English Neoclassicism Compared to French
In Great Britain by the time the first half of the eighteenth century was completed, the age of the trendy craftsmen was in full flower. There had been a fresh outburst of enthusiasm for classic architecture, art, and decoration, and, although the influence of Palladio, as seen in England in the Palladian style of the early Georgian era, and his school had not seriously weakened in Europe, new life was given to the taste for Roman and Greek art by the discovery of the lava buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in 1748 the first of many books on the subject of those lost cities and their life and arts appeared in France.
French archaeologists contributed to the literature on this subject with prolific energy, and in 1754 a work by Cochin and Bellicard, "Observations sur les antiquites d'Herculanum", was published, and soon French taste was to be remodelled on the ideas of a long-dead period, and the "Greek taste" was to be worshipped as the height of fashionable charm, and furnishing and decoration in the "Etruscan manner" have their hour of popularity.
British craftsmen did not escape these turns of fashionable fancy, but perhaps the inspiration of the brothers Adam prevented them from committing all the follies of French fashion, and about the classic decoration of the later eighteenth century in England there is a dignity and reticence almost austere.
The brothers Adam were designers of great ability. Robert Adam had studied in Italy, returning to England in 1758 with his imagination enriched with the beauty of classic art, and in a few years the power and influence of the Adam taste was giving to many houses the distinction of elegant proportion and beauty, a little chilled perhaps by its formality, although rooms decorated and furnished under the direction of these designers must have formed a wonderfully suitable background for the vivid colour, the glittering richness of Georgian costume. There is something sepulchral about an Adam room in the twentieth century, when only one sex is permitted gaiety in clothing, and this impression is heightened by the Adam fondness for the urn as an ornamental feature.