Victorian Lighting Sub-Styles
In Part 1, we had a quick overview of the context for Victorian lighting styles. Here in Part 2, we’ll take a look at examples of “sub-styles” within the overall style, and a few pictures of Rejuvenation Victorian fixtures.
Note: For all of our period styles and sub-styles, the terms and definitions we use are not comprehensive or academic – they are just groupings we’ve developed based on our own inclinations. We leave plenty of room for other styles, opinions, and interpretations. Feel free to chime in with alternative perspectives or favorites we’ve missed.
Neo-Grec chandelier c.1874, the Gaslight Collection of Dan & Nancy Mattausch
The Neo-Grec style was the first major lighting trend of the early 1870s following the Civil War, and one of the last to be exclusively gas. Neo-Grec fixtures were usually cast spelter or other zinc-based white metals, and displayed an angular, chunky look with scrolling bas relief surface treatments.
Eastlake style c.1878, Spencer Library, Univ. of Kansas
During the latter half of the 1870s, the Eastlake style mixed fresh interpretations of Gothic and English medieval elements in more aggressive and abstracted forms. Fixtures were often brass and sometimes highlighted with polychrome enamels. Note that smaller 2-5/8″ gas shadeholders were still in use, prior to the introduction of gas shades with 4″ and 5″ fitters.
Aesthetic/Anglo-Japanese style c.1883, courtesy of Paul Ivazes, Quality Lighting
The first half of the 1880s saw a dramatic and radical shift to highly stylized fixtures in the new Aesthetic or Anglo-Japanese style. Intricate pierced flat castings, often in red brass, featured sunflowers, bamboo, leaves, jewels, and geometric motifs inspired by Japanese art – and beauty for beauty’s sake. These were some of the first fixtures designed for 4″ and 5″ gas shades and the new technology of electric light.
Artistic/Bent Brass style c.1887, the Gaslight Collection of Dan & Nancy Mattausch
Three architectural trends of the latter 1880s heavily influenced lighting: the medieval Romanesque of Henry Hobson Richardson, the Colonial-inspired Shingle Style of McKim, Mead and White, and the exotic appeal of Moorish and Middle Eastern design. The result was lighting with a distinctive hybrid look that has never really acquired a style name. These fixtures relied heavily on the artistic effects of hand-wrought, hand-hammered, and hand-bent brass and iron. Balls, spirals, strapwork, and formed sheet metal replace the fine brass castings of earlier styles. Though easily mistaken for it, this style is not Art Nouveau, which did not appear until after 1900.
Empire style c.1893, Rejuvenation archives
The 1890s saw the rise of a new style that became immensely popular in all the decorative arts: Empire. Typical of the florid fanciness and bright brass that exemplifies “Victorian” for many today, the excesses of Empire helped inspire the reforms of the Arts & Crafts movement. Empire lighting itself was often of exceptional quality, with a return to finely executed and highly detailed castings, often pierced as shown above in the manner distinctive to the style.
Late Victorian style c.1900, Rejuvenation archives
Economic depression in the mid-1890s encouraged a scaling back of expensive ornamentation and a move to simpler forms and processes, which resulted in a style we call Late Victorian. These fixtures still possess the curving lines and multiple arms springing from a central body that characterized most pre-1910 lighting, but feature far less ornamentation and detail. In fact, the examples above are more ornate than most.
Exotic style c.1904, Rejuvenation archives
Even though tastes were becoming more simple, the public’s love of the exotic remained. And many of the most elaborate lighting fixtures of the entire period – from the 1870s through 1910 – were those in the Exotic style. Primarily inspired by Arabic and Persian design of Moorish Spain, Turkey, and the Middle East (as well as India and the Far East), exotic fixtures were most commonly found in smoking rooms, cozy corners, bars, and theaters. They remain rare and highly sought-after antiques.
Art Nouveau style c.1905, Rejuvenation archives
The growing urge for “modern” reform saw its first appearance in L’Art Nouveau (The New Art) in Paris just before the turn of the century. As the style crossed the Atlantic, American lighting manufacturers produced some fantastic lighting that is exceptionally rare today.
The following are some of Rejuvenation’s Victorian-era fixtures installed in several different
environments, from period-perfect to eclectic.