The Treasure House of Early American Rooms

The Treasure House of Early American Rooms

The Treasure House of Early American Rooms

The Treasure House of Early American Rooms

Excerpt

Although Queen Anne died in 1714, the decorative style bearing her name flourished in America from about 1725 until 1760, a lag that can be attributed to the conservatism of colonials and to the difficulty in transmitting new ideas across the ocean. During this period a refinement of baroque design took place; the taste for furnishings with bold curves and heavy carving gave way to those of a subtle outline based upon the cyma recta, a simple S-curve described by William Hogarth as the "line of beauty." The shell, another device of baroque derivation, became the favorite ornament of American craftsmen and their patrons.

In architecture as well, there was a refinement of baroque taste. The panels of wainscoted walls were no longer raised, but recessed, as at Readbourne (page 44). Rooms began to include pilasters and pedimented doorways as classical elements gained favor.

The S-curved cabriole leg was adopted almost universally; and complementing it, seat frames of chairs were often curved and the backs shaped to fit the human body. Walnut and maple, with an occasional use of mahogany, were the predominant woods. Generally the grain of the wood provided sufficient ornament, but furniture was sometimes embellished with carved shells or foliage. Regional variations developed in the cities along the seacoast. The types of feet found on furniture symbolized the differences: a pad foot in New England; a thick, pointed foot in New York; trifid, carved pad, and slipper feet in Pennsylvania. The claw- and-ball foot came into vogue toward the end of the period.

Most of the popular forms were modifications of those already in use. The sofa evolved from the bench. High chests and secretary desks became more graceful. At least one new form, the tea table, reflected developing social customs.

There was a demand for accessories to go with the furniture made here. Pewter, imported and locally made, was common for table use; and salt-glazed stoneware and Chinese porcelains supplemented delftwares. An interest in the exotic led to the use of Indian chintzes, crewel embroideries, and japanned furniture imitating Oriental lacquer. Gilt sconces and brass candlesticks were imported, but native silversmiths produced a variety of forms. It is not surprising that an Englishman who had visited Boston in 1920 found the people, their houses, their furniture, and their conversation "as splendid and showy as that of the most considerable Tradesman in London. . . ."

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