Art Styles in the Industrial 19th Century


Furnishings & Fashions 


(Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map)


see collection:

James Abbott McNeill Whistler




The introduction of new technology meant that it was now possible to produce furnishings and clothing that had the appearance of traditional, handmade articles but were cheaper than previously and aimed at a ivider market. Taste veered towards extravagant shapes, conspicuous ornamentation, and excess.


The historical, social, and political revolutions that swept through Europe from 1790 to 1840 triggered great changes in both the design and industrial manufacturing processes of furniture, potter}', porcelain, textiles, glass, and other objects. Tastes changed as Napoleonic influence led to the spread of the Empire style, with its roots in the revival of interest in Greek, Roman and, later, Egyptian art. The most influential exponents of the Empire style were the French architect-designer team of Pierre-Francois-Leonard Fontaine (1762-1853) and Charles Percier (1764-1838). and the furniture makers Jacob-Desmalter & Cie, founded in 1803.


In France, fashionable 19th-century ornament for interior decoration and furniture included symmetrically arranged gilt-bronze classical motifs: capitals, palmettes, sphinxes, dolphins, swans, and miniaturized mythical characters and creatures. Also popular -were emblems of Napoleonic imperial splendour: eagles, bees, arms (spears, arrows, swords) and. of course, the letter "N", adorned with the victor's laurel wreath. As the colour and graining of mahogany contrasted admirably with gilt decoration, furniture makers often used the combination to excessive effect. New items of furniture were created: cheval glasses or swing mirrors in varying sizes began to appear, as did ladies' dressing tables and various types of paper-filing and storing devices known as serre-papiers. After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. the Bourbon Restoration style ushered in a varietv of new ornamental motifs. Light-coloured woods such as ash and cherry were fashionable (they were used in Continental Europe during the British blockade of imports during the war years, 1793—1815), as were curving lines and marquetry or inlays of darker woods or reflective materials. During the postwar years, the bourgeois Biedermeier style developed in Austria and northern Europe. This smaller, more homely furniture in simple, geometric shapes and light woods was typified by Sekretere (bureaux) and Nahtische (occasional or sewing tables). Chairs and well-upholstered sofas were designed with greater attention to the user's ease and comfort, including proper back support. It was in this context of "cleaner", more functional lines that the revolutionary bentwood innovations of Michael Thonet met with such success from 1841 onwards. An interest in earlier historical styles had already been re-awakened in the previous century, and increased considerably in the 19th century. Borrowings from the past were combined with current styles in very original ways. The Gothic style, which found such favour in architecture, became the height of fashion in France under Charles X and Louis-Philippe. The "cathedral style", with its attendant spires, pinnacles, and intricate fretwork or piercing, was especially prized. But these Neo-Gothic fancies were not the only point of reference from the past: French furniture designers also re-interpreted Renaissance, Baroque, Louis XV, and Louis XVI styles. During the reign of Louis-Philippe and the Second Empire, which lasted from 1848 until Napoleon Ill's abdication in 1870. interior decoration underwent a transformation. Walls were covered with tapestries, with double and sometimes triple layers of hangings, chairs and sofas were draped or upholstered with button-backing or quilting, and a distaste for empty spaces drove the wealthy to cram their houses with furniture, furnishings, plants (especially palms and other exotic species), pictures, and bibelots (knick-knacks). The introduction of coil springs, which replaced unyielding, tightly packed horsehair, led to many new types of upholstered furniture, including armchairs such as the low, opulent crapaud and the Voltaire, the smoking chair, and the pouffe. Among the more intriguing novelties were upholstered seats for the centre of a room in which the occupants half-faced each other: the serpentine confidant for two and the indiscret for three.


Jacob-Desmalter ash bookcase, 1839.
 The French firm of Jacob-Desmalter & Cie consisted of Georges Jacob (1739-1814)
and his son Frangois-Honore (1770-1841).

Small wooden table. Palazzo del Normanni, Palermo, Italy.
One of a pair of tables, this is carved and gilded, with the top in fossil sequoia, bordered in amethyst.


Wilhelm Dunckel, Drawing room at Mannheim Castle, watercolour, 1860.
The Neo-Rococo furniture in the room dates from about 1850-60.
The overall colour scheme is crimson.




Viennese chair with entwined scroll,
c. 1820.
Private Collection, Milan.



