The Brothers Adam were architects and not furniture designers i the strict sense of the term. There were four brothers, but Robert and James were the two who designed furniture that was executed by Hepplewhite and others.
Robert, following an education at the University of Edinburgh, pursued his studies in Italy for four years. While there he became fascinated by the excavations at Herculaneum. His fascination was such that the "Herculaneum" style became synonymous with him and, through his influence, England's basis of decoration for half a century. This classical influence displaced the Rococo forms of Chippendale and his school and led to an excessively refined delicacy of structure and ornament.
Robert was appointed architect to the king by George III when he was 40, and his younger brother James succeeded him to this honor. The period 1762-1792 witnessed extensive building ventures by all four brothers. The Brothers Adam believed that every detail of the house and its furnishings must grow out of the same mind, hence the attention to the minutiae of decoration. They stated the fundamentals of their style in "The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam," which was published in 1773.
Chippendale was the first furniture style to be identified by the name of its creator rather than by the name of the reigning monarch who happened to be on the throne at the time.
It was the golden age of furniture and no style that was developed during that time is of greater importance than Chippendale's. While Chippendale is known as a great designer, he really should be termed an adapter. It was his ability at adapting and combining features of other styles successfully that won him a distinction enjoyed by few designers. He adapted freely from French styles, principally from that of Louis XV and from the Queen Anne style which preceded his own. Some of his motifs were adapted from Gothic sources and he developed a Chinese Chippendale style.
It should not be implied that Chippendale had no originality of his own; he was a versatile designer, a master wood carver, a skilled cabinetmaker and, above all, a good businessman. Chippendale learned his trade in his father's shop and, in 1727, they opened a shop in London. In 1749, he opened his own shop and, four years later, moved it to St. Martin's Lane, a more fashionable location where his productions commanded high prices among the wealthy.
His reputation as a designer, however, was solidified by the publication of his book, "The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director," which was published in 1754. Other editions followed in 1759 and 1762. Europe had seen publications on design for two hundred years, but never before had it seen one so specialized or so thorough on furniture. Its influence was immediate and dramatic, spreading throughout the Continent and to the colonies.
George Hepplewhite, along with Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton and the Brothers Adam, ranks as one of the greatest designers of furniture. Little is known of his life, but he is believed to have begun to make furniture in London around 1760. He achieved a reputation of some prominence which gained him no less a client than the Prince of Wales.
He also executed many commissions for his contemporary designers, the Brothers Adam, whose Classicism greatly influenced his work. After Hepplewhite's death in 1786, his widow carried on his business and published a collection of his designs which had either been drawn by himself or under his supervision. "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide" was a best seller in its day, running through three editions from 1788 to 1794. These designs were widely copied, both in England and in the New World and insured the extension and permanence of the Hepplewhite style.
The firm of George Oakley produced high quality stylish furniture in the Grecian taste during the decades spanning 1800 and was one of the pioneers of 'Buhl' ( cut brass inlay) in England, a form of decoration that gained popularity in Regency times. Fashionable materials such as rosewood, calamander and cut- brass geometric and classical motifs were often used.
In 1799 Oakley received a Royal warrant and produced furniture for the Prince Regent, later George IV, and many other notable patrons. Commissions included furniture for Noseley Hall and perhaps the firms largest, for Charles Madryll of Papworth Hall which included furniture in calamander with geometric brass inlay. In 1804 the London correspondent of the 'Journal der Luxus und der Moden (Weimar) wrote, 'all people with taste buy their furniture at Oakley's, the most tasteful of the London cabinet-makers'.
Identified pieces by Oakley are typified by the architectural quality of design, the high standard of craftsmanship and the smart Regency aspect of decoration which characterises the output of this fashionable cabinet-maker throughout the whole of his long career.
Thomas Sheraton was the last of the great English designers and cabinetmakers. Born into poverty, his life was one of continuous struggle and hardship and, unlike the other three great English designers--Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Brothers Adam--he was unable to make his vocation pay him more than a bare livelihood. His fame rests less on his actual work than on the style that grew from his designs which were collected in his "The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book," published in 1790. He also published "Designs for Furniture, The Cabinet Dictionary" (1803) and had begun "The Cabinetmaker, Upholsterer and General Artist's Encyclopedia," when he died in 1806.
Sheraton's finest work was influenced by the best qualities of the Louis XVI style and his work is noteworthy for its fine cabinets, well-proportioned sideboards and excellent small tables. These pieces stand out from among others as the finest examples of their kind and of the period.
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