Art Styles in the Industrial 19th Century
Furnishings & Fashions
Art Styles in 19th century -
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
The introduction of new technology meant that it was now
possible to produce furnishings and clothing that had the appearance of
traditional, handmade articles but were cheaper than previously and aimed at
a ivider market. Taste veered towards extravagant shapes, conspicuous
ornamentation, and excess.
The historical, social, and political revolutions that swept through Europe from
1790 to 1840 triggered great changes in both the design and industrial
manufacturing processes of furniture, potter}', porcelain, textiles, glass, and
other objects. Tastes changed as Napoleonic influence led to the spread of the
Empire style, with its roots in the revival of interest in Greek, Roman and,
later, Egyptian art. The most influential exponents of the Empire style were the
French architect-designer team of Pierre-Francois-Leonard Fontaine (1762-1853)
and Charles Percier (1764-1838). and the furniture makers Jacob-Desmalter & Cie,
founded in 1803.
In France, fashionable 19th-century ornament for interior decoration
and furniture included symmetrically arranged gilt-bronze classical
motifs: capitals, palmettes, sphinxes, dolphins, swans, and
miniaturized mythical characters and creatures. Also popular -were
emblems of Napoleonic imperial splendour: eagles, bees, arms
(spears, arrows, swords) and. of course, the letter "N", adorned
with the victor's laurel wreath. As the colour and graining of
mahogany contrasted admirably with gilt decoration, furniture makers
often used the combination to excessive effect. New items of
furniture were created: cheval glasses or swing mirrors in varying
sizes began to appear, as did ladies' dressing tables and various
types of paper-filing and storing devices known as serre-papiers.
After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. the Bourbon Restoration
style ushered in a varietv of new ornamental motifs. Light-coloured
woods such as ash and cherry were fashionable (they were used in
Continental Europe during the British blockade of imports during the
war years, 1793—1815), as were curving lines and marquetry or
inlays of darker woods or reflective materials. During the postwar
years, the bourgeois Biedermeier style developed in Austria and
northern Europe. This smaller, more homely furniture in simple,
geometric shapes and light woods was typified by Sekretere (bureaux)
and Nahtische (occasional or sewing tables). Chairs and
well-upholstered sofas were designed with greater attention to the
user's ease and comfort, including proper back support. It was in
this context of "cleaner", more functional lines that the
revolutionary bentwood innovations of Michael Thonet met with such
success from 1841 onwards. An interest in earlier historical styles
had already been re-awakened in the previous century, and increased
considerably in the 19th century. Borrowings from the past were
combined with current styles in very original ways. The Gothic
style, which found such favour in architecture, became the height of
fashion in France under Charles X and Louis-Philippe. The "cathedral
style", with its attendant spires, pinnacles, and intricate fretwork
or piercing, was especially prized. But these Neo-Gothic fancies
were not the only point of reference from the past: French furniture
designers also re-interpreted Renaissance, Baroque, Louis XV, and
Louis XVI styles. During the reign of Louis-Philippe and the Second
Empire, which lasted from 1848 until Napoleon Ill's abdication in
1870. interior decoration underwent a transformation. Walls were
covered with tapestries, with double and sometimes triple layers of
hangings, chairs and sofas were draped or upholstered with
button-backing or quilting, and a distaste for empty spaces drove
the wealthy to cram their houses with furniture, furnishings, plants
(especially palms and other exotic species), pictures, and bibelots
(knick-knacks). The introduction of coil springs, which replaced
unyielding, tightly packed horsehair, led to many new types of
upholstered furniture, including armchairs such as the low, opulent
crapaud and the Voltaire, the smoking chair, and the pouffe. Among
the more intriguing novelties were upholstered seats for the centre
of a room in which the occupants half-faced each other: the
serpentine confidant for two and the indiscret for three.
Jacob-Desmalter ash bookcase, 1839.
The French firm of Jacob-Desmalter &
Cie consisted of Georges Jacob (1739-1814)
and his son Frangois-Honore
Small wooden table. Palazzo del Normanni, Palermo,
One of a pair of tables, this is carved and gilded, with the top
in fossil sequoia, bordered in amethyst.
Wilhelm Dunckel, Drawing room at Mannheim Castle, watercolour, 1860.
Neo-Rococo furniture in the room dates from about 1850-60.
The overall colour scheme is crimson.
Viennese chair with entwined scroll,
THE BIEDERMEIER STYLE
Characterized by a simple, restrained classicism (the German word bieder means plain or conventional), the Biedermeier style spread
through Germany, Austria, and northern European countries from 1815.