Characterized by a simple, restrained classicism (the German word bieder means plain or conventional), the Biedermeier style spread through Germany, Austria, and northern European countries from 1815. The predilection for furniture with simplified forms and modest dimensions, more suited to bourgeois apartments than palaces, and the pursuit of comfort and functionalism reflected a new approach to interior design. One of the characteristics of Biedermeier furniture is its light colour: ash, maple, cherry, citrus, beech, and yew (the latter typical in Viennese interiors) were frequently employed. Gilt finishes were applied sparingly or replaced by painted or black and gold inlaid details.

Tea room at the Sanssouci Palace, watercolour, c 1830, Potsdam, Germany.





The Victorian Age

The long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was to prove a time of great change. For a while, the Regency style remained in favour, the linear Neoclassicism of furniture enlivened by ebony and metal inlay. However, towards the middle of the century and more conspicuously after the Great Exhibition of 1851 and subsequent exhibitions, there was a far greater stylistic variety and mixture. During the Victorian era, interpretations of a number of artistic influences gave rise to new, sometimes eccentric shapes. The British designers A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52) and William Surges (1827-81) were the virtuosi of the Gothic Revival Style, while others preferred to rework Baroque and Rococo taste, sometimes combining an eclectic range of shape and ornament with varying degrees of success. A cross-fertilization between Europe and distant cultures - especially China and Japan - was stimulated by the great trade exhibitions held around the wrorld, when countries learned more about each other's technology, vernacular style, and preferences in ornamentation. Unlikely combinations of materials and processes (of which papier-mache was just one example) were adopted with enthusiasm, and this fresh approach was applied to wood (often used very simply), marble, textiles, and painted panels. Iron, both cast and wrought, was used for garden seats and tables and for indoor furniture, such as bedsteads. Cane and bamboo also became very fashionable.
As more imports made their way to Europe, the appeal of the Orient spread, particularly all things Japanese. Japan took part in the 1862 exhibition in London, and. in the same year, a shop called La Porte chinoise opened in Paris, its success assured by the established, widespread taste for chinoiserie. In 1867. the influential British designer and architect Owen Jones (1809-74) published his Grammar of Chinese Ornament and Far Eastern influence grew further. It manifested itself in delicate pieces of furniture with highly polished surfaces and in a vogue for black lacquer, used in the work of Edward William Godwin (18333-86). Oriental influences could also be seen in the highly stylized interiors of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, as well as the innovative treatment of objects and space by William Morris (1834-96) and other members of the Arts and Crafts Movement.



Bureau from a Lombard workshop, 1870-80. Museo Civico Storico G. Garibaldi, Como, Italy.

This miniature piece of furniture, made from wood, gilded metal, enamel,
and incised coral, is about 30 centimetres (12 inches) high.
It is either a workshop model or, more likely, a toy, and is stocked with a number of other miniature objects.


Table inlaid with various woods, mother-of-pearl, and ivory, late 19th century,
 Fratelli Falcini, Florence.

Furniture made from papier-mache could be decorated to achieve effects similar to this.

Small three-seat indiscret, on castors, Second Empire.
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

This divan in the Neo-Rococo style was probably made in France.




Neuschwanstein Castle, near Fussen, Bavaria, 1869-86.


Ludwig II of Bavaria chose the site of a ruined medieval tower for Neuschwanstein Castle, set on a high rocky outcrop amid the forests of the Bavarian Alps. He commissioned ideas for both the exterior and the interior decoration from Christian Jank. the court stage-designer, which were to be inspired by the world of Richard Wagner's operas. The walls of the major rooms were painted with frescos of Germanic legends, and especially the story of Lohengrin, the early medieval chivalric hero with whom the mad Ludwig II identified closely. The Hall of Song emulated a hall of the same name in the Gothic castle of Wartburg, on which Wagner based a stage set for his opera Tannhauser, the Grotto of Venus was built to recreate the Venusberg scene; and paintings in the studio which led to it, as well as the throne room, were reminiscent of the Hall of the Grail in the opera Parsifal. All expressed Ludwig's obsession with the world of Wagner, and emphasized the fairytale setting.






