Decorative painting is the work of artists who adorn objects rather than surfaces. It reflects profound beliefs and feelings and also incorporates lettering and symbols. Many attempts have been made to explain the origin of decorative painting; the urge of decorative painting is even seen in cave painting. The great influence has been the early Christian or church art, frescoes that were first found in roman catacombs. Decorating walls with Bible stories were of great importance to the multitudes, which could not read. In Europe during the middle Ages painters joined to form guilds and every guild had their own standards and reflected their beliefs. Individual expression was largely limited until late 1600’s and early 1700’s that is when decorative painting could be enjoyed by the common folk. We start seeing the art of people in very primitive ways and more artists gained experience and expand their design awareness they created many fine examples of creative art. During this period every folk artist created their own style and thought others to paint. Towards the middle of 1800’s with industrialization and commercialism , people started buying more commercially produced art, as decorative painting became very heavy and precise for modern homes. But luckily, painted decoration did not disappear completely it began to revive during 1940’s and 1950’s and the new artists began to paint …

Every country has its tradition of painted work but some counties are highly developed than others. Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, has a rich history of painted interiors and furniture. (18th century)as well as other parts of Europe (Germany, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland and Austria and Holland). In England and France, the country tradition was less strong but it is from here that some of the finest works in the classical tradition emerged.. Chinoiserie lacquer work, gilding, hand painting and faux finishes on walls and furniture all carried out in grand country houses and châteaux. Influential designers such as Chippendale and Robert Adam used a great deal of painted decoration. Italy has the longest tradition of painted works and the oldest painted furniture, which is a marriage chest. From 14th century. Many styles are found in Italy form country painting to trompe l’oeil. Because Venice was an important trading port with the East, this combined with already highly developed craftsmanship led to imaginative ideas such as using paper cut-outs to classical motifs and gilding. On the other side of the Atlantic, settlers who had come from all over Northern Europe were bringing traditions, pattern books and in some cases the actual wooden cupboards and chests. Settlers from Germany decorated most of the early American works. We use Pennsylvania Dutch (deutsch) to describe this particular work. As the years went by the work gradually changed, incorporating new motifs and materials, to become distinctively American.


EARLY FURNITURE; (14th and 15th century)

The earliest evidences of sophisticated furniture making came from Egypt (using stone) then Greece elaborated Egyptian style giving character by decorating, inlaying and using range of woods and tools such as bronze and silver. When Greece came under Roman rule, the conquerors adopted more elements of Greek design then they had before. Eventually the styles become Greco –Roman with marble columns, stucco ceilings mosaic floors and frescoes decoration.


Early 15th century artistic and cultural revolution started in the northern Italy which leads to a profound study of contemporary Man’s place among the artists and thinkers. There was a passion for realism, anatomy and perspective which allowed artist’s sculptors and architects to master the 3 dim. Later this style was replaced by Mannerism; deliberate contradiction of classical rules. From the 1520’s, on the searching for alternative to open the doors to Gothic spirit, a new Italian achievement started in Florence. The master of this spirit was architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti. For him the beauty was a whole he united new architectural features with already existing Roman and Greek style. He opened a new era to both furniture making and architecture. Polls, columns and decorative painting was everywhere from walls to beds and chests and furniture making was elaborated all through Europe. Italian Renaissance soon influenced England under the name Elizabethan and Jacobean stiles.


Started in southern Europe during the 17th century,. By this time the exotic and luxury goods trade was started with Far East and Africa. The colonies where established by Europeans in America. In many respects Baroque furniture shared characteristics displaying theatrical elements, strong contrasts combined with sculptural qualities of Italian furniture. Also great interest of realism was combined with textures and shapes as well as exotic materials.


A lot of French designers and artist’s craftsman traveled inside Europe and others came to France to taste the artistry. Rococo is a French phenomenon and it is difficult to determine where Baroque ends and Rococo starts, it changes gradually and develops in three distinct stages throughout Europe. Brass inlaid furniture, Grotesque ornament of Renaissance Italy , swirling arabesques , lacy borders later on incorporation of fabulous beasts monkeys and asymmetrical designs (Louis XIV style) . Followed by Louis XV the new style was Regency where mythical being Chinese figures , playful animals ,flowers and asymmetrical tendency started to be seen. By 1730 the Rococo style developed into a genre picturesque using dragons, reptiles, waterfalls, shells , scrolling cartouches and wavy –edged leaves. Wildly romantic compositions were the most seen elements. The Rococo style was the least seen in England.


