Neoclassic Period And 19th Century Revival Styles

The Neoclassic Period represents the last phase of European classicism in the late 18th and 19th centuries in Western Europe and the United States. The period is characterized by monu-mentality, sparing application of ornament and a stricter use of the orders (Figure 1.43). The movement was basically a reaction to Rococo and Baroque design, and was a period of reminiscence in which architecture and design turned to a variety of historical sources for inspiration—mainly Greek, Roman, and Egyptian forms during the Empire period (Figure 1.44).

Prominent artistic personalities of this period include architects like Robert and James Adam, Sir John Soane, and Sir William Chambers, and designers like Henry Holland. Adam collaborated with cabinetmakers such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite to produce furniture for his clients, and in the process had a significant influence on their design. The most characteristic ornaments popularized by Adam were the Grecian honeysuckle and fret, the fluted frieze or apron, the patera and rosette, and the husk.The 19th century revival styles reflected the enthusiasm of the period. Three furniture designers and manufacturers in particular stand out:

1. Thomas Chippendale II (son of Thomas Chippendale I) who in 1754 published, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, and manufactured his furniture in Mahogany.

2. Thomas Sheraton, who through his published work, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book in 1791 gained great recognition. His designs (particularly his chair backs) were greatly imitated by furniture manufacturers for many generations that followed.

3. George Hepplewhite, who popularized satinwood and painted motifs as a means of enrichment. Many of these cabinetmakers and others in England and their contemporaries on the continent, incorporated classical motifs.

In France, neoclassic interiors discarded the rococo curves, without sacrificing their charm and intimacy. Changes were principally in the forms and details. The Empire style became popular, and predominated after Napoleon become emperor in 1804. French cabinetmakers suddenly eliminated patterns and designs that referenced the old regime. While retaining the delightful lines and proportions of the monarchy, less carved ornament was used, reflecting difficult economic conditions of the time (Figure 1.45). Never before or since the Empire period has such an attempt been made to impose a decorative style upon a society by artificial methods, rather than allowing it to develop through natural evolution.

Furniture developed in the previous period continued to be made; proportions remained light and delicate, but the dominant line of design was straight and the shape took on a rectangular form. During this period, many books were published on Greek, Egyptian, and Etruscan art and architecture, and these had a major influence on artists of all mediums, including furniture design. Leading French cabinetmakers at the time include, Georges Jacob, Francois Jacob-Desmalter, Martin Eloy Lignereux, Barthelemy Rascalon, and Charles Burette. Charles Percier and Pierre-Francois-Leonard Fontaine established the Empire style in France.

France Classic ElevationRoman Facade Design

FIGURE 1.43b The Pantheon, Paris. Built between 1756-1797, consists of Roman facade.

Chippendale Sofa Chippendale Chair

FIGURE 1.44 Neoclassic Period—Late Colonial and Early Federal furniture. (Courtesy Sherril Whiton, Interior Design and Decoration, S.B. Lippincott Co.)

Chippendale Sofa Chippendale Chair

FIGURE 1.44 Neoclassic Period—Late Colonial and Early Federal furniture. (Courtesy Sherril Whiton, Interior Design and Decoration, S.B. Lippincott Co.)

During the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, the approach to the study of interior design was more imitative of earlier styles than innovative or original.The public enthusiasm for the Greek Classical look withered away towards the middle of the 19th century, and English furniture design also lost its luster and began to decline during the regency period (810-1820).

The American Periods

Perhaps the most important influence in the development of the industrial arts in America was the varied origins of its inhabitants, including the English, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Swedish, Spanish, and others. The English language became the common denominator. In Figure 1.46, we see furniture by Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854), who is one of the outstanding American cabinetmakers of the early 19th century

FIGURE 1.44 Neoclassic Period—Late Colonial and Early Federal furniture. (Courtesy Sherril Whiton, Interior Design and Decoration, S.B. Lippincott Co.)
FIGURE 1.45 Examples of furniture and details from the Neoclassic period.
Altura Estandar Para Una Mesa Trabajo
FIGURE 1.46 Furniture by Duncan Phyfe.


The early 20th century was an age of contradictions, as well as great vigor and inventiveness. Industrialization brought mass production, removing form and emphasizing function. Art Nouveau was championed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1862-1928) and Antonio Gaudi (18521926), and was motivated basically by aesthetics and the seeking of a new style that was oblivious of the past. The Arts and Crafts movement, strongly propagated by William Morris (1834-1896) and others, revolted against the machine, advocating hand fabrication of products. Soon Art Deco came on the scene, dedicated to ending the conflict between art and industry. Creative design was adapted to suit mass production.

The famous Morris easy chair, being made of solid wood sections, symbolizes the arts and crafts furniture and marks the end of an era. In contrast, the antithesis to this approach is Breuer's Wassily chair, which is constructed of chrome-plated steel tube with a canvas seat.

The early 20th century also witnessed great architectural giants and visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, Auguste Perret (1873-1954), Adolf Loos (1879-1933), Peter Behrens (1868-1940) and Le Corbusier (1887-1968), Eliel Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, as well as leaders of the Bauhaus like Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe.

