Eclecticism (18th-19th Century)

Eclecticism was characterized by the revival and blending of previous styles including: Chippendale Style, Hepplewhite Style, Sheraton Style, Biedermeier Style, Louis Philippe Style, Victorian Style,  Regency Style and Second Empire Style.

Picture of the U.S. Capitol building.
U.S. Capitol Building

Image Source: by Gage Skidmore

Beginning of Eclecticism as a distinct Design Movement

Firstly, the person who popularized the term “eclectic” is presumed to be Johan Joachim Winckelmann (German art historian and archaeologist.). Further, the term was used for the work of Carracci, who created his painting combining classical tradition with the elements of the Renaissance.

A painting of Venus and Cupido together on the left and Adonis on the right. The painting is an example of Eclectic style.
Venus, Adonis and Cupido by Annibale Carracci (1590), which is currently in Madrid, at the Museo Nacional del Prado.

Image source: by Héliodore

The eclectic style it is characterized by the lack of structure offered by a traditional style. Instead, it borrows from a variety of styles, ideas, and theories, drawn from different periods and origins and to create a single project. Thus, a lot of effort and creativity is necessary to make an eclectic-style project look logically interconnected. Further, eclectic design works to make all these different styles work cohesively. However, colors, fabric, and finish tend to be neutral to further help these different influences come together and without looking chaotic. 

Palace of Justice, Rome, which is a large light stone building with numerous arched windows and three distinct floors.
The Palace of Justice, Rome, Designed by the Perugia architect Guglielmo Calderini and built between 1888 and 1910.

Image source: by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D.

In contemporary society, styles that echo many different cultural and historical styles are “eclectic” although references to eclectic architecture within literature and media usually relate to buildings constructed within the eclectic movement (18th-19th century).

Eclectic Designers
  • Daniel Burnham
  • Alexander Jackson Davis
  • Antoni Gaudì
  • Josef Hlavka
  • Richard Morris Hunt
  • Charles Follen McKim
  • William Mead
  • Richard Norman Shaw
  • Stanford White
La Sagrada Familia, which is a Roman Catholic Church with four distinct towers.
The Sagrada Familia located in Catalonia, Spain.

Image source: by neusitas

A photo of a house in Park Guell,  a large medium-brown structure with a while roof and carved out rectangular windows.
House in Park Güell designed by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain

Image source: by jazonz

Eclecticism is a mixed style in the fine arts, which “borrows and combines a variety of styles from different sources.”(Hume 1998,5)

Moreover, eclecticism has rarely constituted a specific style. Rather, it is the combination of historical style elements in architecture, painting, graphic and decorative arts. For example, Agostino, Annibale, and Lodovico Carracci had tried to combine in their art through the symmetry and grace of Raphael, the line of Michelangelo, the chiaroscuro of Correggio, and the color of Titian.

A photo of the Last Judgement mural on the wall of the Vatican City Sistine Chapel. Blues, reds and greens are vivid and various people, are shown in a heaven-like setting.
The Last Judgement – Vatican City, Sistine Chapel frescoes

Image source: by archer10 (Dennis)

Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons portrait. A woman stands holding her three children, one of which is still a baby. In the right hand corner there sits a Scarlet parrot on the right of the photo.
Joshua Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and Her Three Eldest Sons, 1773, oil on canvas.

Image source: by DJANDYW.COM

One of the most influential supporters of eclecticism in the 18th century was the head of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Sir Joshua Reynolds. In his famous academical Discourses (1774), he argued that the painter could use the work of the ancients as “joint magazine, always open to the public, from which every man can take all the material he wants” (Reynolds 1775).

Features of Eclecticism
  • Use of forms of various historical styles (Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, etc.)
  • ‘Freedom of choice’ of architectural and ornamental motifs.
  • It tended towards the creation of large urban ensembles in the “Russian” or “European” style.
  • Facade eclectic style architecture, despite some fragmentation and monotonous repetition of parts, gave the front of the building a huge relief and charm.
Photo of the Esplanade, in Weymouth England, which is a four-floored estate with big white windows.
The Esplanade is a wide walkway and seafront street in Weymouth, Dorset on the south coast of England.

Image source: by ell brown

An example of Electicism style is the La Salle, IL. Hegeler Carus Mansion below. Initally, the attic is the key feature that generally allows quick identification. It often includes dormers on the upper level, providing light behind the mansard roof. Further, the floor plan includes pavilions, which are outward projections of the center or sides of a building.

Photo of the La Salle, IL. Hegeler Carus Mansion, which is a grand brown building with four floors, elaborate dormers on the upper level and a balcony along the second floor.
La Salle, IL. Hegeler Carus Mansion created in 1876

Image source:

Features of Eclecticism seen in the photo below:

  1. Charming, unique, irregular, creative atmosphere.
  2. Line, mass, texture, color, and form are the basic principle that is combined in a way to create a harmonious eclectic interior space.
  3. Two or more styles are used in the same room.
  4. Furniture and accessories used are from different design styles and periods.
  5. Design styles are balanced in proportional size.
  6. Neutral colors.
A neutral-colored dressing room in the Eclectic style.
Chippendale style interior- Nostell Priory, State Dressing Room

Image source: by David Dixon

Hepplewhite chair sketch from 1763.
Hepplewhite chair sketch from 1763

Image source: by vaetter5205

A drawing of a Hepplewhite armchair with a distinctly warm floral design and medium wood legs and arms.
Elizabeth Curtis, Hepplewhite Arm Chair, 1936

Image source: by Elizabeth Curtis

A bright orange easy chair with mahogany legs.
Easy chair, Mahogany, American

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