Modern History Monday – A Classical Classic

Portrait de madame de Verninac by David Louvre RF1942 16 n2

Madame de Verninac by David – 1799, Louvre


I collected so many pictures of Greek Revival buildings, furniture, and design elements that were intended to show the Greek Revival style and its classical roots that it was just TOO MUCH to try and work into one blog post!  (I struggle with editing in writing, NOT in design!)

The painting above was the perfect illustration of the classical obsession, representing the Empire and Regency style in Europe and Federal and Greek Revival style in America (roughly dated from 1790-1830) There are classical decorations on her shawl, her chair and even the floor.  Not to mention her hairstyle, “a’la Greque” and her Grecian gown!

Paintings that show furniture, interior decoration and especially textiles and fabrics are so inspiring, there is so much that can inform a design!  I love classical elements and I was like a kid in a candy store collecting all the classical inspired items that I was seeing.  I was especially focusing on Madame’s “chair” – and decided to delve into that particular element of classical design.

The Klismos Chair

The Klismos chair is a chair that is depicted in Greek and Roman reliefs as early as 400 BCE and the word appears in Homer – meaning “arm chair”  It was “revived” in the mid 1700’s and has been recreated ever since.

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Stele (Tombstone) of Xanthippos – Athens, Greece

Its distinctive shape, with the curved legs and back, is extremely graceful and versatile.  It can be highly ornamented, or plain and simple…but it is always considered “elegant”.  The chair was the perfect accompaniment to the “New” style of buildings and interior decoration in the “Classical” style.

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Side Chair -1808

Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, Philadelphia, decorated by George Bridport

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Various examples of American Greek Revival Furniture, showing illustration from a pattern book of the period.

Thomas Hope Armchair 1804 Elements of Design Peter Crawford

Arm Chair – 1804 Thomas Hope, London


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Set Decoration for “Persuasion” 1995 – accurately showing the pinnacle of Regency style, both furniture and arrangement, in Bath, England 1816

Jacques Louis David Madame Recamier

Madame Recamier by David 1800, Louvre

This painting is so iconic of the Empire style that Madame gave her name to this piece of furniture, but basically it is a klismos stretched into a daybed.

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 Scotland 18th c. house with Empire interior design, Architect: James Playfair, completed by Sir john Soane

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 Empress Josephine’s Apartment at Malmaison 1804

From the very high style of the wealthy, it began to be interpreted for more modest homes, with painted or stenciled decoration instead of carvings, and more modest materials.  It was lightweight and easily moved in the room to suit different arrangements.

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American primitive showing domestic interior c. 1830

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Painted Empire Chairs, Connecticut, 1825

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Set Decoration from 1996 BBC version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” – showing Regency period bench, accurate for 1815 time period of the story.

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Regency Armchair – Kindel reproduction c 1970 after George Smith

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The McCormack Family 1805 , painted by Joshua Johnson, a mixed race Baltimore painter.

The painted “Connecticut” chair was the first mass-produced chair in America.  Often referred to as a “Hitchcock” chair for one of its more famous producers, this style of chair was actually produced by a number of Connecticut manufacturers and is directly related to the classical chair.

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Set of Connecticut painted chairs – c. 1825


Hitchcock Chair, Hitchcocksville, CT 1820’s


Set of Hitchcock chairs

 Set of early Hitchcock chairs

Biedermeier:  In Germany, Austria, and parts of Scandinavia, the style evolved from the more formal Empire style into a simpler, more utilitarian version.  It reflected the philosophy of a more urban, prosperous middle class and used locally available materials and less ornamentation.  The style is generally dated from 1815 and the end of the Napoleonic Wars to 1848 and the beginning of the European revolutions.

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 Biedermeier chair, Hungary 1840

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 Set of Biedermeier chairs, Vienna 1820

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 Biedermeier interior in Berlin: c. 1825, by Leopold Zielcke (1791–1861)

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Biedermeier room in the museum of Chrzanów, Poland 


 Pair of Biedermeier chairs, Finland 1820

The versatility, simplicity and elegance of this chair has inspired many versions used today, from the traditional to the modern.  This style of chair looks at home in any style design.  Designers such as Alexa Hampton, Tobi Fairley and Miles Redd, to name a few, are using them in new and interesting ways….always informed by the classic nature of this design.  Alexa Hampton has designed her own versions of this style chair for Hickory Chair Furniture Company so it can be used in a variety of ways.

 blue klismos chair

 Jeffery Bilhuber design

classic furniture arrangement by aklexa hampton

 Alexa Hampton

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Alexa Hampton for Hickory Chair

klismos chair dining Huniford

Huniford Design

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 Alexa Hampton for Hickory Chair

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Tobi Fairley

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 Swedish Art Deco Chair – 1920, Carl Bergsten

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Councill Craftsman

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 Satin Birch Swedish Chairs, 1830

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 Alexa Hampton – Pierre Hotel

 New Klismos Chair

 Scala Luxury

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Image from Greek Vase – Boston Museum of Fine Arts


  I LOVE this little domestic scene  – 1813, Self portrait with the artist’s family – Adam Buck, Irish portraitist and miniaturist, Yale Center for British Art

This timeless, classic style of chair is the epitome of Classical design!  Comfortable, versatile and always fresh, how would you incorporate it into your home?  Let me count the ways!



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