CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

A Guide to Regency Period Furniture

Regency Mahogany Pedestal Sideboard (https://rauantiques.com/products/regency-mahogany-pedestal-sideboard?variant=39292945105031). Circa 1820 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

Regency Mahogany Pedestal Sideboard. Circa 1820 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

 

The Regency period in England was named for the Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent from 1811 to 1820 and later King George IV, whose patronage naturally led the tastes and fashions of the age. While the prince’s regency technically only lasted for a period of nine years, the Regency period more generally refers to the first few decades of the 19th century, beginning with the madness of King George III and ending with the death of George IV in 1830. It was a period when the English country home reigned supreme, and a new, distinctly English version of the French Empire style emerged in both architecture and decor.

 
Pietra Paesina Specimen Table Attributed to Gillows (https://rauantiques.com/collections/furniture/products/pietra-paesina-specimen-table-attributed-to-gillows?variant=34804313718919). Circa 1820 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)



Pietra Paesina Specimen Table Attributed to Gillows. Circa 1820 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

 


The Prince Regent: Tastemaker

While previous periods of design also bear the names of their respective monarchs, the Regency period stands out because the true influence of the prince as a tastemaker was unparalleled in recent history in England. Not only did his influence extend to decorative objects, furniture and architecture, but he also influenced new social innovations that changed the day-to-day lives of the English nobility. No longer did the aristocracy dine at 3 PM, but closer to 7 in the evening. Service à la française fell out of fashion during meals, while service à la russe (in the Russian style), wherein dishes were served by footmen, became the preferred method to dine. Even the form of the dinner service itself began to change thanks to the prince’s patronage of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, the goldsmiths to the Crown who championed a neoclassical style.

 

Indeed, the Regency period was one of the most creative, inventive and expensive periods of English design, fueled and paid for by the rapid growth of industrialization in Western Europe. Wealthy patrons in England delighted in following the Prince’s eclectic taste for neoclassical design and a range of revival styles, including Gothic and Indian. While his indulgent lifestyle eventually took a toll on his health, his lavish commissions still form much of the present-day Royal Collection.

 

Portrait of the Prince of Wales in Garter Robes by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1816

 

Portrait of the Prince of Wales in Garter Robes by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1816
 

Naturally, the furniture of the period evolved from the previous decades to reflect these trends. Craftsmen in London were the first to respond to the new styles, though gradually, the prince’s influence also spread to more rural regions.

 
Regency Crystal and Ormolu Epergne in French Empire Style Circa 1850 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)


Regency Crystal and Ormolu Epergne in French Empire Style. Circa 1850 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

 


Neoclassicism and the French Empire Style

While at this point in each country’s history, the French and English were considered enemies on the political stage (the Napoleonic wars began in 1803), the French still had a massive influence on the styles and fashions of the English. Naturally, the Prince Regent wished to match, and even exceed, the design achievements of his rival.

 

First, a little history about the Empire style itself. Its emergence was largely thanks to the aspirations of Napoléon. The young general’s campaigns in Egypt, though unsuccessful in achieving his military aims, served to bring the world of the ancients to France and, eventually, England.

 

 

Excerpts from the Description de l'Égypte. Circa 1826
 

Napoléon approached his Egyptian campaign in an unprecedented way — to mount the first comprehensive scientific expedition of the region with the aim to study both ancient and modern Egypt. For this purpose, he invited 150 scholars on his campaign to systematically study the region and its inhabitants. The final result of their exhaustive research was the 34-volume Description de l'Égypte, which contained 844 highly detailed engravings and remains, to this day, among the most influential scientific and anthropological studies ever made.

 

The volumes’ influence was immediately felt in French furniture design as Napoléon sought to emulate the great civilizations of antiquity. It was just a few short years before their influence similarly crept into London, and the British aristocracy embraced the new, opulent brand of neoclassicism with open arms.

 
Regency Brass-Mounted Mahogany Breakfront Bookcase. Circa 1810 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

Regency Brass-Mounted Mahogany Breakfront Bookcase. Circa 1810 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

 


Regency Design in Practice

While the French reveled in the opulence of antiquity, the English took a more nuanced approach to neoclassicism, remaining true to a classical simplicity of form. Exact replicas of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman motifs such as sphinxes, ancient gods, griffins and lions were often used as decoration, though some designers would explore their own interpretations of these motifs.

