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.
As no decoration or furniture can be understood without a right understanding of the circumstances that gave them rise, it is necessary to say a few words regarding the supposed influence of Marie Antoinette upon the ideals of France and upon its art.
Owing to the sadness of her death, her character has been idealised, and the "renovation" of the decoration of the country ascribed by popular opinion largely to her and the cleanliness of the lives of both herself and the king. Their influence was upon the side of Classicism, and it is ungracious to have to say that she was both a supremely foolish and very obstinate woman. Her extravagances, her indiscretions, her intrigues, and the affair of the Diamond Necklace are, however, in history for everyone to read. As to her influence upon French social life the words of her leading lady-in-waiting, Madame Campan, loyal to her through all her troubles, may be given: "The queen chose as her favourite the amiable, naive duchesse de Polignac, who lived quite openly with M. de Vandreuil; the comtesse Diane, her sister, was known to have several lovers - so little did people care for morality I The public noticed that, although the king's and queen's married life was absolutely blameless, they were not overburdened with scruples, and so advantage was taken of that fact"
As to her influence upon art the same authority tells us that Marie Antoinette "cared nothing for literature or pictures." We have already seen that some years before her day the Classic feeling was espoused by Madame de Pompadour; it is a matter of history that when Madame du Barry fitted up her palatial retreat at Louveciennes, considered by some to be one of the most perfect expressions of the Style Louis Seize, the work was practically complete before Marie Antoinette ever saw France. We might as well ascribe the "cleaning up" of decoration to these two as to the queen. To be honest with ourselves we have to admit that it was the Pompadour whose taste was certain, and that Marie Antoinette's interest in decoration was marked by caprice and indecision. The acknowledgment of these truths is in no way inconsistent with our paying her all honour for the continuance of the interest of the crown in the arts and for her personal firmness and dignity during her last days.
The whole point, and a very necessary one to understand, is that the social life and the spirit of the age in France was not changed; that the Classic movement was not brought about by a queen who found it in full force upon her arrival, but that it was primarily an artistic movement initiated by architects and decorators, and then accepted by fashion as a relief from a previous mode of which it had grown weary. We shall see the practical bearing of this.
Notwithstanding the change from the style of Louis XV to that of his successor, both decoration and furniture remained as characteristically "French" as before - it would be impossible to ascribe them to another nation. The difference was one of contour and form of ornament - that was indeed much but that was all! Let us apply the remaining tests mentioned in the second chapter of this part and see. In size and weight they were practically the same: the colours employed were rather more subtle and quiet, but there is no incongruity: the use of mahogany instead of marqueterie for cabinet work increased and it was given a brighter finish, but such a difference is small in its whole effect where elegance had always, and still, prevailed. The character of the fabrics employed remained the same. Both styles are slender, elegant, light-hearted and charming.
How is it possible that with a change from a madly Romantic to a Classic style there should be no other difference than this of form; that the spirit remained the same!
Precisely because of the points that have been discussed. The social life and trend of the age remained unchanged, and this inward and essential unity was sure to make itself felt through any variation in the mode of expression. We observe in all-ages the adaptability of artists to alteration of manner, and the versatile Frenchmen seem to have found little difficulty in accommodating themselves to the new metier. Furthermore, we must always remember that this was an art movement primarily brought about by the architects and decorators themselves, and so involving no hardship in its following. Some showed themselves more eager, or more adaptable, than others; as would naturally be the case. The mode once being taken up by fashion, however, it was necessary for all to pursue it to a large extent or lose prestige.
The practical result of all this is that we feel no such vital difference between these two styles as we do between that of Louis XV and his predecessor, and in French interiors the two styles of decoration are continually employed in the same house and the two styles of furniture in the same room. The most advisable combination will be considered later.
It seems to the writers, at least, that the interior architecture of Robert and James Adam was decidedly mor£ fecund and able than that of the architects of Louis Seize. The French backgrounds were dignified or charming, according to their use, generally restful, and always beautiful; yet were withal rather conventional. The Adam Brothers' work was perfectly individual and of great variety of expression. The difference seems to be that while the Adelphi used antiquity, the French largely copied it! During the Empire that copying grew to a positive obsession.
