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ADAM, SHERATON, EMPIRE.
THE increased market offered to English merchants in the colonies, now more prosperous, produced in quick succession several cabinet-makers who worked in a different style from Chippendale, and made much very handsome furniture. Robert and James Adam, by training and profession architects, turned their attention to furniture which would be appropriate in rooms of Greek or Roman style. Their designs were all on classic lines, and were beautifully painted besides by the popular artists of the day, like Angelica Kauffmann and Pergolese, who, like Alma Tadema in our day, did not hesitate to expend their art upon fine pieces of furniture.
The Adam brothers introduced the use of composition ornaments coloured and gilded, which were really a revival of the Italian process of "gesso," and which they had learned during their years of study in Italy They designed many mantelpieces, also decorated in classic style, and had a decided influence in moulding the taste of their contemporaries and successors. Satin-wood was introduced by them, or at least at this period, and was used for inlaying as well as for the manufacture of whole pieces of furniture. Most of it, when used as the wood of the entire piece, is decorated with medallions of marquetry of some darker wood, as tulip, rosewood, or mahogany.
The Adam brothers did not make any furniture themselves, but had it made by popular makers under their personal direction. In Figure 29 are shown three chairs of Adam design. The side chair retains its original covering of a heavy wool plush, with classic figures stamped in it of wreaths and maces. Its covering was also designed by Adam. This chair and the arm-chair like it are very delicately carved in low relief with a small leaf pattern. The legs are fluted and end in a form of spade-foot. The arm-chair on the top is very richly carved, and the entire woodwork is gilded. The covering has been restored. These three chairs are in the Museum connected with Cooper Institute.
In 1764 Robert Adam published his book dedicated to George III., and illustrated with most elaborate engravings by Bartolozzi and other fashionable engravers. For this graceful act Robert Adam was appointed architect to the king, and his rise was rapid and brilliant. James Adam had now completed his studies and was taken into partnership by his brother. In 1773 they began to publish engravings of their architectural works in serial parts. They continued to issue these until 1778, when the entire work was published under the title of "Works in Architecture by Robert and James Adam Esquires." It contains quite as many designs for furniture as some of the so-called furniture catalogues. While the outlines of the furniture are very graceful and delicate, their beauty is much increased by the skilful and artistic paintings of Angelica Kauffman and Zucchi by which they are embellished. Pergolese was brought from Italy to add still further to the beauty of their work. John Flaxman, at this time creating lovely classic designs in various kinds of wares for Wedgwood, also contributed to their success, and many of his plaques and panels were set in their furniture to its further adornment. They were used not only in satin-wood, but in other furniture as well which was painted in the same colours as the Wedgwood ware. Whole rooms, walls, ceiling, and furniture were coloured to match, even the harpsichord and candle-stands being painted and decorated with Wedgwood plaques. Of the second book, furniture designs fill one volume, mirrors another, and girandoles a third.
Figure 27. Room in Whipple House, Ipswich, Mass.
Figure 28. Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite Chairs
Robert Adam showed wonderful skill and aptitude in adapting classic forms to modern taste, and his pieces are never overloaded with ornament, but retain simple, graceful lines. He never considered any detail too small for his minute attention. Besides designing the woodwork of his furniture he also drew the patterns for the stuffs to cover them; even the little silk cushions on the arms of the chairs had the same care bestowed on them as the backs and seat. When he designed a bed, the counterpane to go on it was also made under his direction or designed by him, A little bag to hang on a lady's arm was not too slight an object to be made beautiful by his artistic hand. He paid the greatest attention to having the covering for upholstered furniture appropriate to the style of chair it went on, but he allowed himself great latitude in gilding, and, as we have already said, in painting his furniture in colours. He also gave variety to his tables by the use of coloured marble tops. The Adam brothers designed some of the interior fittings for "Strawberry Hill." They also built Colzean Castle, designed Alnwick Castle, and many other splendid homes.
