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De-mystifying the terms used by antique dealers, auctioneers and specialists.
The Neo-Classical architect and designer Robert Adam created a distinct style which will always be associated with his name. In partnership with his three brothers John, James and William, with whom he developed the Adelphi in London´s Strand district, he produced complete schemes for decorating and furnishing houses, employing many eminent cabinet and chair makers. He often employed painters such as Angelica Kauffmann to provide decorative roundels for both ceilings and furniture.
His Grand Tour (1754-1758) took him to Rome, Venice and the ruins of Diocletian´s Palace at Split in Dalmatia, which he later turned into influential engravings. He returned with a large and sophisticated repertory of classical motifs, which he used with a light touch. He intended to ´transfuse the beautiful spirit of antiquity with novelty and variety´, but the results occasionally justify Horace Walpole´s disparaging comment “filigrane and fan painting, gingerbread and snippets of embroidery”.
The significant characteristics of this style are the use of classical figures, mainly maidens in togas and carrying stiff leaves or other devices. Borders are commonly swags of laurel leaves tied with ribbons and the Anthmion is a frequent motif. His influence on ceramics was considerable.
As a designer, Adam had most success with mirrors , wall furniture and decorative pieces, and he appears to have invented the sideboard. He also designed some Gothic revival furniture, carpets and occassional pieces of silver. But some of the best Adam style furniture, made by Chippendale, was not actually designed by him. His influence is also seen in the metalwork of Matthew Boulton. On Wedgwood and Adams (no relation) basaltes and jasper, white relief maidens stand out against the blue or black backgrounds between small leaf borders and in stoneware, large numbers of jugs have moulded neo Classical style reliefs. The general feel of the Adam style is of airiness and with much of the background left blank. In the hands of the unskilled it can be lifeless and boring.
There was a reaction against Adam during the Regency and William lV periodsbut from the 1860´s the Adamesque became acceptable to the Victorians and was ultimately a major component in what became known as Edwardian Reproduction or Chippendale Revival furniture.