By the middle of 18th century it was inevitable the reaction against Rococo style to return more to a noble and sober classicism. The Roman and Greek elements were back as a sign of classicism and antiquity. Neoclassicism period (Louis XV and Louis XVI ) combination of rectangular forms with floral wood finishing ,rounded corners and cabriole legs. The fine work of Jean Henri Riesener (king’s and later Marie Antoinette cabinet maker) transitional characters. Around 1780’s the furniture’s started to be decorated with valances and medallions. The period of Directoire started after 1789 (French Revolution )was characterized by the adaptation of a simplified form of the late Louis XIV style adapted to bourgeois taste which later developed more to become Empire style. Empire furniture has influences of Renaissance era as some of the cabinet makers studied in Italy.Empire forms tended to be more massive in scale and more rectangular than those of the Directoire. Classical figures were applied directly to the veneer in low relief. Other favourite motifs included lyre, the wreath, arrows and the sphinx.

Middle of 18th century in Britain the Adam brothers and their concept change the interiors completely. The furnishing was made to fit the rest of the interiors from ceilings to the carpets design everything was a whole to achieve a uniform decorative style The Adam style was elaborated by Thomas Chippendale and followed by cabinet maker Hepplewhite. In 1780’s an elegant alternative to the Adam style was the one by architect Henry Holland, he designed furniture which reflected Louis XVI styles. His style had an enormous influence on Thomas Sheraton. --‘Then the Regency in England a relaxed and eclectic interior, furniture was light and airy.. In Italy the style was –Venetian “ and the effects were seen in Portugal, Germany, Spain, Russia, Scandinavia and United States


Began in 1837 in Britain by Queen Victoria’s reign and continued until the beginning of the 20th century. It was an era of a lot of mixed styles such as neo-rococo, neo-renaissance and gothic influence. During the early Victorian period the popular colours were crimson and bottle green. When chemical dyes were developed in the 1850’s , brighter colors were introduced, like purple, Prussian blue, yellow and green. The interpretation of Victorian age was different in every country.


Eclecticism represents the fascination with different styles and combining them with each other to create an eclectic style. Manufacturers starting to produce vast quantities of furniture based on historical models to meet the new demand. During the 19th century particular styles were used for specific rooms.


The second half of the 19th century is known as high Victorian meaning the rooms were full of heavy fabrics , shelves, pianos, plants, stuffed animals and comfortable furnishing.


The mixture of eclecticism, mass production of furniture applied decoration, created some radical reactions in the last 25 years of the 19th century. The need of expression of individuality was manifested in more personal styles of interior decoration, individually crafted objects and simpler furniture. The personal element in home decoration was gaining importance such as hand made objects and embroideries and textiles. The artistic interior used lighter colours than previously. The varnished mouldings and walls skirting were replaced by painted light colour wood. Aesthetic in home décor was the name of the new influence. A good saying from architect Halsey Ricardo;


Influence in US – was seen by the LC Tiffany who produced crafted furniture and decoration, also known for its stained glass. Art Nouveau : A French dealer in oriental art who was visiting an exposition in States fell in love with Tiffany’s work and at his return to Paris he opened his shop calling it Salon de l’Art Nouveau. The style was characterized by ornament based on organic forms (motifs of branches, floral) drawn from nature which had a little historical connection. This style remained influential to the present day. Essential colours were grey-green and salmon pink. The French art nouveau was characterized by the combination of nostalgia for Rococo and an interest in the vegetal forms; the result was an elaborate form of decoration.

Edwardian Turn of the century:

Bigger houses started to take place in Britain and U.S, therefore the furniture started becoming bigger. Mahogany large pieces started to be seen. , oriental effect was seen in smoking rooms were decorated with Turkish and Moorish furnishings. We seen Matured Queen Ann style with its light paintwork inspiration of Arts and Crafts movement reflects on interior decoration as well as Art Nouveau motifs could be used on fabrics. Edwardian style was less cluttered and easier to create. Paint colours were more pastels more than ever there was a strong reaction against dark and strong colours.



