19th Century American Art Period (Victorian Era)
The term Victorian as is applied to America's mid 19th century arts is only partially correct because peoples interest had started moving in the direction of industry and its accompanying wealth. Appreciation for the arts and the love for architectural styles and fine interiors had began to wane.
There were no great leaders in the arts and the voices of the few that tried to cultivate their own creative expressions of art were practically ignored. Though novelty was still desirable but connoisseurship was absent and styles became more of borrowed ideas than conceived inventions, making their own expressions of the arts unnecessary.
The promising seeds that sprouted during the Greek revival period suddenly seemed to shrivel up and dry out. England again became the source of America’s inspiration and the return to the classy French styles became something that was favoured.
Victorian Period Styles
These contributed immensely to making the American Victorian art period undergo a rapid succession of overlapping and confused style revivals.
Firstly the Greek revival period overlapped a revival of the Gothic style as was inspired by the British Houses of Parliament building; by books written by Eastlake (architect and furniture designer) and Morris, including A.W.N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, both well known Gothic style enthusiasts.
The arts were absurd in a sense. There were wooden arches, vaults and windows with pointed tips, columns that tended to form clusters, stained glass panes and jigsaw ornamentation.
Furniture and interior décor objects were designed with "naïve" Gothic features showing religious, sentimental and even depressing themes. These styles are typical of the Gothic art period and logically suited church designs and religious forms more than they did residential buildings.
Surprisingly, these 19th century designs that were Gothic revival arts produced beautiful applications of Gothic architecture, a good example being the classic Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
Architectural Styles of the Victorian Era
Houses of the Victorian era had steep mansard roofs with dormer window openings breaking through the surfaces of the sloping roofs.
The building façades had no proportionate classical forms and had large unbalanced bay windows and cupolas. The vast manicured lawns had hydrangeas with cast iron menacing figures of dogs and stags.
On the down side, the Victorian cities were crowded with homes characterised by brownstone fronts and high stoops that were devoid of any aesthetic appeal.
Another influence on the American arts was that of a man of extraordinary genius, the architect H. H. Richardson who designed the Trinity Church in Boston. He brought back the Romanesque forms as a "revolt" against the revival arts of the Gothic period and Mansart's style.
His influence was strong and his picturesque and romantic styles of expression in his works were imitated by many designers whose works were made of wood fashioned after his stone works. His architectural designs had corner towers, balconies, irregularly shaped windows and high gabled roofs with shingles installed in distinctive patterns.
Interior Design Styles
Unlike their exteriors, the Victorian interiors was opulent in many ways. But their interiors consisted of irregularly shaped rooms that were generally planned without much thought, with a plethora of lathe turned balusters, wooden grilles, table legs, and spindles.
The important rooms of the house had painted wainscots, parquet flooring, ceilings with false beams, heavy trims and huge moldings made almost always from golden oak.
The art periods style made excessive use of unrelated textures and patterns often resulting in wallpaper with garish patterns, oriental rugs covered with animal skin (bear, lion or tiger) complete with a head and snarling mouth with furniture and furnishings of hybrid styles cluttering the room.
Their fireplaces had marble slab mantels with arched fireplace openings and brightly coloured tiles or bricks for mantel facings while window coverings were made of thick heavy textiles with valances, swags & tails, and heavily fringed jabots.
It is good to note that the influence of science, invention, industry, and geographical expansion had a major impact on how people perceived the decorative arts, and as these new interests became profitable ventures, the American people became more occupied with them, placing creative and decorative arts in the "back burner".
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