The predilection for furniture with simplified forms and modest
dimensions, more suited to bourgeois apartments than palaces, and
the pursuit of comfort and functionalism reflected a new approach to
interior design. One of the characteristics of Biedermeier furniture
is its light colour: ash, maple, cherry, citrus, beech, and yew (the
latter typical in Viennese interiors) were frequently employed. Gilt
finishes were applied sparingly or replaced by painted or black and
gold inlaid details.
Tea room at the Sanssouci Palace, watercolour, c 1830, Potsdam, Germany.
The Victorian Age
The long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was to prove a time of
great change. For a while, the Regency style remained in favour, the
linear Neoclassicism of furniture enlivened by ebony and metal
inlay. However, towards the middle of the century and more
conspicuously after the Great Exhibition of 1851 and subsequent
exhibitions, there was a far greater stylistic variety and mixture.
During the Victorian era, interpretations of a number of artistic
influences gave rise to new, sometimes eccentric shapes. The British
designers A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52) and William Surges (1827-81) were
the virtuosi of the Gothic Revival Style, while others preferred to
rework Baroque and Rococo taste, sometimes combining an eclectic
range of shape and ornament with varying degrees of success. A
cross-fertilization between Europe and distant cultures - especially
China and Japan - was stimulated by the great trade exhibitions held
around the wrorld, when countries learned more about each other's
technology, vernacular style, and preferences in ornamentation.
Unlikely combinations of materials and processes (of which
papier-mache was just one example) were adopted with enthusiasm, and
this fresh approach was applied to wood (often used very simply),
marble, textiles, and painted panels. Iron, both cast and wrought,
was used for garden seats and tables and for indoor furniture, such
as bedsteads. Cane and bamboo also became very fashionable.
As more imports made their way to Europe, the appeal of the Orient
spread, particularly all things Japanese. Japan took part in the
1862 exhibition in London, and. in the same year, a shop called La
Porte chinoise opened in Paris, its success assured by the
established, widespread taste for chinoiserie. In 1867. the
influential British designer and architect Owen Jones (1809-74)
published his Grammar of Chinese Ornament and Far Eastern influence
grew further. It manifested itself in delicate pieces of furniture
with highly polished surfaces and in a vogue for black lacquer, used
in the work of Edward William Godwin (18333-86). Oriental influences
could also be seen in the highly stylized interiors of James Abbott
McNeill Whistler, as well as the innovative treatment of objects and
space by William Morris (1834-96) and other members of the Arts and
Bureau from a Lombard workshop, 1870-80. Museo Civico Storico G.
Garibaldi, Como, Italy.
This miniature piece of furniture, made from
wood, gilded metal, enamel,
and incised coral, is about 30 centimetres
(12 inches) high.
It is either a workshop model or, more likely, a toy,
and is stocked with a number of other miniature objects.
Table inlaid with various woods, mother-of-pearl, and ivory,
late 19th century,
Fratelli Falcini, Florence.
Furniture made from papier-mache
could be decorated to achieve effects similar to this.
Small three-seat indiscret, on castors, Second Empire.
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
This divan in the Neo-Rococo style was
probably made in France.
Neuschwanstein Castle, near Fussen, Bavaria, 1869-86.
Ludwig II of Bavaria chose the site of a ruined medieval tower for
Neuschwanstein Castle, set on a high rocky outcrop amid the forests
of the Bavarian Alps. He commissioned ideas for both the exterior
and the interior decoration from Christian Jank. the court
stage-designer, which were to be inspired by the world of Richard
Wagner's operas. The walls of the major rooms were painted with
frescos of Germanic legends, and especially the story of Lohengrin,
the early medieval chivalric hero with whom the mad Ludwig II
identified closely. The Hall of Song emulated a hall of the same
name in the Gothic castle of Wartburg, on which Wagner based a stage
set for his opera Tannhauser, the Grotto of Venus was built to
recreate the Venusberg scene; and paintings in the studio which led
to it, as well as the throne room, were reminiscent of the Hall of
the Grail in the opera Parsifal. All expressed Ludwig's obsession
with the world of Wagner, and emphasized the fairytale setting.
Neoclassical designs were adopted by many porcelain manufacturers in
countries that had fallen under the sway of the Napoleonic Empire,
not least because their factories had passed from private to state
ownership and were controlled by Napoleon's civil servants. The
former Royal Porcelain Factory at Sevres was famed for its
Empire-style ornamentation, picked out in gold on the luminous white
biscuit background. Despite the wars with the French, Britain
embraced the Neoclassical style with enthusiasm; in Staffordshire,
black basalt ware produced by the Wedgwood pottery was decorated
with light-coloured decoration, inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.