In 1919, soon after World War I, Walter Gropius (1883-1969), founded the legendary Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany. Gropius came from the Werkbund movement, which sought to integrate art and economics, and to add an element of engineering to art. The Bauhaus was founded by combining the Weimar Art Academy with the Weimar Arts and Crafts School. Students at this new school were trained simultaneously by both artists and master craftsmen, realizing the Gropius vision of familiarizing modern artists with science and economics to mold and unite creativity with a practical knowledge of craftsmanship, and thus to develop a new sense of functional design.

The practical innovations developed by the Bauhaus school,which is possibly the most influential school of its kind, came about like its contemporary Art Deco movement, in reaction to the florid, heavily decorative Art Nouveau furniture of the turn-of-the-century. It also revolutionized the architectural and aesthetic concepts and practices inherited from the Renaissance. But unlike Art Deco, which strived for handcrafted simplicity (Figure 1.47), the Bauhaus was totally modern. The profound impact of the Bauhaus stretches beyond our furniture and light fixtures, into the realms of architecture, theater, and typography, where the designs and style of the Bauhaus are still spoken of today. The school had three basic aims from its inception that remained unchanged throughout its life, even though the direction of the school often changed significantly. The first goal then, was to rescue all of the arts from the isolation in which each then found itself, and to encourage individual artisans and craftsmen to work together and combine their skills.

Secondly, the school set out to elevate the status of crafts, chairs, lamps, teapots, etc., to the same level enjoyed by fine arts, painting, and sculpting. The third aim was to maintain contact with industry leaders in an attempt to gain independence from government support by selling designs to industry. With these as its basis,the Bauhaus began and influenced our lives immensely in ways that most people probably take for granted. It's mission was always to provide an intellectual, reflective, yet functional approach to aesthetics. It put an emphasis on designer quality, mass-production, and machine-age materials. In Germany the Bauhaus became the focal point of the new creative forces accepting the challenge of technological progress.

This young and energetic movement that nurtured some of the 20th century's greatest architects and designers, lasted a mere 14 years due to the rise of Nazism in Germany. It sought to promote the philosophy of a free environment in which students are encouraged to create new forms of architecture and the arts. In the mid-1920s, the Bauhaus began to explore new technologies and ideas of mass production. The first public display of the Bauhausís embrace of this technology was in 1923 at the annual government organized Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Weimar, where a house designed by George Muche, a student, and Gropius' partner Adolf Meyer, was on display. The kitchen was designed by Marcel Breuer.

Wassily Chair Technical Analysis
FIGURE 1.47 Morris chair by William Morris and Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer (1925).

In 1924 funding for the Bauhaus was drastically cut at the instigation of conservative forces which forced it to move to Dessau, becoming the municipally funded College of Design. Almost all masters moved with it, while former students became junior masters in charge of the workshops. Dessau produced famous works of art and architecture and influential designs in the years between 1926 and 1932. Under pressure, Walter Gropius resigned as director on April 1,1928 and was succeeded by the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer (1889-1954). Despite his successes, Hannes Meyer's Marxist convictions forced his departure and he was succeeded by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). Under Mies, the Bauhaus developed from 1930 into a technical college of architecture with subsidiary art and workshop departments. After the Nazis became the biggest party in Dessau at the elections, the Bauhaus was forced to move in September, 1932 to Berlin. This fresh start in Berlin was short-lived, and it dissolved itself under pressure from the Nazis in 1933.

The Bauhaus's radical departure from convention, coupled by its inability to survive in the stymieing political and economic environment of the early 1930s in Nazi Germany, forced the legendary school to dramatically close its doors forever in 1933. Nevertheless, the Bauhaus language became an avant-garde dialect that was widely embraced. Many artists, architects, and designers involved with the Bauhaus had to flee the Nazi regime, and many sought refuge in the United States where their design philosophies found a receptive audience. Bauhaus ideals found a wide audience in the United States and throughout the world, and were expounded through various channels, like design periodicals and exhibitions, such as the Modern Movement Exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932, which featured works by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and others.

By the time the Nazis sparked the exodus of many of Germany's most talented designers and extinguished the Bauhaus's physical presence, it's ideas had already taken hold in the United States and other countries. Leaders of the movement had taken up important positions in prominent American universities, giving Bauhaus ideas an excellent forum and the momentum to go forward. Walter Gropius became a professor in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe did the same at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who had headed the metal shop at the Bauhaus, was appointed Director of the New Bauhaus located in Chicago. It should be obvious to most architectural historians that the visionary ideals of the Bauhaus movement and many of its followers were at least 50 years ahead of their time, and these young visionaries launched the Modern Movement, which has shaped much of the art and architecture of the 20th century.

When Kathryn Hiesinger, curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was asked which items stood out in her mind as design icons of the twentieth century, she said, "Furniture has gone through so many changes during this short 100 years, challenging our ideas over and over again of what a 'chair' is and what a 'couch' is, that I really have to look to that broad category as the source for my icon. Given that, if I had to name one period, I'd say the Bauhaus furniture of the 1920s and 1930s because it was so innovative in both its form and its use of materials."

Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen arrived on American shores in 1923, and while never formally a member of the Bauhaus, he strongly influenced modern architecture and design through his adaptations of Bauhaus theories. In 1932, he became President of the newly established Cran-brook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which produced such legendary designers as Charles and Ray Eames (Figure 1.48), Harry Bertoia (Figure 1.49) and Florence Knoll.

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