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Identification of Antique Furniture by its Style and Period Features

Antique dealers, auctioneers and furniture historians tend to describe antique furniture in terms of its style or period.  This is certainly true of antique desks and antique writing furniture. Tribute is often paid to certain stylistic features each piece categorised accordingly.  We have prepared a short summary of the most commonly used style and period categories and offer a short definition of each - we hope you find it useful

To View our Table of Dates & Historical Periods - Click Here

Aesthetic Movement: as a reaction to what many regarded as a growing philistinism in Victorian England, this movement developed in the 1870's and 1880's, emphasizing high art and refined tastes

Arts and Crafts Movement: a movement that flourished in Europe and the USA, the Arts and Crafts Movement was characterized most by its reaction against industrialism and mass-production; it began in the mid-19th century and carried on well into the 20th. Participants in the movement sought to revive old techniques and to emphasize artisanship and high-quality materials.

Art Decoan eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920 and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s and into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and jewellery, as well as painting, graphic arts and film

Art Nouveau: influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, this movement, the name of which means "new art," began in the late-19th century and carried on into the early 20th century, emphasizing senuous shapes and organic forms. The movement took root in Europe and the USA; in Scotland, a version of it became known as the "Glasgow Style" or "Glasgow School."

Biedermeier Period: lasting from 1815 to 1848 in Germanic countries, the bourgeois style of this period became the German version of the French Empire Style, which began in France with Napoleon's desire to revive the grandeur of ancient Rome. The Biedermeier style adapted many of the neo-classical aspects of the Empire style, including moulding, columns and other neo-classical designs. Biedermeier furniture was also influenced by English Sheraton furniture. The principle concern of Biedermeier design was comfort, convenience, and practicality, which extended to affordability. Thus furniture from this time period tended to feature more curves and upholstery and, although decorated with an assortment of inlays and carvings, was absent of excess or significant embellishments.

Chippendale Style:  named for the English cabinetmaker, Thomas Chippendale, who wrote The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director (1754), which was widely read and imitated. Chippendale chairs tend to have carved, pierced backs and sinuous arms. Other furniture pieces tend to feature decorative arches, fluting and rectilinear symmetry.

Eclectic Revivalism: a trend in the Victorian Period to adapt older styles (as the Gothic, Tudor and Jacobean styles) to contemporary needs and tastes.

Empire Style: a style that began with Napoleon's wish to revive the grandeur of ancient Rome, the Empire Style spread to the international sphere, manifesting in Germanic countries as the Biedermeir Style, in England as the Regency Style, and in America (via England) as the Federal Style. The Empire Style represented the height of neo-classical furniture and interior design, with anthropologically correct models that reflected designs from ancient Greece and Rome. Interestingly, at one point in time the Empire Style was so influential in France that many citizens wore togas.

Georgian Period: named for the first four King Georges, the Georgian Period lasted from 1714 to 1820. English furniture of the time was typically simple but not plain, with adornment but not extravagance or embellishment. The principle design of the period tended to rely on neo-classical models. The Georgian Period also includes the Sheraton and Regency Styles. Influential designers of the time include George Hepplewhite (b?-1786) and Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806).

Hepplewhite, George: born some time in the 18th century, George Hepplewhite died in 1786. A household name in England during his time, Hepplewhite's widow, Alice, published his Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide in 1788, two years after his death. The first major design guide published since Chippendale's Director, Hepplewhite's Guide was extremely influential for cabinetmakers, upholsterers and customers alike for years thereafter. His Guide reflects a version of Robert Adam's style that was popular in the 1780's and typically features inlays and painting rather than carvings, a trend that was highly characteristic of Georgian Period furniture. Interestingly, no existing piece of Hepplewhite's furniture has been identified.

Queen Anne Period: named for Queen Anne's regency (1702-1714), the Queen Anne period saw many innovations, inlcuding the development of the cabriole leg and the introduction of mahogany to English cabinetmakers.

Regency Period: named for the "regency" of King George IV (1811-1820), the Regency Period took place during the Georgian Period between 1800 and 1830. Representing the height of English neo-classicism, the Regency Style was actually the English adaptation of the Empire Style, which began with Napoleon and his spirations to the grandeur of Rome. The Regency Style grew so popular in America that an adaptation of it developed across the Atlantic, eventually becoming the Federal Style.

Rococo: decorative style of the early to mid-18th century, principally in France, southern Germany and Austria. Rococo Style was characterized by naturalism and watery forms (e.g. the serpentine shape, lush floral carvings). Thomas Chippendale adapted some Rococo designs to his own style.

Sheraton, Thomas:  a highly influential designer of the 19th century, Thomas Sheraton was born in 1751 and died in 1806. Sheraton published several influential works, including The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Drawing-book (1791-3), The Cabinet Dictionary (1803), and The Cabinet-maker, Upholsterer, and General Artist's Encyclopaedia (1804). Sheraton's highly stylized designs, which often featured innovative, multi-purpose furniture pieces, included square-backed chairs with reeded legs, Grecian couches, and the chair leg that curves forwards, known as the "sabre" leg. Sheraton's designs included several of the Regency Style

Victorian Period: named for the reign of Queen Victorian (1837-1901). Furniture of this period tended to feature a mix of older styles and was characterized by revivalism. Important movements included the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Art Nouveau Movement and Eclectic Revivalism


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