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Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
The Empire and Regency Styles
Two distinctive movements, now known as the Empire Style and the Regency Style, were born out of the formal Neoclassicism that dominated late eighteenth century European building and decoration. These styles were stimulated in large part by the bitter rivalry of France and England and their rulers. Napoleon I (1769-1821), self-styled Emperor of the French, chose to extend France’s imperial grandeur through force of arms. Upon assuming the throne in 1804, he immediately launched an ambitious art and design program that lasted until his reign ended in 1815. Across the English Channel, the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (1762-1830), sought ways to celebrate England’s heritage through his active patronage of the arts.
Social conditions in this time period, often known as the Napoleonic era, created the two new decorative styles. New archaeological findings in Greece, Rome, Pompeii and Egypt inspired a wave of key pattern books. Furniture and art from antiquity enlivened the new styles. A shared taste for Egyptomania and the symbolic application of ornament simultaneously animated contemporary furnishings in France and England. Since the Napoleonic era was a time of continuous military conflict, martial designs crept into fashionable decoration, bringing camp furniture, pennant-style draperies, and tented beds into vogue.
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Compiled by Paula A. Baxter, Art & Architecture Collection, 9/04