Thomas Shearer is a name not often heard in America, yet the book, "The London Cabinet-Maker's Book of Prices," published in 1788, contained many beautiful designs by him. This work provided more for the cabinet-maker himself than for the gentleman, to whom most of the previous works of this nature had been dedicated. There were many members of the London Cabinet-Maker's Society, but only three made the illustrations to the book, — Thomas Shearer, Hepplewhite, and a man named Casement, who furnished but two. Now, when there are so many banks and safe-deposit companies, we do not feel the need of secret drawers and repositories for storing our valuables. They were quite necessary a hundred years or more ago and much ingenuity was expended in concealing them from curious or prying eyes. We are also wont to consider recent times and conditions responsible for such shams and mockeries as folding beds, and articles of furniture that are not what they seem. In these early books of designs are not only folding beds, press-beds, and library bedsteads, but folding washstands and toilet-tables, as well as tables, toilets, and bureaus which concealed the mattress and bed furniture by day.
Some of these pieces were most elaborate and had intricate machinery to work them. A graceful, classical urn of wood, touched on the right spot, would open and disclose a basin and ewer, while a writing-table could he unfolded into a lady's dressing-table with folding glasses, and boxes for the necessary Powder, pomatum, brushes and pins.
Figure 29. Adam Chairs
Figure 30. Hepplewhite Chairs
To Thomas Shearer we are indebted for that useful article, the sideboard, which has assumed such a variety of forms, and among his designs were dressing, card, and tea-tables, of many styles, and various desks, but he designed no chairs. Many of his pieces bear a close resemblance to those of Sheraton. Between the severity of the latest period of Chippendale and the dainty designs of Sheraton, Shearer and Hepplewhite find their place, though neither of them ever approached in beauty of design, or in popularity, Chippendale who preceded them or Sheraton who succeeded them.
A. Hepplewhite's book, "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, or Repository of Designs for Every Article of Household Furniture in the Newest and Most Approved Taste," was published in 1789 and contained three hundred designs for pieces of furniture which have been so often copied that they have grown familiar to us. His chairs are extremely pretty, but, unlike those of Chippendale, who sought solidity and careful construction, Hepplewhite's chairs were so faulty and fragile in construction that they broke easily. Up to this time the splat had joined the back of the chair and served to make it much stronger, but Hepplewhite never brought it down to the seat, usually having it curved and joining the side rails three or four inches above the seat.
There are more pieces of Hepplewhite furniture in America than one is aware of. His chairs are by no means uncommon, and are very easily recognized by their peculiar backs. His tables, with the delicate inlay and slender tapering legs, as also his sideboards, are frequently called by the name of his great successor, Sheraton, and even in England the two makers are frequently confused. He had a specialty of his own, — that of japanned or lacquered furniture, and the patterns he most frequently employed were fruit and flowers on a black ground. Paintings such as these were taught to young ladies as an accomplishment at school, and no doubt many of them tried their "prentice" hands on some nice old mahogany piece as soon as they got home.
Hepplewhite had another peculiarity in his preference for using a circle or some portion of it in his designs. On looking over his "Guide" one will notice that a half circle was often used as the design for a sideboard, or table to be set against the wall. His small tables are nearly always round or a broad Oval, and his chair-backs follow the same shape, so did his girandoles and tea-trays. For a central ornament to his chair backs he frequently carved three Prince's feathers, or drooping ears of wheat, neither of which design is particularly pleasing. Besides the circular he used also the shield-shaped back. In Figure 30 are shown three of his characteristic chairs. The one on the left has the Prince's feathers, and all of them show the slender leg which in two of them ends in the spade-foot.
The dining-tables of this period, before the days of the extension table, had round, square, or octagonal tops, supported on a column which rested on a plinth having several carved feet. There were a number of variations of the arrangement of feet. In order to accommodate a large party several of these tables could be placed together, and when not in use could be placed against the wall to serve as side-tables. His easy chairs — and he made many of these, large and comfortable — he covered entirely with upholstery, no woodwork showing but the legs. (See Figure 56).
Figure 31. Hepplewhite Card-Table
In the Hepplewhite and Shearer pieces the noticeable feature of decoration is the inlay, often of two or three coloured woods and in a variety of designs. Many kinds of wood were employed at this time in inlay or marquetry work, besides all the familiar ones Shearer mentions, — "tulip, rose, snake, panella," etc., and later lilac-wood also was used. The husk pattern was very popular at this period for an inlay pattern, and Wedgewood also used it frequently in his splendid jasper pottery. It resembles the husks of oats when ripe, the spreading of the two halves allowing the pattern to be used over and over again.
