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English Rococo Style Furniture

Mid Georgian England

Ay, here's none of your straight lines here, but all taste, zig-zag, crinkum-crankum, in and out, right and left, so and again, twisting like a worm.

The Palladian taste of the early Georgian period in 18th century England persisted for some years, especially in bookcases design, but was never widely popular and suffered from being quite expensive for ordinary furnishing needs. The demands of the wider middle and upper class market were more inclined to the curvy, light, and less architectural style that had developed in France in the Louis XV era, called the Rococo, sometimes spelled rococco.

While Rococo came to dominate the mid Georgian era in England from about 1740 there was much variety of furniture styles with frequent calls being made back to the earlier Palladian tradition as well as to the older and ever present Gothic style. Additionally we note much use of pseudo Chinese and Chinoiserie motifs.

"After the French Manner"

Rococo Ornament
Rococo ornament surrounded by shell-like "rocailles", leaves and C-scrolls.

The term Rococo comes from the French "rocaille" and refers to rock-like and shell motifs. "After the French Manner", rococo was a combination of Baroque and grotesque and fantasy styles of motifs and ornamentation which came to dominate French design from around 1700.

In England in 1735 St Martin's Academy was established by the painter William Hogarth and the spreading of Rococo style began. Between 1741 and 1748 the first Rococo furniture pattern books were published and did much to popularise the Rococo ideas that straight lines were unnatural, that the S-curve was the "Line of Beauty and Grace" - "How inelegant would the shapes of all our movables be without it!".

Rococo Style Armchair
Rococo Style Armchair, 1755, in limewood and pine, carved and gilded, by Mathias Lock.

Apostles of English Rococo Style

The designer Mathias Lock pioneered the Rococo in England creating some fine gilt furniture based from his design books "Six Sconces", "Six Tables" and the "Principles of Ornament". Lock had carefully studied Rococo style and produced tables with S curved legs with the gap between the legs narrowing toward the bottom and linked by showily decorative stretchers with trophy ornaments.

Thomas Langley, after studying French prints, produced a sidetable with front legs carved in the shape of female terms intertwined. The carver James Pascal made a number of gilt wood sidetables, sconces, and chairs in the rococo style. John Channon made a set of bookcases with ormolu mounts and inlay topped with broken pediments.

While the new French style of furniture was overwhelmingly attractive to English designers they did not seek to make slavish copies but rather to outdo their French rivals and this resulted in the rococo style becoming Anglicised and a touch less brash:

Far be it from me to condemn my countrymen for adopting any invention in arts or sciences, which owes its birth to the fertile genius of our bitterest enemies. No - let us endeavour at raising ourselves to an equal, if not superior pitch or excellence.

Thomas Johnson was another worker in the area, and his 1761 " One Hundred & Fifty New Designs" shows the wild, fantastic side of Rococo design in England.

Chippendale

The name of Thomas Chippendale stands most closely associated with English rococo style furniture. In the middle of the eighteenth century Chippendale published his "Gentleman's and Cabinet Makers Director" which cemented the rococo style of interior display in England. His rivals William Ince and John Mayhew came out with their own "Universal System of Household Furniture" in 1759 with 89 engraved plates of somewhat more restrained rococo furniture.

Chippendale Rococo Mirror
Chippendale Rococo Mirror, 1762. Fine rococo carving, with flowers, leaves, bullrushes and birds.

By 1762 Chippendale produced the third edition of the "Director" this time catering to popular crazes for Gothic and Chinese designs, as well as Rococo furniture, and also later in his career made neo-classical furniture more associated with the late Georgian period.

Chippendale specialised in the Rococo style, particularly gilded furniture like pier glasses and very elaborate furniture for royal apartments such as state beds and ladies' dressing tables. Wherever many people were likely to be found, assembly and drawing rooms for example, Chippendale went to town. However he was also capable of making simpler pieces, painted bedroom furniture in the chinoiserie style, as well as more classical pieces. Antique reproduction Chippendale furniture in the rococo style remains ever popular.









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