Our best architects, who know the interior woik of the Brothers Adam are keenly appreciative of its qualities, but some writers on decoration do not realise its bigness, A closer study of the body of their achievement may bring enlightenment.
Saturated with the Classic spirit as they were, their originality was not dwarfed but stimulated. Mr. Wilson Eyre says that "the man who is most original is the man who best knows what other people have done," and if this is not invariably true it is the defect of originality rather than the fault of knowledge. Certain it is that Robert and James Adam are shining examples of the proper use of acquired information.
Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers were the king's architects. Robert was a member of Parliament, occupied an high social position, and at his burial a duke and five other gentlemen of title were his pallbearers. His commissions were therefore important ones, comprising London mansions, large country-houses and his own enterprise at Adelphi Terrace. Such interior architecture, particularly when of classic character, is naturally imposing and of the greatest dignity, and, as is usual in this faulty world, has been faulted because it is not something else than he appropriately intended it to be.
That the style is, however, susceptible of a homelike feeling in beautiful but less palatial employment is shown by the excellent rendition of it in the modern room illustrated (Plate 159).
Adam's work (his brothers were excellent men but the originality was Robert's) was of too great variety to illustrate in all its phases. Perhaps his most individual mode and the one most closely connected with his name is the one generally exemplified in Plate 10.
Contrast with this the sumptuous back drawing-room at Lansdowne House, also his. Against the walls of old gold silk damask rise ornate pilasters of light yellow tone upon which arabesques are painted in colour. The capitals are gilded. The ceiling is modelled and painted and of arabesques containing paintings in colour. The painted furniture is of green upon which amorini appear in light tones.*
The writers admit as a fault in the work of the Adam Brothers the smallness of scale sometimes shown in details. The eighteenth century was not an age of downright assertiveness, but one of detailed refinement! and no man may rise altogether superior to his environment.
It was the ambition of Robert Adam, for completeness ' sake, to design not only the room but all that it contained - an impossible task for so busy a man. It seems to the writers that Providence allowed him to proceed far enough to give the world many beautiful examples of furniture and then stepped in to prevent his going too far. Ideal as such a plan seems upon the surface to be, it is likely that the harmony of such interiors would have savoured of sameness. Certainly the mingling of other forms in these rooms as they now exist is in some instances very pleasing.
Though one may personally prefer a greater restraint than was evident in many of the interiors of Louis XV there is no blinking the fact that the succeeding reign shows a decline of spontaneity, verve and originality. It will not do to ascribe this to the curbing influence of Classicism, for the Adams found it a well of inspiration, as did the great architects of the Renaissance before them. It was probably due partly to the inclination for copying, previously referred to, and the copying of only certain phases at that, and to some decline in the originality of the architects themselves. A reference to Plate 160 shows that they sometimes even did not go back to antiquity direct, but travelled the footprints of their predecessors; for this interior seems simply a return to the style of Louis XIV done in the mode of Louis Seize. A number of other interiors are shown in Plates 46-49. That of the boudoir at Hotel de La Fayette (Plate 46) shows no particular individuality but is very charming. It will be interesting to compare it with the similar room of the style of Louis XV shown in Plate 39 B.
* "Robert Adam and His Brother", by John Swarbrick.
In the earlier part of the eighteenth century the backgrounds had remained of the earlier Renaissance character with Baroque developments, or else in some cases had followed the Rococo style with national differences. The latter movement in France had also been influential in introducing smaller, more intimate rooms, such as drawing-rooms and boudoirs, in addition to the large salons of former times.
But, as Mr. George Moore says, "Italy never forgot her antiquity, nor could she forget it," and as soon as the revival of Classicism began she hastened to resume any portion of her heritage which had been foregone (Plate 22 B). Italy was poor, but she refused to neglect decoration, and ornate walls were still sumptuous with frescoes, mosaic or inlay. Fabric-covered walls also remained in vogue, and one of these, at Villa Curonia, is illustrated. Painted and parcel gilt panelling was used, and mirrors were common. Plain walls were enriched by tapestries, plaques, wood-carvings and other movable decorations. Landscape and classical wall-papers now also came into fashion.
The flame of inspiration in Spain had died low and that country had little new to show at this period beyond its own national modifications of the furniture of other countries. Its walls remained largely as in previous epochs except that the use of ornamental leather was unfortunately discontinued.