In Shearer's work, as well as Hepplewhite's, a slender tapering leg is much in use, inlaid down about half its length, often with satin-wood or holly, and sometimes with ebony as well. Many of the sideboards made in America were on English models, and they are veneered on pine, the back and drawers being made of this same wood. There are many variations of shape, — what are known as serpentine and swell fronts being quite usual, the handles being the oval ones which are so common on all varieties of pieces with drawers, and there is also a fan-shaped piece of inlay which will frequently be seen. The position of this is not always the same, it may be found in the corners of closets, and long bottle-drawers, or it may be inserted as a sort of brace between the bottom of the sideboard and the legs. Hepplewhite was very fond of inlaying a band of holly or satin-wood around the legs of his pieces, three or four inches from the ground. It will be found on his sideboards, card-tables and desks, and is generally about an inch wide. His book was one of the most valuable ever given to English cabinet-makers. His individuality of shape is always pleasing, even if he did not concern himself about making his furniture structurally correct. He claims, and indeed with absolute correctness, "to unite elegance with utility and blend the useful with the agreeable."
In Figure 31 is shown one of a pair of card-tables, Hepplewhite design, made of mahogany and inlaid with ebony and satin-wood. They belong to Mr. William M. Hoyt of Rochester, N. Y.
Like Adam, Hepplewhite made great use of satinwood for whole pieces of furniture. He used his well-known and characteristic shapes in chair-backs and little sofas, cabinets and workstands, table stands, harpsichord cases, and commodes. Satin-wood had been but recently introduced from the East Indies and was instantly popular. Even mantel-pieces were made of it, to match the furniture, and there was a fancy to have the drawing-rooms and boudoirs very light and elegant. Clothes had shrunk in dimensions, no more hoops and farthingales embarrassed their wearers, the stiffness was banished from coat-tails, and consequently the furniture had shrunk too. Chairs were small and narrow, and window-seats, made in abundance by Hepplewhite, were deservedly popular, and the coverings were in accord with the gaiety of the woodwork. Figure 32 shows two Hepplewhite settees with shield-shaped backs. The upper one is of mahogany with low relief carvings on the tops, and the lower of satinwood, with cane seat and the woodwork beautifully painted. The elegance of this painted satin-wood has long been admired. Unfortunately it has caught the popular taste, and it is now reproduced in such large quantities that it is freely offered for sale by dealers in our large cities. The pieces shown in our illustration are both fine specimens of the original maker and are owned by the Waring Galleries, London.
Figure 32. Hepplewhite Settees
Figure 33. Sheraton Chairs
It was no longer necessary to make the legs of chairs of such stout proportions, and as the bodies of the chairs were lighter so the legs dwindled exceedingly and were given only a semblance of solidity by the use of the "spade-foot" so much affected by Hepplewhite. Their appearance of fragility was farther enhanced by groovings and flutings, but they are always pretty.
Although his characteristic chairs have shield-shaped or oval backs, he gives in his book eighteen designs of bannister-backed chairs, to be carried out in mahogany. The general dimensions given by Hepplewhite for his chairs are as follows:
"Width in front, 20 inches; depth of seat, 17 inches, height of seat frame, 17 inches; total height, about 37 inches."
He gives most definite directions about coverings. Mahogany chairs should have the seats of horsehair, plain, striped, checkered, etc., according to taste; or cane bottoms with cushions which should be covered with the same material as the bed and window curtains. He was fond of the "Duchess," which consisted of two Barjeer or armchairs with a stool between them, all three pieces fitting together at pleasure and making a lounge from six to eight feet long. His press-beds vary little in appearance from wardrobes, but it was in smaller and daintier pieces that his particular talent found play. His knife-boxes are extremely elegant, particularly when in urn shape with a rod in the centre to prevent the top of the urn from being removed. All the handles and knobs on his larger pieces of furniture are round, but on sideboards frequently oval, his double chests of drawers have either French or block feet.
Tripod reading-desks, urn-stands, beautiful tea-trays, caddies and tea-chests are richly inlaid or painted. We find him not only making very ornate and richly inlaid card-tables, but "Pembroke tables" as well, with either round or square tops. Such tables have leaves, but, instead of the legs moving out to support the leaves, small arms come out from the table-frame.
