The reigns of Queen Anne and the early Georges saw a reversion of the treatment of panelling. The projecting panel gave place to a sunken one with the simplest of mouldings, and in many instances the material employed was plaster instead of wood.
Even this treatment was further simplified; crowned with a good cornice and relieved by the dado, the doors and the chimneypiece, the walls were left unrelieved, and either painted or covered with some of the dainty figured silk now imported from France.
Where they had supplanted the Genoese and Venetian velvets hardly adaptable to the lighter mode of furniture now in vogue. Silk damask, likewise, soon became popular and harmonised well with the gilded woodwork and other objects. It was usually applied in flat panels and surrounded by a carved and gilt wooden frame.
France also supplied a kind of wall paper for the less important apartments, which imitated these damasks and the earlier Utrecht velvets. The custom of covering the walls with paper goes back as far as the 16th century.
Guild of Paperhangers
At any rate in 1599 the Guild of Paperhangers received their charter from Henri IV. in Paris, and it is, therefore, to be assumed that the practice had existed for some time before this.
Chinese Painted and Printed Paper
In the 17th century real Chinese painted and printed paper was used for the purpose. This was followed by a kind made in Germany at Frankfort and Worms.
But the Chinese, or Indian, as it was often called, owing to the fact that it was imported into England by the East Indian Company, always remained the most highly appreciated.
The mural decorations of Cipriani and Pergolesi bear ample testimony to the popularity it enjoyed.
Wren, Kent and Gibbs
Wren died in 1723; Kent, who was responsible for some good interiors of this time, died in 1748; and Gibbs, who is best represented by the Old Admiralty Offices, died in 1754.
Chippendale published his first work on furniture in the same year, and his personality was perhaps greater than that of any of his contemporaries.
Society Following Fashion
In all countries society follows the fashion set by the reigning sovereign. Let us, nevertheless, not forget that to a great extent he himself is but a child of his time, and that “Ars longa, vita brevis.”
With regard to the ceilings, here the plasterer’s art blossomed out into wonderful results, and never have finer effects been attained.
Simple Geometrical Ribs
Beginning with simple geometrical ribs, they were gradually elaborated into an amazing richness, which character they retained until the end of the 17th century.
Their variety was wonderful, and it is surprising how seldom a repetition of a design is to be found.
Designs of slight projection were used in the lower rooms, and more elaborate ones of heavier section in the lofty ones.
Artist in the Artisan
The work in these old ceilings shows the artist in the artisan, and if they were somewhat irregular, the effect is much softer and far more pleasing than the mechanical accuracy which is given to them at the present day.
The variety of the ornament again is extraordinary. Whether geometrical, floral or heraldic, it was treated with equal artistic power.
And if the heraldry introduced apparently served to gratify the family pride, it is nevertheless the happiest form of decoration conceivable.
Elizabethan and Jacobean Treatment
While the Elizabethan and Jacobean treatment concealed all construction, the Georgian age not only revealed the same but used it as a basis for the pan.
The Georgian age not only revealed the same but used it as a basis for the decoration of their ceilings. The ornament, instead of being spread over the whole surface equally, was concentrated round the panels.
And like the wood carving the plaster work was given much greater relief. The effect thus obtained led to a desire for more variety than that given by the square structural lines and caused the introduction of circular and oval panels.
The 18th century reverted to the old idea of treating the ceiling as one large flat surface with low relief ornament.
Abraham Swan Ceilings
Abraham Swan ceilings are of the discursive and rococo type, while the brothers Adam introduced a more geometrical design replete with delicacy and refinement.
Still another type which came into vogue must not be overlooked, namely the painted ones associated with the names of Verrio, Laguerre, and afterwards Thornhill and Angelica Kauffmann.
Verrio and Laguerre
Verrio was brought over by Charles II., and died in 1707. Laguerre, who was his pupil, continued in the same direction and lived until 1721.
Thornhill, whose best work perhaps are the ceilings in Greenwich Hospital, died in 1733.
The favorite subject in this class of work was allegory of the heroic type, but this phase of decoration is only to be found in public buildings and great houses.
At a later period the painting associated with Angelica Kauffmann’s name.