Make your own free website on

Neoclassical Styles in France, England and America

Vocabulary for these chapters
Vocabulary (Word Document) http ;//

France   1760/70-1815
 England    1760-1820
America (aka Federal Styles)   1780/85-1830/40
Louis XVI     1774-1789 Adam 1760-1793  
Directoire    1789-1804
                      (includes Consulate 1789-92)
 Hepplewhite 1780-1795  Hepplewhite 1785-1800
   Sheraton 1790-1803/05  Sheraton 1795-1805/15
Empire 1804-1815  Regency 1795-1820(historically 1811-1820)  American Directoire 1805-1815
     American Empire 1810/15-1830/40

Influence behind the styles
Louis XVI: Pompeii & Herculaneum
Directoire: Closer imitation to antique forms
Empire: Abstraction of antique by Percier and Fontaine for Napoleon
Adam: Pompeii & Herculaneum, L16
Hepplewhite & Sheraton: Popular style of Adam made affordable by Hepplewhite and Sheraton books, L16, Dir, Empire, some left over L15 elements, (cabriole leg)
Regency (including Later Sheraton): Roman and Greek forms plus Chinese, Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish
Hepplewhite & Sheraton: Adam, (Pompeii and Herculaneum) Direct influence from French and English design books
American Directoire (also known as Late Sheraton): Greek influence
American Empire: Influx of French craftsmen (French Empire style)

Characteristics of the styles

Louis XVI: Quiver legs, tope legs, die, classical moldings, rectangular forms, curves of a draftsman, symmetry, entraclacs, classical architectural elements on furniture. Cut-outs at the corners of panels, lyre shapes

Directoire: Transitional style combining L16 and Empire. More exact imitation of classical antique forms. Klismos chair and saber legs popular. Case goods reflect a less costly version of the L16 style due to the state of the nation just after the revolution. Revolutionary symbols popular.

Empire: Heavy Roman influence abstracted by Pericer and Fontaine to form a style personifying the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte. Lots of lions and heroic symbols. Very rectangular forms. Rich use of fabrics. Sharp edges on case pieces and most chairs. Strict symmetry. Orbs used on arms of chairs. Arms directly over the legs. Note Napoleon’s motif of the wreath enclosing a bee. Columns with metal base and capitals. Broad, flat, uninterrupted mahogany surfaces enlivened with appliqués of classical motifs such as figural subjects, wreaths and urns as well as stars, arrows, bees. Later, Egyptian motifs such as the sphinx became popular due to Napoleon’s Egyptian war campaign.

Architects Percier and Fontaine important designers of the style as well as Jacque Louis David, painter and designer of furniture in the antique style.

Note: plinth bases, tetrapod bases, uses of columns with metal capitals and bases, lion monopodiums.


Adam: Delicate, classical ornament, especially arabesques and grotesques. Rich use of color on floor, wall and ceiling surfaces. Furniture designs were Anglicized L16 style. Invented the sideboard table for dining rooms, used with flanking pedestals.

Hepplewhite: The Guide 1788-94 showed influence of: Adam, L16, L15, and innovative tapered leg designs

Chair styles: camel, hoop, shield, oval, pear/cartouche, heart, rectilinear, ladder. Note banister backs, Prince of Wales plumes, use of tambour on desks, new designs for sideboards. Characteristic but not exclusively Hepplewhite: tapered legs, shield back chairs, rectangular glazing bars.

Sheraton: The Drawing Book 1791-95 Designs similar to Hepplewhite.

Distinctive chair backs: rectilinear, ornament in center of back. Note: top rail designs, placement of arms over legs, arms start high on back, lower back height than Hepplewhite, arms disengaged on settees and upholstered chairs, legs break through apron and form underside of top. Used ovals to draw eye upward in tall case pieces, also used curved ends to return large case pieces to wall, painted furniture with designs influenced by Angelica Kauffman. Early Sheraton chair designs are vertical, latter more horizontal. Cylindrical tapering legs more characteristic of Sheraton than Hepplewhite.

Innovations: quartetto tables, Carlton House desk, mechanical furniture.

Both Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles noted for the use of Satinwood with contrasting panels, boarders, stringing lines and inlays of darker woods such as harewood, rosewood and mahogany. Elegant and creative veneering is the main source of ornament on case pieces, marquetry was revived and painted furniture was also popular.

English Regency: Movement away from absolute Neoclassicism toward Romanticism, (romantic view of past styles), and the cult of the Picturesque (importance placed on the manipulation of the natural landscape to form picturesque views and vistas).

Eclectic mix of L16, Directoire, Empire, antique interpretations/inspirations, Gothic, Chinese, some Moorish, occasionally seasoned with a few English innovations such as dolphins with sharp teeth reflecting their supremacy at sea. Prominent use of darker woods such as rosewood, ebony and mahogany with satinwood stringing lines. Later in this style brass stringing lines were inlaid. Some carving in low relief used on caseloads although inlaid or applied metal ornament in the French taste was also quite popular. Painted furniture is limited to lacquering or stenciling. Marquetry is rare. Case goods become heavy and seat furniture ranges from simplified antique interpretations to exotic combinations of styles.

Innovations: rent tables, drum tables, revolving book stands. Note: tetrapod and plinth bases

Henry Holland: L16, classical style.

Thomas Hope: 1807 Hints of Household Taste and Interior Decoration. English version of French Directoire and Empire due to Hope’s personal friendship with Pericer and Fontaine. Romantic approach to Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Turkish, Chinese styles for the home. (The Martha Stewart of the 1800’s)

George Smith: 1808 A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Decoration.

Furniture and decoration guided by more believable antique specimens of Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Did some Gothic and Chinese designs. (Designs show more restraint than those of Thomas Hope.)