Neoclassical designs were adopted by many porcelain manufacturers in countries that had fallen under the sway of the Napoleonic Empire, not least because their factories had passed from private to state ownership and were controlled by Napoleon's civil servants. The former Royal Porcelain Factory at Sevres was famed for its Empire-style ornamentation, picked out in gold on the luminous white biscuit background. Despite the wars with the French, Britain embraced the Neoclassical style with enthusiasm; in Staffordshire, black basalt ware produced by the Wedgwood pottery was decorated with light-coloured decoration, inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. As the 19th century progressed, industrial output supplanted the older craft methods of production.
benefiting from the discovery of new processes and raw materials. Many advances were of crucial importance, including the 1794 invention of a bone-china production process by the English potter Josiah Spode (1754-1827) that could be manufactured on an industrial scale. In 1813, Charles Mason patented ironstone china, and in 1843, Copeland & Garrett of Stoke-on-Trent pioneered the production of parian ware. This pure white porcelain with a slightly granular surface was an excellent modelling medium for busts, figures, decorative dishes, and vases. In the early 1860s, the pate-sur-pate technique of decorating porcelain in relief was developed at the Sevres factory; very fine detail was applied in white clay to darker coloured wares, creating relief ornamentation of exceptional quality. The growth in output of the English porcelain factories, largely due to these advances, both satisfied and stimulated a widening export market throughout Europe, the US, and many parts of the British Empire. This was not a one-way traffic, however: from the 18th century onwards, Chinese and Japanese ceramics had been imported throughout Europe in large quantities. This led to the adoption of many Oriental designs and shapes, as well as a new use of colour and decorative techniques such as cloisonne. This was achieved by means of a network of raised metal enclosures that trace a design on the surface of an object. Molten enamel in various colours was poured into the segments, leaving the metal tracerv visible. The work of the French artist Joseph-Theodore Deck (1823-91) and cloisonne wares produced by the English Minton factory were of a particularly high quality. After Napoleon's defeat, classical motifs were often combined with extravagant and exotic shapes. There was a return to the Rococo style in the factories at Sevres and Meissen, where the eclectic designs of Jacob Petit were especially rich. Decoration grew florid and elaborate, in part due to the introduction of chromolith-ograhy and transfer designs for pottery; these allowed painted inserts of various scenes, landscapes, still lifes, and even copies of paintings by great masters to be used as ornament.
Among the many porcelain products marketed during the second half of the 19th century were fairings. These were small groups of china figures, souvenirs sold in vast numbers, decorated with a variety of scenes and complete with captions.
There was also a demand for china souvenirs bearing the names and motifs, or arms, of towns and cities; for plates, tiny baskets, and all sorts of little containers; and for many other novelties. China was also used for toys: dolls had china heads, feet, and hands, although biscuit porcelain was adopted after a while as it was more lifelike. The dolls ranged from babies to fashionable Parisiennes, with beautiful clothes and accessories.


Two black basalt vases with antique-style full-figure decoration,
early 19th century.
These vases were produced by the famous
Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire, England.

Minton ware flask in pate-sur-pate porcelain
with Chinese-style decoration in relief
with superimposed layers, c. 1870.




Charles Develly, hand-painted porcelain plate, gilt and enamel decoration, 1825.
Musee National de Ceramique, Sevres, France.






The American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler began his working life etching for the US Geodetic Coastal Survey, but left after a short time to move to Europe. There, he was to have a meteoric - and controversial -career. From 1876 to 1877, Whistler undertook the decoration of the dining room in Frederick Leyland's house in Prince's Gate, London. This later came to be known as the Peacock Room, and is now reassembled in the Freer Gallery, Washington. D.C.. Although certain architectural details of the room had already been created by another designer, the Peacock Room is a good example of Whistler's work, and especially of a style that eliminates the distinctions between a painting and its frame, and between painting and the decorative arts. The room was planned around his painting La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine (1863-64), which was inspired by Japanese art. Asymmetrical yet harmonious, the scheme contrasted greenish-blue leather panelling with the dark brown-black and gilt of elaborate wooden shelving, originally installed for Leyland's collection of blue and white china. The shelving framed two large wall panels showing peacocks in full, opulent detail, and elsewhere in the room the decoration was based on the birds' breast and tail feathers. The leather-panelled walls were enlivened by a fan-shaped motif with gilt detailing. Writing on interior decoration in 1888, Whistler expressed a hope that he might find the opportunity to display his flamboyant taste and skills in his native US.


James Abbot McNeill Whistler, the Peacock Room, detail.
The room is now re-assembled in the Freer Gallery of Art.
Smithsonian Institution Washington. D.C.

James Abbot McNeill Whistler, detail of the Peacock Boom, 1876-77.
The interior was designed for the dining room of Frederick Richard Leyland's London home.






