Late Neoclassical


Architecture and Interior Design Volume II

Chapter 2: Directoire and French Empire; 1789-1815

Concepts:  Late Neoclassical tends to characterizes French architecture.  It contrasts 3 main styles: directoire, consulate, and empire. Each has a different focus and appearance that reflects the political and social climate of its day.  Architecture, furnishings, and interiors reveal symmetry, horizontality, proportions from slender to heavier, classical details, and accuracy in design.

Design characteristics:  Directoire-Louis XVI, simple and originate from ancient Greek and Roman influences.  Consulate-  scale becomes heavier; motifs come from Egyptian and roman influences. More formal then the others.  Empire- grandeur of Egypt and Rome, pompous, formal, masculine.

Architecture: Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and Arc de Triomphe de Etoile

  • Monument to Napoleon (as most public buildings were)
  • Placed in large open place to accentuate its significance
  • Includes relief sculptures
  • Honors all who fights and dies for France in the French Revolutionary War
  • 160′H x 148′W x 72′D
  • Inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus

Interiors: Masculine, arched ceilings, roman figures, columns.  Directoire: softer muted grays and blues, greens.   Consulate: rich reds, blues and greens.  Empire: high saturated red, magentas, blue, green, yellow, purple.

Furnishings and Decorative Arts: Fauteuil and Bergere

  • French arm chair with upholstered back, arm rests, and frame
  • 1790-1815
  • Directoire style-light in scale, painted, delicate details. classical influences
  • Legs can be tapered, quadrangular, turned, or baluster shaped


Architecture and Interior Design Volume II

Chapter 3: German Greek Revival, Biedermeier: 1815-1848

Concept: The term biedermeier applies mainly to middle-class interiors and furniture in Austria and Germany during this time period.  Bieder meaning simple, plain, or unpretentious, and meier, a common German last name.  This style is an adaptation of French Empire, and replaces formality and majesty with comfort and function.  Some architecture, interiors, and furniture show French influences because most German designers studied in France.  During the 1830’s designs started adopting a more eclectic approach.  Rooms of this era accommodate a variety of family activities with a warm inviting atmosphere.  Common themes in rooms are family values, simplicity, and modesty.

Design Characteristics:  This style features Greek and Roman temple forms, the Greek order, plain walls, and minimal, classically derived ornament.  It also reveals such classical attributes as symmetry, repose, and a concern for proportion.  Geometric solids (cubes, rectangles, cylinders) compose buildings as well as furniture.  Biedermeier interiors display bright colors, good lighting, warm woods, plants, flowers, and anything else that contribute to an inviting atmosphere.  Some common motifs of the time are columns, egyptian terms, pediments, Greek key or fret, acanthus leaves, urns, hearts, and arrows.

Architecture:  German Greek Revival architecture, like that of other countries, derives it’s details primarily from ancient Greek and it’s forms mainly from Roman architecture.  German architects are not stylistic innovators, neither are they mere copyists of the work of others.  Their genius lies in the ability to synthesize ancient Greek and Roman, French, and English influences and their own past styles into a rationalism, geometric forms, Gothic-type structures.     

Schauspielhaus; Berlin, Germany

Altes Museum; Berlin Germany (Day)

Altes Museum; Berlin Germany (Night)

Interiors: Middle class homes sport modest furniture, bright colors, and good lighting.  Important family memorabilia or prized possessions like glassware, needlework, silhouettes, or portraits are displayed.  Living spaces area furnished with many chairs and other seating options to accommodate many people.  Higher class people chose the Empire style for ceremonial spaces in their homes, palaces, theaters, and museums.

Altes Museum, Interior Perspective

Furnishings and Decorative Arts:

Gentleman making pressed glass (popular display item)


Architecture and Interior Design Volume II

Chapter 4: English Regency, British Greek Revival, 1790-1840

Concept:  England’s regency is a creative and productive period for both architecture and the decorative arts.  Designers borrow and synthesize forms and influences from classical, medieval, and exotic sources.  Neoclassicism continues to dominate the arts and architecture, but the Romantic and Picturesque Movements also affect design.

