Furniture of the Georgian Era

5 minutes minute read

Beloved for its aesthetic beauty and exceptionally high quality, Georgian period furniture is arguably the most sought-after and enduring furniture in British history.

30-5771_1 Crafted of mahogany, this Regency era sideboard features an elegant Neoclassical design

THE GEORGIAN ERA

As the exquisite predecessor to the Victorian era, the Georgian Era (1714-1830) is a period of British history marked by the reigns of George I, George II, George III, and George IV, the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain. A period of peace and prosperity spanning over a century, the Georgian period saw a great increase in innovation, an expansion of the already powerful British Empire, and a flowering of literary and visual arts and architecture.

 

STYLISTIC EVOLUTION

Two factors heavily influenced the stylistic evolution seen in furniture design during the Georgian Era: a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture and the importation and popularization of mahogany.

The influence of classical antiquity is most evident in the Palladian (sometimes called Georgian Palladian) style of the early to mid-Georgian era. This luxurious style of furniture, often massive in scale and extravagantly gilded, was intended to furnish the country homes, mansions, and palaces of England and was popularized primarily by the designs of William Kent. It is highly likely that the growing number of young wealthy Englishmen travelling to Italy for a Grand Tour ultimately led to the incorporation of classical Greek and Roman elements into furniture design of the period.

During the early 18th century, Georgian furniture design was deeply rooted in Dutch and French fashions of the previous century and walnut reigned supreme as the wood of choice. However, when walnut trees became diseased, manufactures turned to importing mahogany from the West Indian colonies. The exotic, dark wood can be polished to a high degree, lending itself to the crisp edges, architectural lines, and Italianate shapes which emerged in the Georgian Era—mahogany quickly became the wood of choice!

Urbanization and societal changes also influenced (although to a lesser degree) Georgian furniture design. For example, in previous centuries, tables and chairs (especially dining room chairs) were pushed back against the wall when not in use. Therefore, the backs of chairs were typically quite plain—people would no more pay for hidden decoration then as they would now! However in the 18th century, life became less formal and permanent sitting areas became fixtures in the home. In response to this development, chair backs began to feature intricate carving and inlay, making them appear beautiful when viewed from any angle.

 

INFLUENTIAL CABINETMAKERS: KENT, CHIPPENDALE, HEPPLEWHITE, & SHERATON

Of all English cabinetmakers working within the Georgian era, four designers surpass the rest: William Kent, Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton.

30-4701_1 This exquisite pair of console tables was crafted in the manner of William Kent

William Kent (1686-1748)

- Monumental, heavy overall appearance

- Influenced primarily by classical art and architecture of Rome

- Embellished by ornate carvings, excessive gilding

- Common decorative motifs include columns, scallop shells, pediments, and masks

- Designs are marked by symmetry and balance


Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779)

- Refined, elegant overall appearance

- Elements of Rococo, Gothic, and Chinese styles are incorporated harmoniously

- Embellished with carvings

- Chairs and sofas upholstered with rich brocades, velvets, and damasks

- Cabriole legs with ball and claw feet are typical


29-0621_1 This 18th-century sideboard displays the hallmarks of quality George Hepplewhite design

George Hepplewhite (1727-1786)

- Graceful overall appearance

- Pieces may be embellished with carvings, painted designs, inlay, or contrasting veneers

- Common neo-classical motifs include swags, ribbons, feathers, urns, and plants

- Pieces are geometric in shape, particularly curved or circular

- May feature “tambours” or vertical strips of wood glued to a heavy cloth

- Legs and feet are typically simple


30-5770_1 Sumptuous satinwood distinguishes this wonderful Sheraton Revival dressing table and chair

Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806)

- Light, delicate overall appearance

- Embellished with low-relief carvings, detailed marquetry, or contrasting veneers

- Common neo-classical motifs include swags, ribbons, lyres, feathers, urns, and flowers

- Pieces are typically geometric in shape, particularly square or rectangular

- Slender legs may be straight or tapered


This blog post is the third and final installment of a three-part series which explores the flowering of the arts during the Georgian Era (1714-1830) and serves as a supplement to “House of Hanover: The Georgian Collection” currently on display at M.S. Rau Antiques.

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