The seeds of modernism were influenced by Arts and Crafts Movement. The elimination of useless ornaments was the main object. The decoration was more integrated and lighter furniture was popular. The modernism was felt first in Germany and Austria. They start designing simple and geometric buildings. The pioneer of Modernism was the American Frank Lloyd Wright who was known with his prairie architecture. His philosophy was: The house should develop from within. The key in his design was to bring the outside inside. He used internal brickwork, fireplaces, and contrasting textures. And he said it is impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings as another. His theory contributed to two parallel movements unique to the 20th century. EITHER CONSIDERING THE INTERIOR AS AN EXTENSION OF AN EXTERIOR, OR ON THE OTHER COMPLETELY IGNORING IT.

The international style

The Dutch architect Gerrit Ritveld admired Wright’s work and form a group of Architects called ‘The Style’. He was determined to create modern design that had no link with the past. To achieve this ,he used abstracts, rectangular forms and primary colors. This movement was enhanced by forming the Bauhaus school by a few important architects from Germany , Switzerland and France. One of them, Le Corbusier was a great master of the use of reinforced concrete, white walls, glass, bricks and huge striped windows. The furniture followed the environment by being chrome plated steel tube furniture.

Art Deco

Art Deco was a concept which the name came from Exposition des Arts Decoratives in Paris (1925) and also means Jazz Modern. It actually sparked much earlier in 1909 by the arrival of Ballet Russes. With their bright coloured and flamboyant costumes and stage sets. Art Deco combined elements of Neo Classicism, the Orientals and exotics

Art Deco did not share the influence of Art Nouveau and Bauhaus-inspired interiors. Instead, it was more the result of a grouping of individual elements. Furniture, textiles, ornaments, ceramic and glass against simple backgrounds with classical details .Wrought iron and bronze were often crucial to Art Deco. Jean Michel Frank was among the most important designers. His pale silk, parchment; leather walls contrasting textures and luxuriously finished furniture became very popular in U.S.


At the same time there was another movement called Nostalgia; which meant to put tenderness and care into restoring the old houses and restoring the decoration along with it. Worn furniture with a gentle patina was in style. The appreciation of old fabrics, designs textiles, decorative elements, such as paintings and tromp l’eoil was seen, and only in the last few decades it repapered as a popular decorative style in Europe and United S.


Importance of colour

The earth colours have been used the most and influenced us for centuries. They are yellow ochre, red ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, terra verde, and raw umber. These colours have been used in frescos, on panels, on exterior of the buildings, for antiquing purposes, washes, graining etc. As blue and greens were very hard pigments to find the earth colour combinations have been used in every art form until middle of 18th century. When finally blue was easy to produce, ultramarine was only found in only detail work. Ultramarine signifies across the sea. The blue started been used only in 12th century in very prestigious work. The discovery of synthetically produced ultramarines in 1830’s made its preview by using them on building exteriors. Particularly, in some country’s, like Portugal. Later on copper greens and different shades of blues started to decorate the walls. White was always a base colour to create pastels by adding some strong pigments. Vermilion is used in detail work for period decoration covering Greek style and in combination of some greens. Color represents certain style, test and character. For example Empire colours (era of Napoleon Bonaparte) were Pompeian red and turquoise combined with white or black. Blue with white was also popular.

Importance of design

It is very important to choose our design for the object we are painting. Floral & fruits have been very popular for centuries. They are painted with different techniques and colours, always representing a certain culture and certain knowledge. Figurative painting always existed for religious scenes, bible stories, reflecting life styles etc. With all these, faux –finishing and symbols were used to complete the art work and to reflect the style and personality. The decorative art in everything else is adapted to our colours and to our way of living. The design we will choose has a lot to do with the style of furniture we are working with. We can either choose a design to reflect the era or we can do something totally unusual. Usually floral and sceneries can go on any surface of an armoire by simply changing the techniques; we can paint them with common (folk) art method or in elegant and classical way.Color coordination as well as style study plays a big role.

It is a pleasure to share these valuable information with our visitors.

Elda Ozkalfayan

All furniture design and décoration depicted herein by photograph or other means © Impressions Art & Décoration, Inc. 2004. All rights reserved.