The Regency period is a name assigned to a time of artistic, architectural and design styles which span much more than the mere nine years of the Regency itself. When King George III was deemed unfit to rule in 1810, the Regency Act was passed making his son George the Prince Regent (pictured above) able to rule instead. The Regency itself ended when George III died in 1820 and the Prince Regent in turn became king. The stylistic period is thought to have begun in the latter years of George III’s reign however, as many of the artistic and design styles that are symbolic of the period had already begun before George IV had become Prince Regent and extended into the reign of William IV, who ascended the throne after George IV’s death in 1830.
The Prince Regent was an avid patron of the arts and led the artistic, architectural and stylistic fashions of the period. He spent a great deal of money on lavish building projects and commissions of art, clothing and decorative wares. Although it was a time of great excess for the aristocracy there was also an element of social uncertainty. The Napoleonic wars had begun and there were fears that Britain might face their own upheaval akin to the French Revolution which would destabilise the monarchy. The Napoleonic wars meant great political and economic upheaval, but despite this the period remained one of the greatest times of social refinement and cultural development.
The stylistic effect of the Regency period was to see a move toward traditional classicism in its purest form. There was less emphasis on excessive detailing, and a great deal of inspiration was derived from Ancient Egypt and Greece, the contemporary countries which were being frequented by the British due to the reach of the Napoleonic Wars.
Many of the ornamentations of Regency design focused on beautifying flat surfaces to create contrast, rather than using complicated carving or excessive contouring. Many elements of decoration were taken from nature, and from the art styles of France in the mid 1800’s, all of which combined to give the Regency period a sense of quality. Interior decoration focused on elegance and simplicity in shape, with fireplaces being the focal point of a room. The size of the mantelpiece would have been dependent on the size of the room – a room where guests were received would have had a more ornate and larger fire surround, whereas a small parlour would have had mantels which were a more stylistically simple.
One man who made a major impact on the styles of the Regency period was Thomas Hope. Both a designer and patron, Hope firmly believed that an interior should have harmony. He was born in Holland in 1769, but after the French invaded in 1795 he fled to England where he and his family took up residence in London. He was well travelled and an avid collector of the arts. He eventually began writing and researching about his collections and his work soon became a resource for designers from that time forward. Interestingly, he became the first person to coin the phrase “interior decorator.”
One good example of an antique fireplace in the manner of Thomas Hope can be seen below – http://www.thornhillgalleries.co.uk/item/stock-number-3786/ This antique mantel is made from Statuary white marble, with carved side blockings depicting scrolling, leaves, shells and flowers. View our full range of regency and Neo-classical fireplaces