His writing-tables and desks have tambour tops, that is strips of wood pasted on cloth, so that they roll back into receptacles provided for them, and are filled with secret drawers and flat cupboards for deeds or papers. Among his other small pieces which are distinguished by their grace are dressing-glasses, shaving-tables with glasses and without, "bason" stands, designs for brackets, fire-screens, wash-hand-stands, cornices, lamps, girandoles, and looking-glasses. His larger designs show dressing-tables and bureaus with curved and swell fronts, beds, four-posters, and field-beds with very graceful sweeps and much variety of design. His stuffed furniture is comfortable in the extreme, and the tall easy chairs with cheek pieces must have been well calculated to protect from searching draughts. Many of these easy chairs found their way to America, and as their cost was not extortionate moderate homes enjoyed them as well as wealthy ones.
Figure 34. Sheraton Desk
After the Revolution, in all the seaboard towns and the more settled places near cities, there was a still greater call for all styles and luxuries popular in England. Indeed the former Colonies presented very curious and marked contrasts, being, as it is tersely put, "rolling in wealth or dirt poor." In Philadelphia there had been much style and "gentility" for many years. The English officers had, no doubt, brought some comforts with them, and they found others awaiting them. Major Andrés letter describing supper at the "Mischianza," May 18, 1778, gives a vivid picture of the festivities of the times. —
— "At twelve, supper was announced, and the large folding-doors being suddenly thrown open discovered a magnificent salon of 210 feet long by 40 feet wide, and 22 in height, with three alcoves on each side which served for sideboards. Fifty-six large pier-glasses ornamented with green silk artificial flowers and ribbands; one hundred branches with three lights in each trimmed in the same manner as the mirrors; eighteen lustres each with twenty-four lights suspended from the ceiling and ornamented as the branches.
"Three hundred wax tapers disposed along the supper-tables, four hundred and thirty covers, twelve hundred dishes, twenty-four black slaves in Oriental dresses with silver-collars and bracelets ranged in two lines, and bending to the ground as the General Howe and the Admiral appeared together."
All the lustres, mirrors, etc., with which the room was adorned, were borrowed, says Watson, from the townsfolk, and all were returned uninjured.
Eighty-four families kept carriages in 1772, and writing as late as 1802, Dr. Michaud calls Philadelphia —
— "At present the largest, the handsomest, and the most populous city of the United States, The streets are paved, and are provided with broad bricked footways, Pumps, placed on each side of them at about one hundred yards from each other, supply an abundance of water."
Dolly Madison, writing in 1791 of the fashions of the day in Philadelphia, says:
"Very long trains are worn, and they are festooned up with loops and bobbin and small covered buttons, the same as the dress. The hats are quite a different shape from what they used to be. The bonnets are all open on the top, through which the hair is passed, either up or down as you fancy, though latterly they wear it more up than down; it is quite out of fashion to frizz or curl the hair."
Salem, in Massachusetts, with her vessels touching at every port, was already becoming known for her luxury, her teak-wood as well as her mahogany furniture, her china and plate. Enough of these still remain to show her importance and the elegance of her homes. But there was another side to this picture. Here is the description of the home of a settler away from any of the large centres, Charles Rich, of Vermont, member of Congress, began housekeeping as late as 1791. All his household possessions were valued at $66.00. He writes:
"I constructed at the mill a number of household articles of furniture which have been in daily use from that time to the present."
Figure 35. Sideboard
Figure 36. Sofa, Sheraton Style
The newest styles were of small importance in such surroundings as these, and luxuries passed slowly along pioneer roads; yet every ship coming to American ports brought furniture, stuffs, plate, and china to tempt the wealth of those who could afford them, and among such were pieces made by Sheraton, the fashionable cabinet-maker who came on the scene late enough to profit by the designs of his predecessors. Indeed he is most frankly pleased with his own skill and artistic taste, and in his long preface sets forth the merits of his own book and discredits all those before him. He considers his book much superior because he gives drawings in perspective. Much of the book is a very dry dissertation on geometry. Its second half gives descriptions of furniture, of the various styles, and the uses of the pieces. He says in his Introduction:
"The design of this part of the Book is intended to exhibit the present taste of furniture, and at the same time give the workman some assistance in the manufacturing part of it."
