Although the Victorian era (1837 to 1901) was defined by the reign of Queen Victoria in the United Kingdom, changes in material culture and styles were the result of the rise of a prosperous middle class in both Europe and the United States. Romanticism characterised the era and was reflected in changes in furniture styles. An eclectic mix of revival styles (i.e., Gothic, Rococo and Renaissance) found their way during the Victorian era, and furniture styles also changed with the mechanisation of production.
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Early Victorian furniture did not differ greatly from that of the early decades of the 1800s. Pieces became heavier and carried more ornamentation. They catered more to the whims of the increasing middle class than to the wealthy, who changed preferences more conservatively. Experimentation with different types of wood such as rosewood and mahogany likewise increased. Mass production lessened the quality of much of the furniture of the period, and veneer became widely used.
Gothic Revival (ca 1830 to 1860)
During the early Victorian era, a revival of medieval themes became prominent in architecture, which filtered down into furniture design. Gothic Revival was the earliest of the Victorian revival movements. Arch designs on pieces characterised a Gothic form, and elements such as rosettes and finials were prominent. Spool-turned legs and spindles were widely used. Americans used this style of furniture to complement their Gothic Revival homes, since Gothic became a popular Early Victorian architectural style as well.
Rococo Revival (ca 1840+)
Through the second half of the nineteenth century, Rococo Revival became the most popular furniture in America, according to Your Antique Furniture Guide. Rococo was a revival of high-style, French-influenced furniture inspired by the courts of Louis XIV and XV. Curvilinear forms and fanciful designs, particularly floral motifs, are reflective of Rococo revival. The cabriole leg and the use of S- and C-scrolls also characterise Rococo furniture.
Renaissance Revival (ca 1860 to 1890)
Like Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival furniture was meant to complement Renaissance Revival architecture. The furniture is noted for its massive form, squarish appearance and baluster legs. Metal and ceramic elements were added to furniture pieces, and ebonizing began to appear. Renaissance Revival was essentially an amalgamation of elements of the other revival styles and is reflective of the era of mechanised production, as opposed to the handmade furniture of earlier eras. The furniture was marketed as an alternative to Rococo.
The Late Victorian era (ca 1880 to 1900) was characterised by the Eastlake and Aesthetic Movements. Eastlake furniture moved away from the romanticised designs of the revival forms. Although it had a somewhat Gothic form, inspired by Charles Lock Eastlake (1836 to 1906), Eastlake furniture was simplified and contained much less ornamentation compared to its Gothic counterparts. Much of the furniture was characterised by straight lines and less upholstery. Japanese ebonized furniture became more prominent.
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