Whilst looking through my archives this week I was struck by the variety and quality of mirrors I have handled over the years and I thought it could make the basis for an article showing some of the prevalent styles from about 1685 to 1830. The Oyster veneered cushion example shown above dates from the end of the 17th. century and has all the hallmarks of the William and Mary Period. This could well have been hung over a similarly inlaid chest of drawers or lowboy. As we expect at that time all the mouldings are cross-grain and where there has been a little shrinkage, minute gaps have opened giving an almost bamboo-like feel you run a finger along their length.
The process of applying a silver and tin amalgam to glass to form a reflective surface didn’t come into use much in Europe until the 16th. Century. Naturally the purpose of a mirror is at least twofold – to view one’s appearance but also to increase the amount of light in a room. Where better to place a mirror than above the fireplace where the viewer could benefit from increased light and heat as well.
This early 18th. Century mirror with its landscape format would almost certainly have been used in this way. Whilst still retaining the cross-grain mouldings we see here the introduction of a carved gilt border which hints at the increasingly decorative aspects of mirrors.
Progressing from the Queen Anne period through the reigns of George I and George II we can clearly see how these items increasingly reflected firstly the architecture of the homes they hung in and then the fashions of the periods. Until the middle of the 18th. century the Palladian style as proposed by William Kent and Lord Burlington was very much in vogue.
This impressive Walnut and Gilt Mirror with its scrolling pediment, central cartouche and rich gilding hints at the Rococo which became so much a part of fashionable furniture from the middle of the century. We all know of Thomas Chippendale and his “Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director” but he was not the only master of the style which quickly caught on. Ince and Mayhew, Vile and Cobb as well as the Linells were also producing furniture and furnishings with all the icons seen in the Director.
There is something extremely opulent about a carved gilt mirror – it just demands attention and having one like this hung over the fireplace would have been a focal point of the whole room. You just cannot ignore it. But also from the middle years of the century and as we move into the reign of George III we can see some of the Chinese Chippendale inspiration in the pretty pair of Girandoles. The “C” and “S” scrolls are still everywhere and we now also have carved icicles hanging from them and candle holders to fulfil the aim of providing more light.
Moving on I was particularly taken with the incredible fretwork of this oval mirror which my Father sold to a couple way back in the 1950s. When I showed this George III period mirror at a fair, a Scottish dealer friend told me that this was a typically Scottish Mirror and he had handled several very similar examples. It makes me wonder whether there was a particular fretwork cutter working in Edinburgh whose speciality was cutting these very intricate pieces of open fretwork for cabinetmakers to fit onto otherwise fairly simple frames? There is also something very neo-classical about the foliage and the trailing bands of husks.
As we progress into the 19th. Century so styles changed again and I am sure most will instantly recognize the Regency Convex Gilt Mirror with the eagle sitting on top of a rocky outcrop became so popular during this time. The circular frame often has a border of gilt balls. There is the story that these mirrors were made to be hung over a sideboard in the Dining Room so that the butler from within an adjacent room and through an open door could see all the diners at once by virtue of the convex glass reflecting the entire room. He would then know the appropriate moment to make his presence known.
Once in a while, we come across an unusual variation on a theme and I was so pleased to own an example recently where the usual eagle had been shunned in favour of a hippocampus, half horse and half fish. The first time I saw this mirror It didn’t register with me until I had gone a couple of paces beyond it and then span round because I knew I had missed something important.
So now we have looked at a variety of different shapes, styles, sizes and periods so I thought to finish on a very traditional Regency note with a three-panel overmantel mirror which just looks so Regency and great quality. Here you can clearly see the bevelled edges to the mirror plates which would have been a further cost for the customer.
David Harvey is a well known Antiques Dealer who owns WR Harvey & Co (Antiques) Ltd, in the bustling Cotswold market town of Witney, Oxfordshire. He has a life long passion for fine antique furniture and works of Art. You may very well see him at prominent Antiques Fairs up and down the UK but you will always be more than welcome to call in and see him at the shop. His other passions include rowing and down-hill skiing.