Sheraton's early furniture is distinguished by great elegance of design, fine construction, and graceful ornament. (See Figure 33.) The legs of his pieces are slender and straight, as distinguished from the cabriole leg, but are generally enriched with flutings, and they taper pleasingly to the foot. While he uses carving, it is generally applied in low relief and does not interfere with the lines of construction. His preference is, like Hepplewhite's, for ornamenting with inlay of woods of different colours and decorating with brass. The fine proportions of his early furniture, the simple shapes clearly defined, and its structural beauty where each part is doing its work, render it admirable in every way.
A simple desk of Sheraton pattern is given in Figure 34. It is of mahogany, and the doors of the upper part open, revealing pigeon-holes and drawers. The flat top over the drawers opens out on rests, making a broad, flat desk top. The brasses and key-scutcheons are original, and the moulding of the drawers overlaps.
After 1793 Sheraton made little furniture, but gave his time chiefly to writing his furniture books. For the patterns used in his inlay he had recourse to classic models for his inspiration, like the Adam brothers, who had done much to popularize this simplicity of design. Sheraton used urns, rosettes, festoons, scrolls, and pendant flowers as his favorite decorations. The simple curves of which many of these are composed lent themselves admirably to inlay, and the harmony of the colours of the woods gave a grace to this form of ornament and suits it exactly to the furniture on which it finds a place.
Sheraton wrote several works on furniture and upholstery. The first one published in 1791, was "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book." This was followed by "Designs for Household Furniture" in 1804, and he had not completed his "Cabinet-Maker, Upholsterer, and General Artist's Encyclopedia" in 1807. He gave directions for making, among other things, folding-beds, washstands, card-tables, sideboards, and many other pieces. He frequently employed the lyre as a design for his chair-backs, as well as supports for tables. In chairs it often has strings of brass; on the tables it takes heavier and more substantial form.
Sheraton's beds seem almost as impossible as Chippendale's. He, too, made alcove, sofa, or couch beds. He also gave designs for "summer beds" made in two compartments (we should call them "twin beds,") but both are included under a frame or canopy, and the whole affair is very cumbersome and heavy. His chairs, tables, and sideboards are the pieces by which we know him best and in which he is most admirable. He says himself, in regard to drawing-room chairs, that many are finished in white and gold, or that the ornaments may be japanned, but that the French finish them in mahogany with gilt mouldings. Sheraton made very dainty designs for tripod stands, fire-screens and ladies, desks, with tambour doors. Also "bason"-stands with tambour doors and writing-desks with curved cylinder tops, which tops fell into the space behind the pigeon-holes and drawers. Wash-hand tables had also these curved cylinder tops, and all furniture which was put to toilet purposes was so arranged that it would look like something else, and transform a bedroom into a boudoir. These cylinder-topped pieces were designed as early as 1792.
Figure 37. Sheraton Sideboard
In furniture, as in art, there are no absolutely abrupt changes, but one style is overshadowed by another as Chippendale gradually overcame the rococo and stood for an individual style. Hepplewhite influenced Sheraton very much, although the latter declares in one of his books, published two years later than Hepplewhite's, that the latter's designs have become quite antiquated. Such a piece of furniture is seen in the sideboard-table or sideboard given in Figure 35. It was undoubtedly made by one of these two men, and it is difficult to decide which. The form of foot is more common to Hepplewhite than to Sheraton, and the inlaid border of satin-wood is wider than he was wont to use. The brass rail at the back was used to support silver or porcelain dishes. The handles are original and the wood mahogany. This handsome piece belongs to the Waring Galleries, London.
Horsehair was used for covering by both makers, and in both cases gilt-headed nails put in a festoon were used to fasten it down. Sheraton's first style was much the most pleasing. It was distinguished by a delicacy and an elegance which were entirely lost in his later designs, which were so strongly influenced by the Empire style. The first illustration in his "Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Book" is what he calls a "Universal table," to be made of mahogany, and which at will may be converted into a dining-table, or, by pulling out a drawer, discover all the compartments necessary for storing kitchen condiments, such as sugar and spices, etc. The sofa depicted in Figure 36 shows this merging into Empire style, for the legs are heavier than those we are accustomed to, and the carved pine-apple appears on the arm instead of the more delicate carving seen on earlier chairs and sofas. The covering is hair-cloth fastened down with brass nails. This sofa stood for many years in the Old Manse at Concord, Mass. It belonged to the Rev. Ezra Ripley, who came to Concord as pastor in 1778. Times were unsettled and currency was depreciated, so that when his salary of five hundred and fifty pounds was paid it was found to be worth just forty pounds. To make up this deficiency Dr. Ripley did a man's work in the fields. For years he laboured at tilling the ground at least three days in a week and sometimes even more. He was an ardent man, and from his moral worth was often known as "Holy Ripley." This sofa, uneasy as it looks to modern eyes, perhaps seemed luxurious to him after a day at the plough. The cover which it wears is said to be the original one, and if this is true its condition is so good that I fear the sofa was kept permanently in the "south parlor" or the "north parlor," as the best room was called in those days, and the good man was given nothing easier to rest on than a wooden Windsor chair, or a straight-backed rush-bottomed one, or perhaps the kitchen settle.
