9274 A VERY FINE PAIR OF MASSIVE MIRRORS IN THE ADAM STYLE BY GEORGE SIMS London. Circa 1878. Measurements: Height: 86 1/2″ (219.5 cm) Width: 72 1/2″ (184 cm) Depth: 4 1/4″ (11 cm)
Of giltwood and finely detailed composition. Each with projecting cornice with acanthus molding to the underside, above a frieze centered by a panel with garlands issuing scrolling acanthus drop below terminating in berries, the panel flanked by stylized foliate paterae interspersed with triglyphs flanked by panels of garlands set between raised panels with stylized foliate paterae, the paterae surmounting raised uprights framing the rectangular mirror plates, the upper section with hanging garlands of stylized foliate form centered by a roundel, the lower section with harebell drops, the uprights to either side joined by a molded slip, the mirror plate below terminating in a fan motif with beaded edge and foliate decoration above a garlanded panel, each upright terminating in a paterae, the whole above a molded edge, set on a plain plinth. Bearing a patent mark dating to March 1878.
These mirrors were designed by the cabinetmaker George Sims of 50-152 Aldersgate Street, London. Although clearly inspired by Robert Adam’s work, Sims lent these pieces an inventive edge by subtly departing from the conventions of Adam’s oeuvre. For instance, the semicircular fans are curiously inverted and placed at the base of the mirror. Other motifs within the array of finely detailed neoclassical decoration are, on close scrutiny, more stylized and angular versions of their 18th century counterparts.
Furthermore, Sims’ handling of the geometry and proportions of the mirror is exemplary and is redolent of the more radical designers of the early years of the 19th century, all the more remarkable given the date of conception of the present pieces. The exceptional quality and scale of the mirrors suggests that they were clearly a special commission of some distinction.
As can be seen from the design for a drawing room of 1885 by Holland and Sons (figure 1), a light, neoclassical sub-fashion was in existence during the second half of the 19th century. This trend was likely an upper class reaction to the ponderous heavily carved “Rococo” efforts that were the mainstream of furniture production at the time. As early as 1867, Wright and Mansfield had displayed a monumental neoclassical breakfront cabinet set with Wedgwood plaques at the Paris Exposition of that year. It was so highly regarded, that it was purchased by the Victoria and Albert museum where it rests today, as the centerpiece of the 19th century collection. It is thought that this item was key to sparking the trend for luxurious neoclassically inspired Wedgwood mounted furniture toward the late 19th century.
This sub-fashion persisted past the reign of Queen Victoria and became a component of what was to be referred to as “Edwardian Elegance,” with cabinet-making firms such as Edwards and Roberts and Shoolbred and Co. contributing pieces of remarkable quality and refinement in a reinvented Adam style.
The Sims mirrors are a notable addition to our knowledge of this oeuvre. It was highly uncommon to produce a piece of furniture with an identifying patent seal and register its design with Her Majesty’s Patent offices. However, the Sims Mirrors bear a lozenge shaped plaque set with letters denoting it’s patent (figure 2) and the corresponding drawing for the mirrors, registered in March 1878, is still on file at the National Archives at Kew (figure 3). The mirrors are now devoid of their finials and cresting, but there is no evidence of the crossed laurel ornaments, seen in the design drawing’s upper right and left compartments and the floral arch in the center, ever having been included in their fabrication.
The visual impression of the mirrors is of an unusually pure exercise in rectilinear neoclassical design, whose ornaments of swags, floral pendants, paterae and fluting are closely derived from the Adam canon, and these pieces form “patented” evidence that refined neoclassical taste continued to exert a strong influence on the applied arts in an uninterrupted line from the 18th into the 20th century.