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: The Georgian Pine Room from Stanwick Park in Yorkshire


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Stepping into the Georgian Room at the Art Institute is something like going back two hundred years into the past, for the visitor who finds himself in these warm and vibrant surroundings has an acute sense of having closed a door upon the present. The impression derives not only from the fact that the Georgian Room is an authentic interior of the eighteenth century, but from the fact that it looks as it might have looked in 1740. Light, pouring in from three wall windows overlooking a lawn studded with trees and shrubs, falls softly on the polished furniture and silver, the glowing colors of a Persian carpet, and the portraits whose figures observe with interest the scene before them. It is the kind of room that really recreates the past; that is valid because it preserves for posterity and makes available to the public a fragment of a way of life that may soon, under the burden of crushing taxes, disappear altogether in England. It comes from Stanwick Park, which was razed about 1927 because post-war taxes made its upkeep impossible, and was presented to the Institute in memory of Eugene J. Carpenter by Mrs. Carpenter and Mrs. Folwell Coan in 1932. Those who happen to be curious about the other great modern century—the eighteenth—may gain some inkling of how its people lived through an examination of the room.Stanwick Park, for many years a seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, was a large, imposing building in the classical taste made popular by Inigo Jones. The Hall was begun in 1662, but the west wing, from which the Institute’s room came, was not added until 1740. The furnishings represent, therefore, the development of a style that is perhaps more purely English than any other does. The room is paneled in pine which was brought to light only after the removal of innumerable coats of white paint, added, one may suppose, in an attempt to approximate more closely the fashionable Palladian style fostered by the landed nobility and wealthy merchants who vied with each other in their patronage of the arts. It was they who encountered a new school of designers devoted to the Palladian style, and they who gave impetus to new fashions imported from abroad.The Georgian Room is an admirable example of the classical style of architecture and decoration adapted to one of the smaller houses of the Georgian period. The paneling, now a warm golden color, provides a perfect background for furniture in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles. The chimneybreast, flanked by fluted and reeded columns with Ionic capitals, has an overmantel dominated by a finely carved frame set within bold swags of drapery and fruit garlands. The cornice, chair rail, and skirting are enriched with classical motifs, and the penal moldings carry the egg and dart design crisply executed. The overdoors, with lintels richly carved in a band of laurel leaves and berries bound with ribbon, are especially fine, as are the lively scrolled brackets supporting the shaped shelves of the arched niche, or buffet. The purpose of such buffets was, more often than not, the display of just such a group of K’ang Hsi blue and white porcelain as is shown here, for Chinese works of art were one of the great fashions of the century.This room, peculiarly appropriate to a man because of its simplicity and warmth of color, has been furnished with a view to a man’s taste. If it looks a little stiff and bare to the contemporary eye it is because rooms of the period were not designed for conversational groups. Chairs were brought out into the center of the room only on certain occasions. This was one of the reasons for the development of the light, more easily handled cabriole type of furniture which came into fashion about the beginning of the century. Cabriole is a French dancing term meaning goat’s leap, and a goat’s hoof was used as the earliest termination of the curved cabriole leg which distinguished the style. It was later replaced by the club, claw and ball, and lion-paw types, which appear on the furniture in this room.Of all Queen Anne and Georgian furniture, it is perhaps the chairs which best reveal the clean and racy lines that characterize fine pieces of the period. The earliest chair is the high-backed, wide-winged walnut chair, covered with Mortlake tapestry, dating from about 1705. The use of stretchers, carried over from straight-legged pieces of the seventeenth century, indicates that the cabinetmaker has not yet become adept enough in construction to dispense with the support given by them. Their presence on cabriole furniture usually denotes an early date, as does the use of walnut, employed from the Restoration until the early Georgian period, when it was supplanted by mahogany. The stuffed back of the chair reflects the growing desire for comfort, to which even the wood backs of chairs contributed in succeeding years. Two pairs of such light, wood-back chairs, one of walnut with slip seats covered in Turkey work and one of mahogany with slip seats in blue and cream brocade, are to be seen in the Georgian Room. The former, dating from the end of Queen Anne’s reign, are carved at the knee with a honeysuckle motif and end in Dutch grooved feet; the latter, dating from about 1725, are carved at the knee with an acanthus design and have feet of the lion-paw type fashionable from about 1725 to 1735. The uprights curve over the top in a shallow scroll into which fits a cresting of carved drapery and tassels that is a continuation of the splat. These chairs provide a good example of the graceful fashion in which the curve of the splat repeats the curve of the uprights. The leather-covered armchair near the fireplace, with clubfeet and acanthus carving on the knee, illustrates a skillful way of fixing arm-supports to the seat rails so as to provide for women’s voluminous skirts. Instead