CR 2 "Notes" on Colonial Revival Movement: -- The 1876 Centennial Exhibtion in Philadelphia

Directory to "Notes" on the Colonial Revival Movement, a Series of Six Narratives Detailing How Colonial Furniture Design Became So Popular in Amateur Woodworking

CR 1: Before 1876: The Rise of Nativism

CR 2: 1876: The Cententennial Exhibtion in Philadelphia

CR 3: After 1876: Antique Hunters

CR 4: After 1876: Books on Colonial Antiques

CR 5: The Rise of of the Material Culture Museums

CR 6: CR in the Industrial Arts Movement and Amateur Woodworking

CR 7: The Colonial Revival Today

CR 2: 1876: The Centennial Exhibtion in Philadelphia

As Elizabeth Stillinger (page 52) notes, the Centennial Exhibition ushered in the Colonial Revival

The Oriental exhibits attracted enormous crowds, and as a result countless Japanese lacquered boxes, miniature pago­das, embroideries and fans were added to the astonishing collection of bric-a-brac displayed on the etagere in the high-ceilinged Victorian parlor. Practi­cally all the visitors saw bamboo for the first time, which was used as part of the installation in the Japanese exhibits. They were delighted with this giant grass, which in itself is quite unique, and almost overnight articles made of bam­boo or shaped in imitation of it became the rage. Painted, gilded or left in its natural finish, chairs, cabinets, all kinds of stands from flower stands to whatnots, were introduced in the midst of the somber massive walnut and oak furni­ture.

Boger Notes Development of Antique Collecting, But Doesn't Link Collecting Craze With 1876 Centennial Exhibition

A noteworthy 19th century develop­ment in America was the interest in an­tique collecting, which, as in Europe, became more popular in this country as the century advanced. Though various reasons are given to explain the antiques craze, one excellent reason is that the Victorians were snobs; they invented the term. It was Thackeray who gave it its present significance. Snobbery does not flourish in a rigid society, like that of the 18th century where everyone could tell a duke by the star of some order on his coat, but only in a fluid society where a prosperous and rising middle class presses on the heels of an established aristocracy. It is a defense mechanism, a snobbish longing for an old established background which has sold countless an­cestor portraits.

Inasmuch as in England the making of fine quality reproductions of 18th cen­tury furniture was continued in varying degrees throughout the entire 19th cen­tury, it may safely be suggested that in a general sense a similar condition existed in America as she had long been influenced by European fashions. From the 1870's onward high quality copies became exceedingly popular in England; about ten or more years later this fashion was taken up by prominent Victorian furniture makers in America.

The last three decades of Victoria's reign offered a melange of revivals, as virtually every historic period was ex­plored for design inspiration. One of the most curious developments of the 1880's and 1890's was an interest in Ori­entalism of Near Eastern inspiration. This dates back to the Greek War of In­dependence, the conquest of Algiers, the increasing activity of French relations with Constantinople, Syria and Egypt, which offered a field to painters whose talents lay in the direction of colors and picturesqueness. As France began to ex­pand into North Africa in the 1830's, the Moorish civilization and the exotic wild life of the region attracted such cele­brated painters as Ferdinand Eugene Dclacroix (1798-1863) who as a mem­ber of a mission to the Sultan of Mo­rocco acquired first-hand knowledge of this part of the world. In his "Algerian Women" (1834) the life depicted in this scene is foreign to life in France, and provided those elements of romance that were fast fading from European civiliza­tion. In America the hot stillness of the inner room portrayed in the "Algerian Women" found its counterpart in the Turkish corner of the 1890's which used the cushion-heaped divan as its center of interest. Even the most romantic devo­tees soon lost patience with this pseudo Near Eastern atmosphere, the final 19th century manifestation of the taste for the picturesque.

12. "Let's Take a Breath": The "Impact of the 1878 Paris Exhibition

It is generally accepted that after the Paris Exhibition of 1878, the production of extravagant exhibition pieces came to an end, owing to a steadily increasing sphere of interest in a genuine domestic style of furniture that blended more naturally with furniture in current use.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 affords an excellent understanding of Victorian tendencies and characteristics. It is obvious that the copying and mixing of past styles accompanied by a straining after novelty in trivial details is a striking characteristic. Standing out in the general confusion is a marked emphasis on rich and flamboyant carving of a sculpturesque quality; ornamental motifs were crammed together as if a horror existed for an empty space (472) . The profusion of ornament was more often than not executed with a certain coarseness. The Victorian must have found it intoxicating to produce with the new tools the exuberant carving which, when done by hand on the costly models, was the hallmark of all fine furniture at this time.

The age is distinguished by a strong pride in inventions; the Victorians were delighted with their advance in scientific knowledge and technical skill. Thus machine-carved ornament had many admirers, who considered it an achievement for the human mind to invent machinery that could do the same work as the hand in less than one hundredth of the time and do it more perfectly. In many cases this pride in inventiveness supplanted aesthetic appreciation. For example, one could be proud of the imitation of one material by another-wood painted in imitation of mahogany, ebony or marble; panels painted in imitation of inlaid wood; glass imitating various kinds of marble, semi-precious stones, lapis lazuli and malachite that were used for decorative purposes, as in pietra dura. Frankly fascinated with these substitute materials, the originals of which were associated in the past only with wealth, the Victorians reveled in their display of commercial prosperity.

Source: Louise Ade Boger, The Complete Guide to Furniture Styles New York: Scribners, 1969, pages 394-395 (not available online)

The furniture section at the Columbian Exhibition held in Chicago in 1893, which like the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 gave evidence to this country's prosperity, comprised contribu­tions from practically every style includ­ing the exotic Moorish. A newcomer to the scene and one that won a prize was a piece of oak furniture made to serve several purposes, being provided with a slant front which when let down serves as a writing board, a cupboard portion, two drawers, a tier of shelves for books and two flat surfaces for the display of bric-a-brac. This combination piece, usu­ally called a secretary bookcase, was made by the Grand Rapids Chair Com­pany. Only its asymmetrical form reveals its Continental Art Nouveau origin, as the obvious Art Nouveau decorative de­tail had been systematically removed through the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement (523) . On the whole the image suggests American Mission, a turn of the century development, its in­troduction coinciding with a surge of interest in California and its Spanish- built missions. Essentially an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement, this fur­niture, which in spite of its name was more American than Franciscan, was in­spired by the rustic aspect of the English Cotswold group. It was characterized by straight lines and relatively plain forms; much of it was made by the furniture trade at Grand Rapids. One of these was Gustav Stickley, designer, manufac­turer and publisher of the magazine THE CRAFTSMAN. His Mission style furni­ture, called Craftsman, was known for its good design. Comparing favorably with the work of Stickley was that of Elbert Hubbard who founded the Roycrofters.

In 1902, at the Turin Exhibition where all Europe as well as America was represented, the furniture exhibited from Eng­land and America was distinctively differ­ent from the fanciful extravagances of Art Nouveau and stemmed from the trail blazed by the Arts and Crafts move­ment. The same year the Grand Rapids Record commented: "It is undeniable that the people of today desire their fur­niture plain, the popularity of the Cali­fornia and the so-called Mission effects furnish abundant evidence of this taste."