Early Georgian Chimney-Pieces and their Design Influence on Early American Colonial FurnitureHistory of Early American Colonial Furniture

Mantelpiece in Carved Wood, Temp. George I

Mantelpiece in Carved Wood, Temp. George I

Mantelpiece in Carved Wood, Temp. George I

Mantelpiece in Carved Wood, Temp. George I

Early American colonial furniture  fashion of leaving the wood in its natural colour had ended, and the complete room was now painted; the cornice also was always painted to match the walls, and not whitened to correspond with the ceiling; the former practice is obviously correct, since the wall and cornice of a room, even today, is parallel in proportion to the members of a classic column. The cornice, therefore, is part of that column, and not part of the ceiling.

Work such as here described (of which the State Room at No 31 Old Burlington Street is an excellent example) could never have been executed by ordinary craftsmen; far greater capability and knowledge was requisite than for the decoration of any other period. With the decadence, which commenced about the middle of the century, such ability would seem to have disappeared. In the place of carefully-designed rooms, where every detail had been studied, it became the fashion to merely hang the walls with silk and wallpaper, ornamentation being supplied by numerous mirrors and brackets, unnecessary when the treatment of the walls was itself complete decoration. The cost of the early Georgian method was certainly not greater when the cost of such applied ornaments is considered, and especially as the work could be carried out either in plaster or carved wood.

Respecting the plates accompanying this article, William Stanhope, who, under the Walpole administration occupied several great offices, including Secretary of State, and who was created Baron Harrington, Viscount Petersham and, eventually, Earl of Harrington, erected a new mansion on the site of a great house which the Lord Chancellor Clarendon had built at Petersham, and which was destroyed by fire in 1721. His friend, Lord Burlington, acted as his architect, no doubt assisted by William Kent. As a town residence, Lord Harrington occupied a house built on the site of the old gardens of the Palace of Whitehall (now part of the Offices of the Harbour Department of the Board of Trade), and employed William Kent for the decoration, at all events of the principal apartments. By kind permission the writer is enabled to illustrate two of the chimney-pieces in these rooms, which are shown on pages 170 and 175, both being essentially typical of his style, the former possessing special interest as being practically identical with a drawing which Vardy published as the work of Mr. Kent.

The early American colonial furniture  chimney-piece shown on page 171 was removed from an old house (since pulled down) in the City, probably built by a wealthy merchant in the reign of George I; the panelling and ornamentation of the doors and other parts of this room were proportionately as elaborate as the mantel; the classic figures and the broken pediment mark the school of Palladio, yet the carving of many of the mouldings seems to be the handicraft of men who had worked for Wren and Gibbons.

With regard to the remaining three illustrations, the one on page 173 the chimney-piece in the State Room at No 31 Old Burlington Street, an apartment which has been previously referred to. The example on page 174. is in the adjoining house, a mansion which Kent decorated for his patron, Sir Michael Newton, K.C.B.; and on page 169 is seen another chimney-piece, which has been reproduced from one which until recently existed in a house of the period in Old Bond Street.

Each of the early American colonial furniture  chimney-pieces referred to in this article is of the type which Isaac Ware describes as " continued," that is, the construction terminating at or close under the ceiling, but this style was only suitable for rooms fur­nished with panelling or stucco, where, as previously explained, the chimney­piece, being executed in the same material and the same style as the remainder of the decoration, formed a unit of the complete scheme; but with the fashion of hanging the walls with paper, silk or damask, the " simple " mantel, that is, the top terminating at the shelf, became in vogue, the paper or silk being continued over the wall space above the mantel to match the other sides of the room. This alteration entirely changed the appearance of English apartments and ended the decorative treatment practised during the preceding age.

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