Collection Online

Adam-Style Armchair, ca. 1770-1775

Artist: Unknown Maker, English

Medium: Giltwood (probably beech)

38 1/2 x 24 x 20 3/4 in. (97.8 x 61 x 52.7 cm)

Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase; funds provided through exchange by Maud Mason

Object Number: 83.14

Not on view

Robert Adam, the Scottish architect-designer, returned in 1758 from three years in Italy greatly influenced by the classical art of ancient Rome and the Renaissance. He established a practice in London and became the most important advocate of the Neoclassical style in Britain. Best known for his work on the interiors of the houses of great aristocratic clients, Adam designed not only the decoration of the ceilings and walls, but also the carpets, furniture, and silver. As a result of his work and that of contemporaries such as the cabinetmakers John Linnell and Matthias Lock, Neoclassicism supplanted the Rococo in English furniture design and decoration, and remained dominant until the end of the 18th century. There was a new emphasis on symmetry, restraint, a controlled blending of straight and curved lines, and decorative motifs drawn from antiquity.


In 1777, Adam designed a set of armchairs for the state bedchamber of Osterley Park, near London, one of his most important commissions. These are described in the inventory of 1782 as “richly Carved and gilt in burnish Gold covered with green Velvet flannel. . . .”1 This giltwood armchair is a somewhat simplified version of his design for that set. Its relatively small size, oval concave back, molded frame, and straight tapering legs are dramatic departures from the playful, asymmetrical, curvilinear Rococo tradition, while the gracefully sloping arm supports, serpentine seat rails, and spiral turning of the legs reveal its persistence. Neoclassical emphasis on balance and grace and the Greco-Roman influence are especially evident in the carved decoration—paterae, tied bows, acanthus, and bellflowers. The gilded surface, often found on early Neoclassical English chairs, enhances the elegance and lightness of this piece, and provides a striking contrast with the somber walnut and mahogany surfaces previously popular.