that vitality that had always radiated from the background of a room conceived by the Brothers Adam or by the men who professedly followed their lead. The walls were plain, unrelieved expanses of smooth plaster (Plate 12) extending from baseboard to cornice and were either painted or tinted some pale, cool colour - grey, pearl, drab, buff, and a light green inherited from Adam usage, were in high favour - or else they were covered with wall-paper, usually of a very excellent quality and meant to last.
About the end of the eighteenth century and in the very beginning of the nineteenth, the landscape papers were extensively used alike in rooms and in halls and many of them, both polychrome and monochrome, were both beautiful and dignified and lent a peculiar charm and breadth to the rooms in which they were hung, a charm that nothing else has ever quite taken the place of. In addition to these landscape papers, papers with striking Chinese motifs of figures, animals, pagodas, bridges, birds and flowers, frequently in vital colouring, enjoyed some vogue. There were, also, the monochrome French papers printed with carefully cut wood blocks from cartoons by David* and other equally noted contemporary French artists. These papers pourtrayed scenes from classic mythology and were designed as panels to be hung in a sequence. Of all the early wall-papers, they were, perhaps, the finest in both conception and execution.
* These papers are now being reproduced from the original blocks.
A little later on in the nineteenth century, when these beautiful wall coverings had either passed out of fashion or were no longer obtainable, their place was taken by papers designed to represent moulded panels, or by paper marbled, mottled and veined and laid off in vertical and horizontal lines to simulate the joints of masonry. The best of these masonry papers - and some of them were by no means bad - contained cartouches in the centre of each oblong block and within the cartouches were small monochrome scenes of classic or historical provenance. Some tone of grey was usually chosen for the execution of such papers and, it may be added, the masonry papers were as a rule hung in halls where their pattern did not conflict with the movable decorations and where their pictorial note lent a touch of interest in default of other features to arrest or amuse the eye.