Thomas Sheraton: 1803 Dictionary (Directoire style) 1805 Encyclopedia (Empire style) A man just trying to keep his publication up to date by creating designs in the popular taste. Unfortunately, the designs were increasing dependent upon ornamentation and sacrificed proportion and scale.

Both books show a growing tendency away from the light, delicate style of his early designs in the Drawing Book. Change in chairs: horizontal designs on backs, note lattice designs, some with ovals and canning. Rolled over backs, some with small painted plaques in center of backs, turned saber legs. Designs become heavier and overtly dependent on "antique" ornament.

William Chamber: Architect of Sommerset House (compare to Bulfinch’s MA. State house)

Sir John Soane: Architect who believed beauty should depend on good proportions, not ornament. (Opposed to style of Robert Adam). Architect for Bank of England. Designed in a style of Greek Romanticism emphasizing austerity. Innovative interiors of his home, now a museum.

John Nash: Architect, worked for Regent (George IV) Brighton Pavilion, Regents Park

James Wyatt: English architect who inspired Charles Bulfinch.


American Federal:

Hepplewhite (1780-1800) and Sheraton (1795-1820) America’s version of these English styles with vernacular motifs of cornucopia, bundles of wheat, eagle combined with classical Greek and Roman ornament such as paterae, (oval with radiating petals), festoons, urns and classical figural subjects. Notable people of this period: Samuel McIntire of Salem, house builder and carver of furniture. Innovations: Lolling/Martha Washington chair, ladies work tables with silk bags,

American Directoire 1805-15: Sometimes known as Late Sheraton, (think of Sheraton’s Dictionary and his designs in the Directoire style). Imitation of classical forms such as the klismos, klines with out scrolled arms, tripod tables and tetrapod bases. Duncan Phyfe is best known for his work in this and the earlier and later Sheraton style. Look for beautifully grained mahogany (verses lighter woods), water leaf motifs, fine reeding on legs, bowknots, sways with tassels and cornucopia.

American Empire 1810/15-1830: Heavier Greek and Roman forms. Look for round wood columns, eagle supports for tables, plinth bases, shaggy lion paw feet, splayed tetrapod bases, stencil work, brass stringing lines, and case goods with large mahogany surfaces (usually stained a dark red). Lyre and eagle back chairs. Innovations: Fancy Chairs, Hitchcock Chairs, Girandole mirrors (round, convex with orbs around frame)

American Federal Architecture 1785-1820

Articulated, attenuated, symmetrical facade with only shallow projection (cornice, frames of fenestration) Narrow entablature, reduced size of moldings

Flat, 2-dementional appearance devoid of most ornament.

Rectangular chimneys set near end walls

Balustrade at roof line giving appearance of flat roof

Windows decrease in size on upper floors

Elongated windows with sills almost to floor

Some windows set within a recessed arch

Palladian motifs/windows

Cut stone lintels with refined detailing, splayed end and projecting keystones

Some windows capped by an entablature

Elliptical fanlight transom and delicate sidelights

Exterior wall surfaces plain (no quoins or pilasters)

String or belt course

Sometimes ornamental plaques set into facade (swags, urns)

Orders more attenuated (thinner)

Brick, clapboard or smooth fitted MATCHBOARD (horizontal boards made to look like stone)

Innovations: Closets, Butlers Pantries, Service Stairs, Indoor Privies, Skylights

Interiors were symmetrical with central stairs

Room shapes were varied (elliptical, oval, octagonal, etc.

Curved or bowed projections and octagonal bays popular

MVP Architects:
Thomas Jefferson: Monticello, Virginia State House, University of Virginia

Charles Bullfinch prominent gentleman architect in Boston and part of the Mount Vernon Partnership, transformed Beacon Hill into an exclusive enclave just after his Massachusetts State House was completed in 1795. Influenced by Adam, Soane and Wyatt.

Characteristic: wide spacing of columns, attenuated columns, columnar porches often semi-circular, Doric or Corinthian facades, often with 2 pairs of coupled pilasters raising 2 stories to support the pediment.

Other notable Bullfinch buildings: Three total houses for Harrison Gray -Otis, (Cambridge St., Mt. Vernon Street, Beacon St.), Faneuil Hall renovation (1805), Mass General Hospital (1818), various buildings at Harvard (Stoughton Hall, University Hall), Connecticut State House, Maine State House, various churches and civic buildings in Massachusetts. Capital building in Washington, D.C. (1818-1832)

Greek Revival Style 1820-1860

Background of the style: land opens up beyond America’s original boundaries, needed by people immigrating to US (1789-1829= 300,000 immigrants, 1845-1855= 3 million immigrants). Improved transportation: 1812 Steamboat on Mississippi, 1825 Erie Canal. New South begins to develop due to cotton crop and existence of slavery.

New cities built in the Greek Revival Style which was both rational and romantic in its reflection of America’s ideals and promise.


Greek temple front usually with gabled end toward street (columns or pilasters)

Low roof pitch, no dormers

Eve line raised about two feet above attic floor

Hopper windows designed to fit into frieze just below cornice for light and ventilation

Recessed entry with wide front doors

Rectangular transoms and sidelights

Clapboard usually painted white (symbol of purity)

Benjamin Henry Latrobe is credited with introducing the style to USA in his Bank of Philadelphia, (1798) 
Other architects on this style: 
William Strickland
Ithiel Town
Alexander Jackson Davis

Style promoted and popularized by builder’s books:

  • John Havilan,The Builder’s Assistant, (1818, revised 1821)
  • Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion, (1827)
  • Minard Lafever, The Modern Builder’s Guide, and The Beauties of Modern Architecture, (both in the 1830’s)
Syllabus Victorian  Art Nouveau Modern Contact Marg