Style Guide: Regency Classicism
Classicism was the most fashionable style in Britain during the Regency period. Forms and motifs from ancient Greece and Rome were the basis of the style. To these were added elements taken from nature, from the arts of ancient Egypt and from French design of the mid-18th century. The combination of different patterns and colours made Regency Classicism a visually rich style.
Greek forms and motifs
Interest in ancient Greece was stimulated by the publication of a number of important illustrated books. Designers and manufacturers copied or adapted ancient examples or created objects using Classical shapes. Greek motifs, such as the flower-like anthemion, were very popular.
Roman forms and motifs
Regency Classicism was influenced by the grand architecture and sculpture of imperial Rome. This aspect of the style is characterised by the use of heavy forms and by ornate decoration featuring scrolling leaves, flower heads and drapery.
The sculptural friezes found on ancient Greek and Roman architecture provided particular inspiration in the early 19th century. Friezes featured on Regency buildings and were used as a decorative motif on a wide range of objects. Wallpaper borders designed to look like Classical friezes were also popular.
One of the stylistic ingredients of Regency Classicism was French design from 1740 to 1770. The revival of this Rococo style is seen in the use of curved forms and decoration in the shape of rocks and shells
One feature of Regency Classicism that emerged in the 1830s was the use of nature as a source for designs. This is seen particularly in the brightly coloured ceramics of the period. In some cases nature inspired the whole form of the object as well as the decoration.
The archaeological surveys and discoveries that accompanied Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, and the battles between France and Britain that took place there, aroused great public interest. Ancient Egyptian art and architecture provided designers with a whole new range of motifs, such as winged sun-discs, hawks and crocodiles.
Beechwood, japanned black and gilt, with gilt-brass motifs
Museum no. W.27:1, 2-1958
Mahogany with cane seat; modern leather cushion
Museum no. W.2:1, 2-1988
Wood and metal frame, gilded and covered in printed paper imitating japanning, with brass telescopic support
Museum no. W.17&:2, 3-1966
Colour woodblock print and flock, on paper
Museum no. E.2156-1913
The Ancient Drama and the Modern Drama
John Flaxman (designer)
John Charles Felix Rossi (maker)
Museum no. A.9-1968
John & William Ridgway (probably, maker)
Drab stoneware, thrown and turned, with applied moulded decoration
Museum no. 34&A-1904
Fenton, Allanson and Machon
Silver, ornamented with relief die-stamping
Museum no. 5719:1, 2-1901
Coalport Porcelain Factory
Porcelain, painted in enamels and gilded
Museum no. 3372-1901
Coalport Porcelain Factory
Porcelain painted with enamels and gilded
Museum no. C.575&A-1935
Vulliamy & Son
Black marble, with dial and mounts of patinated and gilt bronze
Museum no. M.119-1966
Josiah Wedgwood and Sons
Red stoneware ('rosso antico' ware) with applied relief decoration in black
Museum no. 2375&A-1901
Prince Regent (1762 - 1830)
George, Prince of Wales, became Regent in 1811, following the prolonged illness of his father George III. His title gave the name to the period. The Prince Regent was a leader of fashion and as a major patron and collector he helped established the taste for Regency Classicism. He spent great sums on his lavish residences, commissioning works from the major painters, architects, designers and interior decorators of his day. The Prince Regent was notorious for not paying the bill, however, and his extravagance embroiled him in a number of financial crises.
Thomas Hope (1769 - 1831)
Thomas Hope had a major influence on taste in the Regency period. He was born in Holland, but fled to England after the French invaded his native country in 1795. After going on the Grand Tour, Hope began to collect Classical art. He was also a designer and patron. His importance stems from his belief that an interior should be stylistically harmonious, an idea he put into practice in the innovative designs for his own London home. He recorded this work in a book, Household Furniture and Decoration, which became a major source for designers. It was the first book to use the phrase 'interior decoration'.
Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
The Royal Goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell dominated the market for fine silver in the Regency period. The partnership was set up by Philip Rundell and John Bridge. Neither were silversmiths themselves and the work was contracted out to a network of suppliers. The partners, joined by Philip's nephew Edmond in 1805, kept close control of the designs, however. The firm made a range of objects, but was most celebrated for its high-quality, elaborate, Classical-style silver plate which adorned the grandest dining rooms of the day.
Probably gilded pine, with black marble, mirror glass and bronze mounts
Museum no. W.19:1, 2-1976
Copper, treated to resemble bronze, with applied ormolu (gilt bronze) mounts
Museum no. M.33-1983
Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
Cup and cover
Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
Gold, cast, applied and chased and engraved
Museum no. M.42:1, 2-1982
Buildings and Interiors
Carlton House, in Pall Mall, was given to George, the Prince Regent, as his official London residence in 1783. The Prince transformed the fairly modest property into a luxurious palace. He frequently altered the interiors, making them more and more opulent. The elaborate Classical forms and French rococo decoration created in the early 19th century reflect the Prince's taste for the style of Regency Classicism that he had done so much to popularise. Once King, George became bored with Carlton House and it was demolished in 1827.
Belsay Castle, Northumberland
Belsay Castle, near Jedburgh in Northumberland, was built by Sir Charles Monck Middleton. The baronet had studied Classical architecture while on honeymoon in Greece. His new home, constructed in 1807-1815, was the first country house in Britain to be modelled entirely on Greek examples. The exterior is Doric, the earliest and plainest of the Classical orders of architecture. The interior has a simple plan based on Graeco-Roman buildings with rooms grouped around a columned courtyard. Here both Doric and Ionic columns - the latter with their distinctive scrolling capitals - were used.
The Egyptian Dining Room, Goodwood House
The Egyptian Dining Room at Goodwood House in Sussex was created between 1802 and 1806 for the 3rd Duke of Richmond. It was the first interior in Britain to be based on the illustrations of ancient Egyptian monuments by D.V. Denon, who had accompanied Napoleon on his campaigns in Egypt. A variety of Egyptian motifs appeared on the chimney-piece, curtain pelmets and door furniture, while the dining chairs had bronze crocodiles inserted into their backs. The dining room was dismantled in the early 20th century, but has recently been restored.
Neo-classicism 1760 - 1790
Regency Classicism had evolved from the Neo-classical style of the 18th century. However, the 19th century style was characterised by greater archaeological correctness and by a better understanding of ancient Greece, which had previously been less well known than Rome. Regency Classicism also had more varied design sources than Neo-classicism. Inspiration was taken from ancient Egypt and 18th-century France as well as from the ancient world.
Classical and Renaissance Revival 1850 - 1915
In the second half of the 19th century Classical styles continued to be an important element in British design. The interest in ancient Greece and Rome was fuelled by new archaeological discoveries. Classical vessels, furniture and even jewellery were accurately reproduced or their forms adapted for other objects.