Nicholas Wells Antiques specialises in 18th and 19th century English and European furniture, and we pride ourselves on having an expert eye for spotting those unique, exceptional quality pieces. In particular, we think that the Georgian period produced some of the finest examples of furniture design. What makes Georgian furniture interesting, is the immense variety of styles that emerge throughout the period. From the years 1714 to 1830, over a century, we see outstanding craftsmanship from the likes of William Kent, Thomas Chippendale, Robert Adam and Thomas Hope. Take a look at our style guide, demonstrating the versatility of Georgian furniture design.
Georgian Furniture Style Timeline
Below, we have created a brief timeline of the Georgian period, and the evolution of Georgian style. Prior to the Georgian period, the Queen Anne style was remarkably simple and this provides a significant contrast to some of the later designs of Georgian England. The Georgian period begins in 1714 with the reign of George I and ends in 1830 with the death of George IV. Whilst the image below provides a brief overview of the decorative styles of the ‘long eighteenth century’, we will discuss some of the key designers that emerge as key players in the development of Georgian furniture design.
William Kent and Italianate Design
William Kent was one of the most prominent designers and figures in early Georgian England and a key name in Georgian furniture design. Responsible for architecture, landscaping and furniture design, Kent was a polymath. He was particularly influenced by the Italian baroque and Palladian styles, and the architectural work of Inigo Jones, and developed a rich, bombastic, highly ornamented English style. William Kent designed furniture that was sculptural, richly carved and upholstered and often gilded. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the Hanovarians took over the English throne resulting in a marked unpopularity of Anglo-Dutch styles in favour of the powerful and opulent Italianate design. It was in this context that Kentian design became extremely popular.
Originating in France from the Regence period an onwards (1715-) the rococo is the playful style of Georgian furniture design. It developed as a reaction to the strictness and order of Louis XIV’s reign, and very quickly crossed the Channel to England. The term ‘rococo’ comes from the French ‘rocailles’ which refers to rock and broken shell motifs that were integral to the style. It, too, was highly ornamented, with extensive use of ‘S’ and ‘C’ scrolls, shells and acanthus leaf features. Characteristically, rococo designs were asymmetrical and, at its height, functionality gave way to decoration as the rococo seems to almost envelope the furniture. The extremely deocrative Chinoiserie is often accepted as an extension of the rococo style. Generally, rococo can be identified by extreme cabriole legs, serpentine lines, bombe commodes, scrollwork and lots of highly sculptural ormolu!
Roughly referring to the period of the 1750’s and 1760’s, the Chippendale style emerged as the dominant force in Georgian furniture design, following the publishing of the first edition of Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory in 1754. Generally speaking, there were 3 categories of designs by Chippendale: the gothic, the rococo and chinoiserie. The Chippendale styles were lighter than the heavy Kentian and French rococo styles and they therefore appealed to a wider elite and mercantile class of people. Thomas Chippendale’s Directory ensured that a considerable audience had access to his designs, which facilitated the adoption of Chippendale style furniture within homes across the whole of the UK.
By the 1770’s, designers had begun to look to the ancient world for inspiration where their interiors were concerned. Followed by events such as the discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 and 1748, Johann Joachim Winkelman’s The History of Art in Antiquity published in 1764 and the Warwick Vase in Italy 1771, the emphasis was very much on classical antiquity. The strict architectural guidelines were applied to furniture and this apparent restoration of order appealed to those who had grown tired of the flamboyance of rococo and Chippendale styles. Common motifs found in neoclassical, Georgian furniture designs are Greek key, vetruvian waves, egg and dart or beaded borders, reeded or fluted tapering legs, amphorae, swags and festoons to name but a few! They are light and delicate in their design, but without compromising on ornamentation. Robert Adam is possibly most renowned for neoclassical design, whilst also finding inspiration from the ‘Grotesque’ designs from ancient Rome, as are Thomas Sheraton, George Heppelwhite and Josiah Wedgewood.
Regency and the end of the Georgian Period
Regency style maintains a devotion to classical antiquity, and is therefore a clear evolution of neoclassicism. The Regency period technically lasted only 9 years between 1811 and 1820, but emerged as a Georgian furniture design style c. 1800 and remained as the principal style until George IV’s death in 1830. These designers, such as Thomas Sheraton, Thomas Hope and George Smith, took inspiration from a more architectual perspective and thus Regency furniture is generally heavier, and more solid than its neoclassical predecessor. Also influenced by the Napoleonic Egyptian campaign in 1798, we see snakes, sphynx, beetle and other Egyptian motifs appear increasingly. ‘Japanned’ furniture with ormolu created incredibly popular combinations of black and gold, in addition to ‘orientalism’ in general. This was championed by the Prince Regent and his Brighton Pavilion.