38. Sheraton Sideboard
With the introduction and extended use of the sideboard carne several articles to be used in connection with it, to which Sheraton turned his attention. Among these may be mentioned knife and spoon-boxes, which were of several different designs. Sheraton apparently did not make these knife-boxes himself, but only designed them, for he says,
"As these cases are not made in regular cabinet shops it may be of service to mention where they may be executed in the best taste by one who makes it his main business, i. e. John Lane, No. 44, St. Martin's-le-Grand, London."
Two pretty ones, as well as two wine-coolers, are shown on the sideboard in Figure 37. This sideboard has two little closets with tambour doors at the bottom, and deep wine-drawers on the sides There is the brass rail similar to the one in Figure 35. This piece belongs to the Waring Galleries, London.
One of the handsomest knife-boxes is an urn-shaped one which has been noted as made also by Hepplewhite. It is wrought in mahogany, the veneer made in pie-shaped pieces, each bit being outlined with a delicate line of hollywood. The knives were held in a perforated rack inside, with the handles up, and a pair of these boxes on either end of the sideboard made a very ornamental finish. Another shape also in vogue was more box-like in shape, the cover sloping toward the front. Not only knives, but spoons also, were held in the racks with which the interior was fitted; and as these latter were put in bowls up, the cases, when open, showed to excellent advantage the worldly wealth of the household, and were ornamental besides. Sometimes the covers of these boxes set back flat against a portion of the top, and made a tray on which could be placed silver cups, mugs, posset-pots, ewers, or any pieces of table silver of moderate size. Then there were the wine-boxes, or wine-coolers as they were often called, handsome massive boxes of wood, generally mahogany, or whatever wood the sideboard was made of. They stood beneath it, or, if the sideboard was low, at one side. The usual number of bottles they contained was from four to a dozen. General Washington's wine-box has room for eighteen bottles. There are still a dozen of the original bottles in it, holding a gallon each. We should call them decanters, for they are of handsome cut glass.
There is a letter from General Washington to Colonel Hamilton in the possession of Major Church of Rochester, N. Y., presenting him with a wine-cooler, "holding six bottles... one of four which I imported during my term of governmental administration."
A more usual style of sideboard, Sheraton pattern, is that given in Figure 38. This handsome and useful piece of furniture had its counterparts in many of the stately old houses from the Carolinas up. It is of the swell-front type and has five deep drawers and a closet. The wood is mahogany and without inlay. This sideboard is at the Whipple House, Ipswich, Mass.
Figure 39. Empire Sofa
Figure 40. Empire Sofa
After the French Revolution of 1790 furniture became markedly different. Greek models were chosen once more; the tripod became a favorite support. Mahogany was freely used, but so were coarse woods, in which case they were carved and profusely gilded. The most valuable book, for cabinet-makers, on "Empire" furniture, was published by the architects Percier and Fontaine in 1809. It was not filled with fanciful designs merely, as we have seen was the case with some of the catalogues of English makers, but every design shown in it had been carried out before it was published. Many of the drawings were adapted from classic models preserved in the Vatican. In many ways this style has not much to recommend it. It is apt to be heavy and stiff, particularly when made by English makers. The French decorated it with exquisite forms in metal (treated in another chapter), but the English contented themselves with cast brass. It was far preferable under the manipulation of American cabinet-makers, who restricted the use of brass and allowed the handsome woods to show themselves to the best advantage. The Dutch, who also were not behind hand in the adoption of this and Napoleonic style, made tables, secretaries, chairs, etc., severe and regular in form, but enriched with their admirable marquetry, and with heads and feet of animals sparingly used. Sheraton and Shearer were swept along by the tide of fashion and drew Empire designs.