Design Characteristics:  Romantics believe in the unity of reason, nature, and antiquity.  They rigorously seek the beautiful and the sublime, or the awe-inspiring and terror filled experience of nature.  The Picturesque Movement also admires nature and the visual qualities of landscapes, such as asymmetry.  These two movements opened the doors to a new eclecticism.  Greek, Roman, and Egyptian works and characteristics were still very influential.  Classic motifs include pediments, columns, arabesques, urns, classical figures, fretwork, bamboo, pagodas, pointed arches, fan vaulting, rose windows, sun-disk and vultures, and stars.

Architecture:  Regency architecture follows two paths, Neoclassicism and the Picturesque movement.  Most public buildings are neoclassical, and feature typical classical elements like columns, pediments, and attributes like symmetry, order, and balance.  Interpretations of temple ruins are common in picturesque landscapes.  Picturesque architects developed asymmetry, meandering paths, ponds with irregular shapes, and buildings or ruins reminiscent of ancient history, paintings, or literature in their designs.

British Museum; London, England-Robert Smirke

The Bank of England; London- John Soane

Royal Pavilion; Brighton, England – John Nash (remodeled)

Interiors: Like the architecture, Regency interiors are eclectic and borrow from the same sources-classical, medieval, Italian, French Empire, Chinese, and Indian.  However, classically inspired rooms are most typical.  Each interior room is treated as a unit, with it’s own color scheme and theme.  The Industrial Revolution is still having an impact, and we see many things like big windows, skylights, cast iron gates, fireplace grates, and much more.

Furniture and Decorative Arts: Eclecticism is key.  Furniture is graceful, movable, and light in scale.  Hepplewhite and Sheraton forms continue from before.  Influence comes from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Turkey, and India.  Influential styles include Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, and of course classical elements.  Towards the end of this era, furniture started becoming slightly heavier, and larger in scale, with more eclecticism and embellishment.



Architecture and Interior Design Volume II

Chapter 5: American Greek Revival, American Empire: 1820-1860

Concept:  America wholeheartedly embraces Greek Revival for numerous structures ranging from banks to courthouses, cottages to mansions.  Architectural details derived from Greece, Rome, and Egypt.  American Empire furniture is characterized by classically derived ornamentation and is heavier in proportion, as well as more archeologically correct than was Federal, the previous style.  After the American Revolution, leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, see classical antiquity as the source of ideal beauty and regard it’s citizens as models of civic virtue and morality.

Design Characteristics:  Although influenced by Europe, Americans adapt English Greek Revival and French Empire to their needs, tastes, and situations.  They create unique classical expressions that is ofter symmetrical, horizontal, but doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of classicism or reflect classical proportions.  Greek Revival have bolder architecture, and have plainer simplier interiors than Europe.  Americans are less likely to imitate Etruscan or Pompeian modes than are the English or French, and Americans do not have an emperor to glorify, like France.  American Empire furniture tends to be more simplified.  Motifs include egg and dart, bead, dentil moldings, triglyphs and metopes, honeysuckles, and acanthus leaves.

  Egg and Dart Molding

Dentil Molding

Honeysuckle Motif

Architecture:  American Greek Revival architecture relies on forms and elements derived from a dew classical models adapted to contemporary requirements and ornament taken chiefly from Greece, but also from Rome.  Greek Revival became the most popular architectural icon for high-style government, commercial, and institutional buildings designed by architects and builders.

Merchant’s Exchange; Philadelphia, PA- William Strickland

Ohio State Capitol- Thomas Cole

Tennessee State Capitol- William Strickland

Interiors:  Greek Revival interiors do not replicate those of the past because few examples survive.  Public interiors have large and bold classic details rather then purely classical forms and treatments.  Important rooms are treated with columns, pilasters, moldings, and coffered ceilings.  Spaces are generally rectangular.  Most colors are neutral whites, greys, and browns.

Furniture and Decorative Arts:  American Empire is heavier, plainer, and more sculptural than the earlier Federal.  Carving, gilding, and more classically inspired forms, such as the klismos, define the current image.  The style antique, as its called, borrows heavily from, but does not copy, French Empire and English Regency.  Technologically and Industrialization influence the styles.  Rare exotic woods can be used for furniture because veneer cuts are now extremely thin.  Furniture is available for sale at auctions, merchants, upholsters, and large retail establishments.


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