 

 

Circa 1825 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)


Regency Mahogany Cellarette. Circa 1825 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

 

 

This was the age of the heavy woods, and almost all pieces of Regency furniture were crafted from mahogany or rosewood. However, marquetry and carving in wood, a decorative practice for which British craftsmen were once renowned, had fallen out of fashion. Instead, a new emphasis was placed on the wood’s surface and extraordinary patinas, as well as elegant silhouettes. Beautiful sabre or concave legs echoed similar silhouettes from antiquity, and a particular emphasis was placed on quality and execution.

 

Classical motifs were incorporated through brass metalwork on corners, legs, hinges and handles. These often featured elaborate motifs such as shells and acanthus leaves juxtaposed with their simplistic yet beautiful wooden structures.

 

Regency Architecture and Thomas Hope

Born in 1769, Thomas Hope was a Scottish-Dutch banker and art collector who would become one of the most influential designers of the Regency period. He purchased his famed house on Duchess Street in London in 1799 and immediately set about decorating it to his specific tastes. His collection of ancient Greek vases, which he had acquired on his extensive Grand Tour, were proudly on display. It was on his tour that he first gained an interest in interior design; he returned home determined to reform contemporary taste by returning architecture, design and furniture to a state of classical purity.

 
“The Egyptian Room,” Plate 8, Household Furniture & Interior Decoration by Thomas Hope, London, 1807

 

“The Egyptian Room,” Plate 8, Household Furniture & Interior Decoration by Thomas Hope, London, 1807
 

He completed his vision for his London home in 1802, at which time he celebrated with a grand party attended by the Prince of Wales and later opened it to the public. The house was a stunning marriage of the very designs that most informed the age: Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Indian elements, as well as his own interpretation of the French Empire style. Most fascinating of all was the eclectic and highly inventive furniture that Hope himself had designed for the home. These included an ebonized settee and armchairs with gilt mounts executed in the Regency Egyptian Revival style for his “Egyptian Room,” a space that is still considered one of the most inventive interiors to have ever been made.

 

By 1806, Hope had published his highly influential Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, a text that included engravings of his own designs and interiors. In fact, it was this very text that introduced the term “interior decoration” into the English language. The following year, he acquired his country home, the Deepdene estate in Surrey, which became an important part of his aesthetic campaign.

 
Engraving of Hope’s Deepdene Estate, Surrey, England, 1850
Engraving of Hope’s Deepdene Estate, Surrey, England, 1850
 
With the help of the architect William Atkinson, Hope transformed his new home in phases, adding two side wings, an entrance hall, offices, stables and a soaring tower. All of the brickwork on the exterior was stuccoed in the Italian style, while the interior was richly decorated with marble walls, Corinthian columns, ancient statuary and gilding in the neoclassical style. By 1831, the year that Hope died, the estate had been transformed into the perfect archetype of Regency taste, reflecting the eclecticism of styles — Greeks, Egyptian, French, Italianate — that dominated the era.
 
Italian Carved Marble Monopedia Tripod Table. Circa 1700 (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)
Roman Carved Marble Tripod Table formly in the Collection of Thomas Hope. Late 17th/early 18th Century (The Schroder Collection, London)
 

So great was Hope’s lasting influence that his work on The Deepdene estate was largely responsible for the Regency Revival of the early 20th century. The 1917 Christie’s sale of Hope’s heirlooms sparked the interest of the British-American collector Edward Knoblock, who purchased a number of pieces that formed the basis for the first 20th-century Regency Revival country house, The Beach House in Worthington. Today, the collection represents the lasting influence of the Regency style in the realm of architecture and interior design.

 

To view M.S. Rau’s entire collection of Regency-period furnishings, click here.

WANT MORE BLOGS AND ARTICLES LIKE THIS?

Sign up below to be the first to know about new acquisitions, exhibits, blogs and more.

Back to Top
back to top

Shopping Bag

Your shopping bag is currently empty.