Regency Period: Art & Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

A playboy monarch and patron of the arts. Buildings reflecting styles from around the world. Welcome to the Regency Period in England. In this lesson, explore Regency Period art and architecture.

What Was the Regency Period?

Who becomes king when the king can't rule?

The answer to the question greatly impacted what happened during the Regency Period in England.

The Regency Period gained its name from George, Prince of Wales (1762 - 1830), who became Regent or temporary king, when his father King George III fell ill. So, the Regency Period in British history, and associated art and architecture, comes from the nine-year period, 1811 - 1820, when the Prince of Wales was Regent. The prince became King George IV in 1820 and his reign ended with his death in 1830.

As Regent, the Prince of Wales gained the nickname the 'Prince of Pleasure.' Always ready for a good time, the prince enjoyed fine food, wine and women. He was a patron of the arts, commissioning paintings and spending plenty of money on architecture and interior design. He was certainly enthusiastic, but he didn't always have the money to pay for his outsized tastes.

The prince's patronage played a role in the styles of art and architecture popular during the Regency Period.

Architecture of the Regency Period

Inspiration From Many Sources

Sources from around the world influenced Regency Period architecture, including Egypt, the Near East, Middle East and Asia. The greatest influence was ancient classical Greek and Roman architecture. It was a classical revival, but more archaeologically correct than the earlier 18th-century English Neoclassical style. Aiding the focus on authenticity were recently-published, lavishly illustrated books with images of Greek art and architecture. Anyone who wanted to use the style had ready inspiration drawn straight from the source.

Regency architecture also used elements of ancient Egyptian art and design, which came to public attention at the end of the 18th century when Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt were accompanied by archaeological surveys. Information and images related to the finds made their way back to England and caught the imagination of architects and designers.

Regency Classical Style

Reflecting classical Greek architecture, many regent structures were symmetrical, built of brick and covered in stucco or painted plaster to resemble marble. Things like friezes, decorative horizontal architectural bands near a ceiling or roof line, and fluted Greek columns, were popular architectural elements. Some Regency structures also had elements like balconies and bay windows, that projected beyond the surface of a first floor wall.

Queens Hotel in Cheltenham, built during the Regency Period
Regency Period architecture

Among the important Regency architects was John Nash (1752-1835), who served as court architect for Prince Regent and later King George IV. For the regent, Nash created a fanciful, Indian-inspired structure, called the Royal Pavilion Brighton, built between 1815 and 1822. But Nash also designed many classically-influenced structures, including the terrace houses at Regent's Park. Terrace houses were row homes, with each dwelling sharing one or two walls with those next to it. The structures had clean, classical lines with unadorned arches and other understated elements.

Regents Park terrace houses designed by John Nash
Terrace houses at Regents Park

Art From the Regency Period

Among the most popular styles of art during the Regency Period was painting, especially portraiture. The leading painter of the time was Thomas Lawrence (1769 - 1830), who focused most of his work on figures and portraits. A skilled draftsman, Lawrence created works that tended to flatter his sitters. He used bright colors, against sometimes dramatic backgrounds, and rarely did extensive preliminary studies of his subjects. Lawrence captured a sense of the spirt of the age and was one of the most successful artists of his time.

Portrait of King George IV by Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of George IV

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