The influence of the Far East was not confined to porcelain. It could also be seen in 19th-century glassware, in which the revival of past styles was combined with the many technical innovations so typical of the century. A wide range of ornaments and tableware in cut lead glass was made in England, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as pieces of cameo glass. This was achieved by casing, or covering, a piece of glass with a layer of a different colour and then partly removing the surface layer by hand or later, more cheaply, using acid. The result was a design that stood out boldly against the background. Another technique, cameo incrustation, set moulded porcelain reliefs inside a piece of clear crystal, such as a paperweight; these were also known as sulphides. Experiments with colour at the New England Glass Company in the US produced the distinctive Peachblow and Amberina, while elsewhere in the US Burmese was introduced, a pale, green-yellow shading to pink. In 1810, a white glass treated with metallic-oxides resulted in opaline, a slightly milky glass, while, lithyalin, an opaque glass coloured to simulate such semiprecious stones as agate and jasper, was patented in Bohemia by Friedrich Egermann in 1829. The ancient Roman art of mosaic glass, rediscovered by craftsmen in Murano, Venice, in the 19th century, was given a new lease of life in the form of millefiori paperweights, launched at the 1845 Vienna Exhibition by Pietro Bigaglia. These small, solid crystal spheres were also made in France by master craftsmen at the Saint-Louis, Baccarat, and Clichy glass-works. The technique of embedding slices of coloured glass canes in clear glass, usually arranged as flowers, proved hugely popular.


Glass bottle and semi-filigree red glass candlestick, both in acquamarine and latticinio,
c. 1845.
Pietro Bigaglia, Murano, Venice.

Glass paperweights, 1850-60.
The most valuable examples of paperweights were made
in France by the Saint-Louis, Baccarat, and Clichy factories.


Doll's house by the Bliss Manufacturing Company,
colour lithograph on cardboard, 1890-1910.
This would have been one of the cheaper wooden craft models.




Giovanni Boldini
Portrait of Madame Charles Max
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

This is an expressive image of a late 19th-century Parisian socialite.


The industrial, technological, and commercial expansion of the 19th century also brought about great changes in clothing and its manufacture. During the early part of the century, flourishing slave-run plantations allowed imports of cotton from the southern states in the US to soar.
forcing down prices of the raw material from traditional suppliers such as India. Machinery was constantly being updated and improved in the cotton mills, which enabled them to produce material for clothing, in addition to other textiles. New textiles were patented and, with the introduction of the sewing machine, the clothing industry was truly transformed. Factories were established specifically for the manufacture of clothing, large shops were opened in big cities, and fashion magazines such as Ladies Magazine, La Mode illustree, Le Journal des modistes, Il Corriere delle Dame, and Wiener-Moden-Zeitung were published in England, France, the US, Italy, Austria, and elsewhere to keep women abreast of what the fashionable were wearing. During the Napoleonic era, female attire and accessories had become progressively simpler and less cluttered. Waists were "out", comfort and freedom were "in", fabrics were light and soft, and clung to the figure, and colours were pale. Although Lottis Hippolyte Leroy, one of the creators of the new-fashion, survived until the end of the Empire, a few changes had already begun to appear in the early years of the 19th century. Heavier fabrics, more elaborate finishes, long sleeves, more modest necklines, and, most importantly, wider skirts were introduced. These were full thanks to starched petticoats and hoops, and at their height, such crinolines measured some seven metres (22 feet) across. These widest of dresses were held up by a metallic under-structure. to guarantee flexibility and ease of movement despite their volume. In 1855. Millet successfully patented a metal frame known as the crinoline cage, perfected by Auguste Person the following year. The wide skirts contrasted with a narrow wraist, ■which was created with the help of whalebone or steel corsets. During the 1870s. skirts became flatter in front but billowed out at the back in the pouf, demi-crinoline. and. later, in the tounure. These dresses made the most of the new fabrics, including Jacquard silks, satin, ribbons, piping, and lace. In the middle of the 19th century, female fashion was set by women dressmakers who looked to the splendour of Versailles for inspiration; their ideas, shown as fashion plates in magazines, were copied by bourgeois women. There wras also a keen interest in the theatre and in the costumes of actresses, singers, and ballerinas. One of the great figures in 19th-century fashion was Charles Frederick Worth, the first haute couturier, who opened his Paris studio in 1857, heralding the modern fashion house. However, the corsets, petticoats, and bulky gowns fashionable women were required to wear were constricting and unhealthy. In 1883. the English Rational Dress Association called for more comfortable, practical dress that followed the figure, with long sleeves, and calf-length skirts worn over pantalettes, as suggested by the American Amelia Bloomer around 1850.


Models of fashionable gowns from the 1880s. Museo Civico Storico G. Garibaldi, Como, Italy.

These models are 33 centimetres (13 inches) high,
 and were probably factory samples used for customer selection.

see collection:

James Abbott McNeill Whistler



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