Gillow, the inventor of the extension-table, whose firm was established as early as 1800, made many fine designs and had orders from the best patrons. His firm is still carried on under the same name.
In 1808 George Smith was made "Upholder Extraordinary to H. R. H., the Prince of Wales." He published a book, of course, having a hundred and fifty-eight designs. They included bedsteads, tables, chairs, bookcases and commodes, and other articles of furniture copied from the French, like escritoires, jardinières, chiffonièrs, showing how the fancy for French things was increasing. He gives very definite rules as to how and when to use various woods. —
— "Mahogany, when used in houses of consequence, should be confined to the parlour and bed-chamber floors.
"In furniture for these apartments the less inlay of other woods, the more chaste will be the style of work. If the wood be of a fine compact and bright quality, the ornaments may be carved clean in the mahogany. Where it may be requisite to make out panelling by inlay of lines. let these be of brass or ebony.
"In drawing-rooms, boudoirs, ante-rooms, East and West India satin-wood, rosewood, tulip-wood, and the other varieties of woods brought from the East, may be used. With satin and light-coloured woods the decorations may be of ebony or rosewood; with rosewood let the decorations be ormolu and the inlay of brass."
Figure 39 shows a handsome sofa of carved mahogany, Empire style, before it had arrived at its heaviest stage. The carving is extremely handsome, both rails of seat and back being decorated with dolphins. The foot is of the bear shape, and the arms are graceful in curve. This piece is of English make.
While we miss in the late Empire styles — say from 1810 to 1825 — much of the lightness and grace which had been contributed by the carving and inlay which were so freely used in the preceding period, yet there was a solidity and massive dignity which was not without a certain charm. Then, too, these pieces were generally veneered, and in them the beautiful grain of the mahogany, which was the favorite wood, showed to greatest advantage. The sofa in Figure 40 is such a piece. It is of unusual length, the top of the arm is stuffed, thus doing away with "squabs," as the cushions which were used on sofas, long and narrow, were called.
The wood, which is largely shown, is of that dark rich hue inclined to red, with veining many shades darker, and it is in a fine state of preservation. This piece belongs to Anthony Killgore, Esq., Flemington, N. J.
Figure 41. Pier-Table
Figure 42. Empire Sideboard
To about the same period does the pier-table belong (Figure 41), which is not usual in design, because of the third pier which starts from a circular shelf in the middle of the base. The swan piers at each end are very graceful, and the handsome grain of the mahogany is shown to great advantage. This piece belongs to the Misses Killgore, of Flemington, N. J., as does the sideboard shown in Figure 42. The doors of the lower part, with the fan, are solid mahogany, the carving on the legs and ornamental scrolls is fine. The middle of the top is raised to permit the insertion of a looking-glass, and the capitals at the tops of the pillars are of fine brass-work. Above the middle drawer, a shelf draws out for use in serving meals. The whole sideboard sets back on a little shelf above the bear's feet, a feature not unusual in the finer boards of this period.
The surroundings of this fine old piece of furniture are in keeping with its importance, the china showing above it on the wall being the Staffordshire blue made during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, while the mirror directly above it is of equal age.
Environment has a great deal to do with bringing out the true beauties of this stately old furniture. It must be surrounded with objects of approximate age and of equal dignity, otherwise it looks as unseemly as an ancient dame with a pink rose in her hair. The work-table shown in Figure 43 belongs to the same period, but of a little earlier date than the last pieces shown. The legs are richly carved, as is the central pillar. This also belongs to the Misses Killgore.
Figure 43. Empire Work-Table
Not many pieces of such solidity were required in a room, and in those days overloading did not stand for elegance. In 1800, when the spacious Taylor house in Washington was built, the furniture of the great drawing-room was a set of ash, sixteen pieces. There were twelve chairs with chintz cushions, and two card-tables; there were also a centre table and one upholstered couch, and a settee, but not one so-called easy-chair. Much furniture like that shown in Figures 40-43, is to be found in the old houses of such places as Cherry Valley, N. Y., where there is little changing about, and furniture has descended from one generation to another and still stands in its old familiar home.