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Decoration of Houses - Chapter Guide | Decorating Accessories & Bric-a-Brac [Previous Chapter] | [Next Chapter]


IN the preceding pages an attempt has been made to show that in the treatment of rooms we have passed from the golden age of architecture to the gilded age of decoration.

Any argument in support of a special claim necessitates certain apparent injustices, sets up certain provisional limitations, and can therefore be judged with fairness only by those who make due allowance for these conditions. In the discussion of aes­thetics such impartiality can seldom be expected. Not unnatu­rally, people resent any attempt to dogmatize on matters so generally thought to lie within the domain of individual judg­ment Many hold that in questions of taste GefUbl ist alia; while those who believe that beyond the oscillations of fashion certain fixed laws may be discerned have as yet agreed upon no formula defining their belief. In short, our civilization has not yet developed any artistic creed so generally recognized that it may be invoked on both sides of an argument without risk of misunderstanding.

This is true at least of those forms of art that minister only to the aesthetic sense. With architecture and its allied branches the case is different Here beauty depends on fitness, and the prac­tical requirements of life are the ultimate test of fitness.

If, therefore, it can be proved that the old practice was based upon a clearer perception of these requirements than is shown by

modern decorators, it may be claimed not unreasonably that the

Conclusion                                  197

old methods are better than the new. It seems, however, that the distinction between the various offices of art is no longer clearly recognized. The merit of house-decoration is now seldom measured by the standard of practical fitness; and those who would set up such a standard are suspected of proclaiming indi­vidual preferences under the guise of general principles.

In this book, an endeavor has been made to draw no conclu­sion unwarranted by the premises; but whatever may be thought of the soundness of some of the deductions, they must be re­garded, not as a criticism of individual work, but simply of certain tendencies in modern architecture. It must be remembered, too, that the book is merely a sketch, intended to indicate the lines along which further study may profitably advance.

It may seem inconsequent that an elementary work should in­clude much apparently unimportant detail. To pass in a single chapter from a discussion of abstract architectural laws to the combination of colors in a bedroom carpet seems to show lack of plan ? yet the transition is logically justified. In the composition of a whole there is no negligible quantity: if the decoration of a room is planned on certain definite principles, whatever contrib­utes line or color becomes a factor in the composition. The relation of proportion to decoration is like that of anatomy to sculpture : underneath are the everlasting laws. It was the rec­ognition of this principle that kept the work of the old architect-decorators (for the two were one) free from the superfluous, free from the intemperate accumulation that marks so many modern rooms. Where each detail had its determinate part, no superficial accessories were needed to make up a whole: a great draughts­man represents with a few strokes what lesser artists can express only by a multiplicity of lines.

198                 The Decoration of Houses

The supreme excellence is simplicity. Moderation, fitness, rele­vance—these are the qualities that give permanence to the work of the great architects. Tout ce qui riest pas nuessaire est nuisible. There is a sense in which works of art may be said to endure by virtue of that which is left out of them, and it is this "tact of omission " that characterizes the master-hand.

Modern civilization has been called a varnished barbarism: a definition that might well be applied to the superficial graces of much modern decoration. Only a return to architectural princi­ples can raise the decoration of houses to the level of the past Vasari said of the Farnesina palace that it was not built, but really born—non murato ma veramente nato; and this phrase is but the expression of an ever-present sense—the sense of interrelation of parts, of unity of the whole.

There is no absolute perfection, there is no communicable ideal; but much that is empiric, much that is confused and extravagant, will give way before the application of principles based on common sense and regulated by the laws of harmony and proportion.

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