Beloved for its aesthetic beauty and exceptionally high quality, Georgian period furniture is arguably the most sought-after and enduring furniture in British history. At M.S. Rau, we offer a number of stunning Georgian furniture pieces in our collection. To learn more about this 18th century furniture style, read on below.
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.
Two factors heavily influenced the stylistic evolution seen in Georgian furniture design during this 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 furniture maker 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 a new English furniture design of the period.
During the early 18th century, Georgian style furniture 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 style furniture. 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 during the early Georgian period, 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. The elaborate carving and detailing of Georgian design completely transformed English furniture and brought forth a new interior design style that exuded fine elegance.
INFLUENTIAL CABINETMAKERS: KENT, CHIPPENDALE, HEPPLEWHITE, & SHERATON
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.