One-of-a-Kind Installation Features Dramatic Tented Fabric Ceiling and Works by Leading Designers of the Era
BOSTON—The Art of the English Regency Gallery, unveiled September 24, 2013, showcases a rich collection of English decorative arts from about 1795 to 1830, donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), by Dr. Horace Wood Brock. Inspired by interior designs of the early 19th century, the gallery features a tented fabric ceiling— evoking the period’s taste for “antique drapery”—and approximately 50 objects, many of which have never before been on public display. This collection represents one of the finest groupings of English Regency furniture and decorative arts in any American museum, focusing on the era during the reigns of George III and George IV. Complete with numerous examples of elegant furniture, metalwork, period lighting fixtures and a select group of paintings, a focal point in the gallery is a gilt bronze and jewel-encrusted bust of George IV. Rare pieces such as ornamental wall plaques and a pair of wall lights designed by Thomas Hope (1769–1831), who helped define the Regency style, are also included in this new display, which is on view in the Susan Morse Hilles Gallery. Additional items will include works by George Bullock (1777/78–1818), who specialized in brass and tortoiseshell marquetry; Bullock’s brother, William (1773–1849); and the father-son team of Benjamin Vulliamy (1747–1811) and Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854).
“The Brock collection expands the breadth and quality of British decorative arts at the Museum, and the design of this tented gallery makes it one of the most dramatic spaces in New England,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “We are grateful to Woody Brock for his generous gift of so many splendid objects that transport visitors back to the era of Jane Austen. George IV would be green with envy.”
The Regency era extended from 1811–20, when George, Prince of Wales, ruled England as Prince Regent in place of the “mad” George III, his father. The Prince ascended the throne as George IV in 1820. But in the arts, “Regency” describes a style that emerged in the 1790s and flourished until George IV’s death in 1830. British architects and designers—fresh from their Grand Tours of the continent’s artistic and archaeological centers—were inspired by the art of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt to create a uniquely British expression that was bold, architectural and sometimes austere in its quest for a noble style. The Prince Regent himself was among the day’s great patrons, hiring many architects and designers to build and furnish his numerous residences.
The MFA’s Art of the English Regency Gallery highlights works from the Horace Wood Brock Collection. A Museum Overseer and financial advisor trained as a mathematical economist and political philosopher, Dr. Brock has been collecting European decorative arts and drawings for over thirty years. In his collecting, Dr. Brock applies an innovative theory of aesthetics based on a set of scientific criteria that he developed. But, above all, he values principles of design that emphasize harmony of proportion and the rhythmic variation of motifs. As a result of his interest in classically inspired and bold design, Dr. Brock began collecting English Regency art with the intent of one day donating his works to the MFA for display in a dedicated gallery.
“Furniture and decorative objects from the English Regency period are especially appealing to me due to their masculinity and robust design aesthetic,” said Dr. Brock. “It is gratifying to think that the display at the MFA will serve as a permanent educational resource for a younger generation of museum visitors to learn about early 19th-century English design and craftsmanship.”
The works on view are displayed under a unique pleated fabric ceiling—consisting of 380 yards of marmalade-colored fabric—a style that became popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Inspired by ancient Rome as well as the tents of Napoleon’s military campaigns at the end of the 18th century, the square space is laid out to reflect the symmetry and order of late classical design.
“Woody Brock has assembled this collection over many years with its eventual display in mind. His foresight has paid off, with the furniture coming together beautifully, and the variety of forms and surfaces creating a remarkably rich ensemble,” said Thomas Michie, Russell B. and Andrée Beauchamp Stearns Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the MFA. “The Regency style was at the height of fashion in the 1820s and revived in the 1920s. Perhaps this new gallery will inspire a fresh examination of classical forms in the 21st century.”
Thomas Hope—collector, connoisseur and pivotal figure in the classical revival of Regency England—is well represented in the gallery, which features several rare works and represents the largest collection of his designs in an American museum. Hope invented the term “interior decoration” in connection with his London house, views of which were published in 1807 and helped to define the Regency style. A pair of his Wall Lights (about 1802) is believed to have been originally installed in the Egyptian room of his celebrated Duchess Street house, reflecting the period’s widespread fascination with Egyptian motifs.
A large collector’s Cabinet-on-stand (about 1805) is a highlight of the gallery, featuring five contrasting woods and incorporating Egyptian themes. It is a rare and important example of the furniture attributed to London cabinetmaker James Newton (1773–1821), one of the greatest exponents of neoclassicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Additional recent acquisitions featured in the gallery include a tripod stand designed by Hope and carved in rich mahogany, a pair of cast-iron "Griffin Tripod" Stands (after 1805) and a pair of patinated and gilt-bronze vases featuring theatrical masks with exaggerated ears (about 1805), both designed and manufactured by the brothers George and William Bullock.
Objects by George Bullock represent some of the most distinctive designs of English furniture in the first quarter of the 19th century. The gallery features examples including Bullock’s Cabinet (about 1815) and Circular inkstand (about 1810-1815), as well as an unusual pair of cast-iron stands, ornamental vases and bronze candlesticks in the Egyptian style by his brother William. A clock by Benjamin Vulliamy and two pairs of candelabra by Vulliamy and his son, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, represent the work of two craftsmen favored by George III and George IV.
Dr. Horace Wood Brock
Over the course of more than two decades, Dr. Brock has assembled one of the most diverse collections of 17th- to early 19th-century European decorative arts, Old Master drawings and paintings. In 2009, the MFA hosted Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection in the Torf Gallery. The exhibition featured approximately 140 objects, including important examples of English, French, German and Flemish furniture, as well as ceramics, gilt bronzes, clocks and hardstone vases. His painting Mountain Landscape with Travelers by Joos de Momper is currently on view in the MFA’s Art of the Netherlands in the 17th Century Gallery, recently reopened after an extensive renovation made possible by Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The Museum’s collection is made up of: Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 9:45 p.m. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 p.m., weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays; otherwise $10. Wednesday nights after 4 p.m. admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). MFA Members are always admitted for free. The MFA’s multi-media guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit mfa.org or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.