As the 19th century progressed, industrial output supplanted the
older craft methods of production.
benefiting from the discovery of new processes and raw materials.
Many advances were of crucial importance, including the 1794
invention of a bone-china production process by the English potter
Josiah Spode (1754-1827) that could be manufactured on an industrial
scale. In 1813, Charles Mason patented ironstone china, and in 1843,
Copeland & Garrett of Stoke-on-Trent pioneered the production of parian ware. This pure white porcelain with a slightly granular
surface was an excellent modelling medium for busts, figures,
decorative dishes, and vases. In the early 1860s, the pate-sur-pate
technique of decorating porcelain in relief was developed at the
Sevres factory; very fine detail was applied in white clay to darker
coloured wares, creating relief ornamentation of exceptional
quality. The growth in output of the English porcelain factories,
largely due to these advances, both satisfied and stimulated a
widening export market throughout Europe, the US, and many parts of
the British Empire. This was not a one-way traffic, however: from
the 18th century onwards, Chinese and Japanese ceramics had been
imported throughout Europe in large quantities. This led to the
adoption of many Oriental designs and shapes, as well as a new use
of colour and decorative techniques such as cloisonne. This was
achieved by means of a network of raised metal enclosures that trace
a design on the surface of an object. Molten enamel in various
colours was poured into the segments, leaving the metal tracerv
visible. The work of
the French artist Joseph-Theodore Deck (1823-91) and cloisonne wares
produced by the English Minton factory were of a particularly high
quality. After Napoleon's defeat, classical motifs were often
combined with extravagant and exotic shapes. There was a return to
the Rococo style in the factories at Sevres and Meissen, where the
eclectic designs of Jacob Petit were especially rich. Decoration
grew florid and elaborate, in part due to the introduction of
chromolith-ograhy and transfer designs for pottery; these allowed
painted inserts of various scenes, landscapes, still lifes, and even
copies of paintings by great masters to be used as ornament.
Among the many porcelain products marketed during the second half of
the 19th century were fairings. These were small groups of china
figures, souvenirs sold in vast numbers, decorated with a variety of
scenes and complete with captions.
There was also a demand for china souvenirs bearing the names and
motifs, or arms, of towns and cities; for plates, tiny baskets, and
all sorts of little containers; and for many other novelties. China
was also used for toys: dolls had china heads, feet, and hands,
although biscuit porcelain was adopted after a while as it was more
lifelike. The dolls ranged from babies to fashionable Parisiennes,
with beautiful clothes and accessories.
Two black basalt vases with antique-style full-figure decoration,
These vases were produced by the famous
in Staffordshire, England.
Minton ware flask in pate-sur-pate porcelain
Chinese-style decoration in relief
with superimposed layers, c. 1870.
Charles Develly, hand-painted porcelain plate, gilt and enamel
Musee National de Ceramique, Sevres, France.
THE PEACOCK ROOM
The American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler
began his working life etching for the US Geodetic Coastal Survey,
but left after a short time to move to Europe. There, he was to have
a meteoric - and controversial -career. From 1876 to 1877,
Whistler undertook the
decoration of the dining room in Frederick Leyland's house in
Prince's Gate, London. This later came to be known as the Peacock
Room, and is now reassembled in the Freer Gallery, Washington. D.C..
Although certain architectural details of the room had already been
created by another designer, the Peacock Room is a good example of
Whistler's work, and especially of a style that eliminates the
distinctions between a painting and its frame, and between painting
and the decorative arts. The room was planned around his painting La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine (1863-64), which was inspired by
Japanese art. Asymmetrical yet harmonious, the scheme contrasted
greenish-blue leather panelling with the dark brown-black and gilt
of elaborate wooden shelving, originally installed for Leyland's
collection of blue and white china. The shelving framed two large
wall panels showing peacocks in full, opulent detail, and elsewhere
in the room the decoration was based on the birds' breast and tail
feathers. The leather-panelled walls were enlivened by a fan-shaped
motif with gilt detailing. Writing on interior decoration in 1888,
Whistler expressed a hope that he might find the opportunity to
display his flamboyant taste and skills in his native US.
James Abbot McNeill Whistler, the Peacock Room, detail.
The room is now
re-assembled in the Freer Gallery of Art.
James Abbot McNeill Whistler, detail of the Peacock
The interior was designed for the dining room of Frederick
Richard Leyland's London home.
