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Antiques & Auctions: Throughout time mirrors have reflected functionality and vanity.


THE MIRROR is an everyday object which is an integral part of interior decoration in any home today.

But what are the origins of reflective glass, has its use changed over time or has it always been an object for mere vanity and decoration?

The use of plate mirror glass first made its appearance in the late 17th Century in wall mirrors and girandoles (ornate candle sconces with mirror backs).

Their design was purely functional and they were used to reflect the dim glow of candles at night, giving the illusion of added light. Plate glass was much greyer than that of mirrors today and was of uneven thickness but still provided a soft and warm reflection.

By the 18th Century mirrors became decorative objects in their own right and larger mirrors were made using two or more pieces of glass.

The glass was expensive to produce and was often combined with elaborately carved and gilded frames to compliment its value. Indeed mirrors were soon seen as an ostentatious sign of wealth.

Huge pier glasses, many with girandoles for candles, and wall mirrors were framed in all the prevailing fashions throughout the 18th Century.

Designers such as Thomas Chippendale designed frames in numerous styles with elaborate use of rococo foliage, chinoiserie figures and gothic tracery. These highly elaborate and attractive forms are rare and much sought after today with good examples fetching thousands of pounds.

Towards the end of the 18th Century overmantle mirrors were introduced to provide an almost landscape feature above an imposing fireplace. Classical female figures and ball pendants were used to decorate frames from this time.

The Regency period brought the introduction of convex plate, this new process of production having been brought over from France. Convex mirrors were made in a wide variety of sizes and degrees of grandeur and became a high fashion item. As with most trends however their popularity was short lived. Free-standing mirrors were introduced to Britain at the end of the 18th Century by Thomas Sheraton. Sheraton produced large, adjustable toilet mirrors in a frame stand on the floor commonly known as cheval mirrors. Surprising as it may seem, despite over one hundred years of production these mirrors were among the first of the their type designed purely as a looking glass.

From the cheval mirror other adaptations were designed, notably the shaving stand which combined an ad-justable mirror with a shelf for storing shaving equipment.

In the Victorian period we see the introduction of the toilet mirror, usually with a bowed plate above a single drawer or compartment on turned feet, designed to sit on chests of drawers and washstands and can vary in price at auction.


u Contact Ryan Beach at Anthemion Auctions on 029 2071 2608
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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