of rising well back from the front of the chair, as they often did, they rise from the rail as a continuation of the front leg, making room for flowing skirts by a sharp rake back. Square backs, of the type shown here, came into fashion about 1730.It will be observed that only one of these chairs has stretchers; a detail indicating growing skill in the construction of light furniture. The two settees, on the other hand, have such supports. The double chair-backed settee of walnut, with hooped backs, curved arms set back on the seat rail, and cabriole legs ending in clubfeet, is a nice example of the Queen Anne style. The carving of the knees, which rises on the seat rail as a sort of cresting, is restricted to the mere outline of a trefoil motif. The black lacquer settee, with very slightly curved legs ending in small pad feet, is a further reflection of the Chinese influence on English decorative arts in the eighteenth century.The stool, for many years the only easily portable seat in English houses, is represented by a graceful Queen Anne example in walnut. Again the carving on the knees is simple and the legs end in clubfeet. It is interesting to note that stools, even in the eighteenth century, were controversial pieces of furniture. Chairs had long been reserved for the superior members of a group, leaving stools for the slightly less superior. All others stood. The privilege of sitting on a stool was therefore usually coveted. However, at the wedding, in 1736, of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the brothers and sisters of the groom staged a stand-up strike because the groom requested them to sit on stools at dinner while he and his bride occupied chairs.Stools were also used at the ubiquitous card tables of the eighteenth century. The fact that there are three such tables in the Georgian room is nothing to be surprised at, for gambling, and especially card playing, was the rage. All of the tables in the room are of the folding type, which occupied little space when closed and placed against the wall. The earliest of them, the round mahogany table of about 1714, has the additional merit of serving two purposes. It has a double flap, one of the plain mahogany, for serving tea, and one covered with green baize for card playing. The latter is fitted with four small depressions for holding money during play. The two square folding card tables, both of mahogany, present the first example of claw and ball feet in the Georgian Room. This motif, said to have been inspired by a detail in Chinese art familiar to everyone—the heavenly jewel clasped in the claw of the dragon—was used throughout the cabriole period. Both tables have rounded corners for candlesticks and shallow wells for money, and both have cabriole legs, the knees carved with a shell motif, terminating in claw and ball feet. One dates from about 1720, the other from about 1730. Square card tables of this type were the prevailing fashion throughout the first half of the century. Also popular were small tables on a tripod base. Such tables, illustrated by a mahogany example with a tray top, were used, then as now, for a variety of purposes.The tripod, probably introduced from France, served as a support for other types of furniture. The Queen Anne candlestands of veneered walnut, with octagonal tops and baluster shafts, terminating in tripods with single-scrolled legs, represent one of the most useful inasmuch as they supplemented fixed lighting in a practical and easy fashion. Another useful bit of tripod furniture was the pole screen. Open fires, however pleasant, have disadvantages in rooms heated by no other means. The pole screen served to ward off the too-intense heat to which one was subjected if one were to be warmed at all. The George II example in the Georgian Room is of mahogany, carved at the base of the pole and on the knees with acanthus leaves, and terminating in lion-paw feet. The large-scale panel in petit point dates from the beginning of the century.The furniture of the Georgian Room described to this point is all of the easily movable, uncumbersome kind. The remaining pieces, including the secretary desk, two mahogany chests of drawers, and a pair of carved pine mirror consoles, of the George II period, are fixed pieces of more or less architectural character. They give weight and, in the case of the mirrors, space to a room in which all the elements blend harmoniously. Brilliance and color are added by three contemporary paintings—the portraits of a man and a woman by Allan Ramsay, and a charming group of the children of Sir Edward Walpole by Stephen Slaughter which must rank as one of the greatest conversation groups of the period. So gracefully do these painted figures complement the room they adorn that it takes little imagination to set them down in the flesh at the card tables. And that is the value of a good room of a great period; in recreating the customs and distinguished arts of a brilliant and memorable age, it brings to life a bygone era that contributed immeasurably to our own.Referenced Works of Art
  1. A Corner of the Georgian Room from Stanwick park given in memory of Eugene J. Carpenter by Mrs. Carpenter and Mrs. Folwell Coan
  2. Paintings of the period and furniture in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles in the pine-paneled Georgian Room (1740)
  3. Chest of drawers, ca. 1735 and mirror of architectural type
  4. Southeast corner of the Georgian Room showing carved buffet with Chinese porcelain, Queen Anne walnut candlestands, and portrait by Ramsay
  5. Mahogany card table and carved pine mirror console
  6. Round card table with double top, chairs in the cabriole style and mahogany secretary desk with broken pediment in the Georgian Room
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Source: "The Georgian Pine Room from Stanwick Park in Yorkshire," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 39, no. 27 (November, 1950): 134-139.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009