The influence of the Far East was not confined to porcelain. It
could also be seen in 19th-century glassware, in which the revival
of past styles was combined with the many technical innovations so
typical of the century. A wide range of ornaments and tableware in
cut lead glass was made in England, Scotland, and Ireland, as well
as pieces of cameo glass. This was achieved by casing, or covering,
a piece of glass with a layer of a different colour and then partly
removing the surface layer by hand or later, more cheaply, using
acid. The result was a design that stood out boldly against the
background. Another technique, cameo incrustation, set moulded
porcelain reliefs inside a piece of clear crystal, such as a
paperweight; these were also known as sulphides. Experiments with
colour at the New England Glass Company in the US produced the
distinctive Peachblow and Amberina, while elsewhere in the US
Burmese was introduced, a pale, green-yellow shading to pink. In
1810, a white glass treated with metallic-oxides resulted in opaline,
a slightly milky glass, while,
lithyalin, an opaque glass coloured to simulate such semiprecious
stones as agate and jasper, was patented in Bohemia by Friedrich
Egermann in 1829. The ancient Roman art of mosaic glass,
rediscovered by craftsmen in Murano, Venice, in the 19th century,
was given a new lease of life in the form of millefiori
paperweights, launched at the 1845 Vienna Exhibition by Pietro
Bigaglia. These small, solid crystal spheres were also made in
France by master craftsmen at the Saint-Louis, Baccarat, and Clichy
glass-works. The technique of embedding slices of coloured glass
canes in clear glass, usually arranged as flowers, proved hugely
Glass bottle and semi-filigree red glass candlestick, both in
acquamarine and latticinio,
Pietro Bigaglia, Murano, Venice.
Glass paperweights, 1850-60.
The most valuable examples of paperweights
in France by the Saint-Louis, Baccarat, and Clichy factories.
Doll's house by the Bliss Manufacturing Company,
lithograph on cardboard, 1890-1910.
This would have been one of the
cheaper wooden craft models.
Portrait of Madame Charles Max
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
This is an expressive image of a late 19th-century
The industrial, technological, and commercial expansion of the 19th
century also brought about great changes in clothing and its
manufacture. During the early part of the century, flourishing
slave-run plantations allowed imports of cotton from the southern
states in the US to soar.
forcing down prices of the raw material from traditional suppliers
such as India. Machinery was constantly being updated and improved
in the cotton mills, which enabled them to produce material for
clothing, in addition to other textiles. New textiles were patented
and, with the introduction of the sewing machine, the clothing
industry was truly transformed. Factories were established
specifically for the manufacture of clothing, large shops were
opened in big cities, and fashion magazines such as Ladies Magazine,
La Mode illustree, Le Journal des modistes, Il Corriere delle Dame,
and Wiener-Moden-Zeitung were published in England, France, the US,
Italy, Austria, and elsewhere to keep women abreast of what the
fashionable were wearing. During the Napoleonic era, female attire
and accessories had become progressively simpler and less cluttered.
Waists were "out", comfort and freedom were "in", fabrics were light
and soft, and clung to the figure, and colours were pale. Although
Lottis Hippolyte Leroy, one of the creators of the new-fashion,
survived until the end of the Empire, a few changes had already
begun to appear in the early years of the 19th century. Heavier
fabrics, more elaborate finishes, long sleeves, more modest
necklines, and, most importantly, wider skirts were introduced.
These were full thanks to starched petticoats and hoops, and at
their height, such crinolines measured some seven metres (22 feet)
across. These widest of dresses were held up by a metallic
under-structure. to guarantee flexibility and ease of movement
despite their volume. In 1855. Millet successfully patented a metal
frame known as the crinoline cage, perfected by Auguste Person the
following year. The wide skirts contrasted with a narrow wraist,
■which was created with the help of whalebone or steel corsets.
During the 1870s. skirts became flatter in front but billowed out at
the back in the pouf, demi-crinoline. and. later, in the tounure.
These dresses made the most of the new fabrics, including Jacquard
silks, satin, ribbons, piping, and lace. In the middle of the 19th
century, female fashion was set by women dressmakers who looked to
the splendour of Versailles for inspiration; their ideas, shown as
fashion plates in magazines, were copied by bourgeois women. There
wras also a keen interest in the theatre and in the costumes of
actresses, singers, and ballerinas. One of the great figures in
19th-century fashion was Charles Frederick Worth, the first haute
couturier, who opened his Paris studio in 1857, heralding the
modern fashion house. However, the corsets, petticoats, and bulky
gowns fashionable women were required to wear were constricting and
unhealthy. In 1883. the English Rational Dress Association called
for more comfortable, practical dress that followed the figure, with
long sleeves, and calf-length skirts worn over pantalettes, as
suggested by the American Amelia Bloomer around 1850.
Models of fashionable gowns from the 1880s. Museo Civico Storico G.
Garibaldi, Como, Italy.
These models are 33 centimetres (13 inches)
and were probably factory samples used for customer selection.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler