Brass Metalwork

A Lustrous Legacy: Brass in the 18th and 19th Century Decorative Arts of England

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, brass was a prominent material in the decorative arts of England, bringing a golden glow to homes and public spaces. Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, was appreciated for its workability, durability, and its appealing, warm lustre.

The incorporation of brass in English decorative arts in the 18th century was significantly influenced by the prevailing tastes of the period. The style of the Georgian era was characterised by a mixture of ornamental elegance and refined simplicity. Brass was extensively used in various forms, from candlesticks and clocks to furniture fittings and fireplace accessories. The versatility of brass allowed it to be moulded into intricate designs and motifs, echoing the classical influences prevalent during the Georgian period.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, the production of brass items increased, making them more accessible. The Birmingham area became a centre for the brass industry, producing a vast array of decorative and functional items. Notably, Matthew Boulton, one of the leading industrialists of the era, pioneered the production of ormolu – a type of gilded brass that emulated the look of gold.

As the 19th century unfolded, the Victorian era ushered in an eclectic range of styles, borrowing from various historical periods. Brass continued to play a key role in the decorative arts, especially in the latter half of the century when the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements championed the beauty of handcrafted metalwork. Brass was used in creating a variety of household objects, including ornate picture frames, bedsteads, door handles, and decorative trims on furniture.

Towards the end of the 19th century, advancements in technology made it possible to mass-produce brass items. Despite this shift towards industrial production, there remained a keen interest in artisanal craftsmanship. This dual influence can be seen in the many decorative brass items from this period that combine machine-made components with hand-finished details.

In essence, the use of brass in the decorative arts of 18th and 19th century England reflects the evolving tastes and technological advancements of the time. These items, whether made for everyday use or purely decorative purposes, tell a story of a society in transformation, and of an enduring appreciation for the charm and utility of brass. Even today, antique brass pieces from this era continue to satisfy collectors and design enthusiasts alike with their golden glow and historical intrigue.


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