25 June 2018
The nomenclature of Regency denotes the period of decorative arts in England dating from 1800 to 1830. The period collides with the French Empire style, which is evident in the Regency appropriation of the French taste in certain areas. The term Regency style is typified by elegant furniture. There were momentous changes in the character that Regency furniture embraced, amounting to a completely different style. This elegance was therefore newly distinct. The era was a time of excess for the aristocracy: for example, it was during this period that the Prince Regent built the ostentatious Royal Pavilion, which later became referred to as Brighton Pavilion after its sale to the town. Quintessential examples of Regency furniture can be viewed at Chatsworth House which is the suspected basis for Pemberley; the grand estate featured in the epitomisation of the Regency novel, Pride and Prejudice. The subdivisions of Regency furniture that will be explored in this post are The Egyptian Revival, The Grecian Revival, the Bergère chair, The French Taste and George Bullock.
Archaeologists encouraged the exploration of Egypt in the late eighteenth century, but it was not until the 1802 publication of Dominique Denon's Voyages Dans la Basse et Haute Egypte that a resurgence in popularity of Egyptology became notable. This book depicted Egyptian architecture and was a catalyst for the crazed fashion for Egypt that swept over Regency England. This was therefore reflected in furniture design of the period.
The Bergère originated in French design. In these types of Regency chairs, arm-supports are generally continuations of the legs. Often, the arm curves downward in an arc, touching the seat frame and finishing in a small scroll. Bergère armchairs typically have caned back and arms, which can be seen in the picture. In Regency seat furniture, the new severity finds elucidation in the classic character of the painted decorations and the horizontal approach towards the back of the chair. This austerity is inspired by the ideal of Grecian severity, and these types of chairs were the height of fashion throughout the period.
In the1790's, French émigrés fleeing political persecution brought a substantial amount of Louis XVI furniture to England and they were sold in abundance on the London market. Furthermore, French craftsmen absconding the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 established their homes and businesses in England. This influx of French influence into this country is echoed in the Regency taste for French furniture. By the early 1820's, many opulently furnished homes favoured the French taste of furniture.
This an important early 19th Century Regency period rosewood and brass inlaid breakfront Chiffonier, attributed to John McLean.
The firm of John McLean and Son advertised that it specialised in ‘Elegant Parisian Furniture’ and they had their workshop in Little Newport Street, nearby Leicester Square, from 1770 to its closure in 1825. Only six surviving pieces bear his trade label and they display such a distinctive artistic personality that many similar unlabelled items can be confidently attributed to their workshops.
The pieces owe much to French influence, not only in their design but in their lavish use of delicate gilt brass mounts. The firm favoured dark rosewood, sometimes combined with boxwood stringing and satinwood crossbanding, but in later work the technique of brass inlay in the manner of Boulle is found, together with brass strips engraved with paterae and fronds.