The French Revolution and First Empire—Influence on design of Napoleon's Campaigns—The Cabinet presented to Marie Louise—Dutch Furniture of the time—English Furniture—Sheraton's later work—Thomas Hope, architect—George Smith's designs—Fashion during the Regency—Gothic revival—Seddon's Furniture—Other Makers—Influence on design of the Restoration in France—Furniture of William IV. and early part of Queen Victoria's reign—Baroque and Rococo styles—The panelling of rooms, dado, and skirting—The Art Union,—The Society of Arts—Sir Charles Barry and the new Palace of Westminster—Pugin's designs—Auction Prices of Furniture—Christie's—The London Club Houses—Steam—Different Trade Customs—Exhibitions in France and England—Harry Rogers' work—The Queen's cradle—State of Art in England during first part of present reign—Continental designs—Italian carving—Cabinet work—General remarks.
here are great crises in the history of a nation which stand out in prominent relief. One of these is the French Revolution, which commenced in 1792, and wrought such dire havoc amongst the aristocracy, with so much misery and distress throughout the country. It was an event of great importance, whether we consider the religion, the politics, or the manners and customs of a people, as affecting the changes in the style of the decoration of their homes. The horrors of the Revolution are matters of common knowledge to every schoolboy, and there is no need to dwell either upon them or their consequences, which are so thoroughly apparent. The confiscation of the property of those who had fled the country was added to the general dislocation of everything connected with the work of the industrial arts.
Nevertheless it should be borne in mind that amongst the anarchy and disorder of this terrible time in France, the National Convention had sufficient foresight to appoint a Commission, composed of competent men in different branches of Art, to determine what State property in artistic objects should be sold, and what was of sufficient historical interest to be retained as a national possession. Riesener, the celebrated ébeniste, whose work we have described in the chapter on Louis Seize furniture, and David, the famous painter of the time, both served on this Commission, of which they must have been valuable members.
There is a passage quoted by Mr. C. Perkins, the American translator of Dr. Falke's German work "Kunst im Hause," which gives us the keynote to the great change which took place in the fashion of furniture about the time of the Revolution. In an article on "Art," says this democratic French writer, as early as 1790, when the great storm cloud was already threatening to burst, "We have changed everything; freedom, now consolidated in France, has restored the pure taste of the antique! Farewell to your marqueterie and Boule, your ribbons, festoons, and rosettes of gilded bronze; the hour has come when objects must be made to harmonize with circumstances."
Thus it is hardly too much to say that designs were governed by the politics and philosophy of the day; and one finds in furniture of this period the reproduction of ancient Greek forms for chairs and couches; ladies' work tables are fashioned somewhat after the old drawings of sacrificial altars; and the classical tripod is a favourite support. The mountings represent antique Roman fasces with an axe in the centre; trophies of lances, surmounted by a Phrygian cap of liberty; winged figures, emblematical of freedom; and antique heads of helmeted warriors arranged like cameo medallions.
After the execution of Robespierre, and the abolition of the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1794, came the choice of the Directory: and then, after Buonaparte's brilliant success in Italy, and the famous expeditions to Syria and Egypt two years later, came his proclamation as First Consul in 1799, which in 1802 was confirmed as a life appointment.
We have only to refer to the portrait of the great soldier, represented with the crown of bay leaves and other attributes of old Roman imperialism, to see that in his mind was the ambition of reviving much of the splendour and of the surroundings of the Caesars, whom he took, to some extent, as his models; and that in founding on the ashes of the Revolution a new fabric, with new people about him, all influenced by his energetic personality, he desired to mark his victories by stamping the new order of things with his powerful and assertive individualism.
Cabinet in Mahogany with Bronze Gilt Mountings, Presented by Napoleon I. to Marie Louise on his Marriage with her in 1810 Period: Napoleon I.
The cabinet which was designed and made for Marie Louise, on his marriage with her in 1810, is an excellent example of the Napoleonic furniture. The wood used was almost invariably rich mahogany, the colour of which made a good ground for the bronze gilt mounts which were applied. The full-page illustration shews these, which are all classical in character; and though there is no particular grace in the outline or form of the cabinet, there is a certain dignity and solemnity, relieved from oppressiveness by the fine chasing and gilding of the metal enrichments, and the excellent colour and figuring of the rich Spanish mahogany used.
On secretaires and tables, a common ornament of this description of furniture, is a column of mahogany, with a capital and base of bronze (either gilt, part gilt, or green), in the form of the head of a sphinx with the foot of an animal; console tables are supported by sphinxes and griffins; and candelabra and wall brackets for candles have winged figures of females, stiff in modelling and constrained in attitude, but almost invariably of good material with careful finish.
Tabouret, or Stool, Carved and Gilt; Arm Chair, In Mahogany, with Gilt Bronze Mountings. Period of Napoleon I.
The bas-reliefs in metal which ornament the panels of the friezes of cabinets, or the marble bases of clocks, are either reproductions of mythological subjects from old Italian gems and seals, or represent the battles of the Emperor, in which Napoleon is portrayed as a Roman general. There was plenty of room to replace so much that had disappeared during the Revolution, and a vast quantity of decorative furniture was made during the few years which elapsed before the disaster of Waterloo caused the disappearance of a power which had been almost meteoric in its career.
The best authority on "Empire Furniture" is the book of designs, published in 1809 by the architects Percier and Fontaine, which is the more valuable as a work of reference, from the fact that every design represented was actually carried out, and is not a mere exercise of fancy, as is the case with many such books. In the preface the authors modestly state that they are entirely indebted to the antique for the reproduction of the different ornaments; and the originals, from which some of the designs were taken, are still preserved in a fragmentary form in the Museum of the Vatican.
The illustrations on p. 205 of an arm chair and a stool, together with that of the tripod table which ornaments the initial letter of this chapter, are favourable examples of the richly-mounted and more decorative furniture of this style. While they are not free from the stiffness and constraint which are inseparable from classic designs as applied to furniture, the rich colour of the mahogany, the high finish and good gilding of the bronze mounts, and the costly silk with which they are covered, render them attractive and give them a value of their own.
The more ordinary furniture, however, of the same style, but without these decorative accessories, is stiff, ungainly, and uncomfortable, and seems to remind us of a period in the history of France when political and social disturbance deprived the artistic and pleasure-loving Frenchman of his peace of mind, distracting his attention from the careful consideration of his work. It may be mentioned here that, in order to supply a demand which has lately arisen, chiefly in New York, but also to some extent in England, for the best "Empire" furniture, the French dealers have bought up some of the old undecorated pieces, and by ornamenting them with gilt bronze mounts, cast from good old patterns, have sold them as original examples of the meubles de luxe of the period.
In Dutch furniture of this time one sees the reproduction of the Napoleonic fashion—the continuation of the Revolutionists' classicalism. Many marqueterie secretaires, tables, chairs, and other like articles, are mounted with the heads and feet of animals, with lions' heads and sphinxes, designs which could have been derived from no other source; and the general design of the furniture loses its bombé form, and becomes rectangular and severe. Whatever difficulty there may be in sometimes deciding between the designs of the Louis XIV. period, towards its close, and that of Louis XV., there can be no mistake about l'epoch de la Directoire and le style de l'Empire. These are marked and branded with the Egyptian expedition, and the Syrian campaign, as legibly as if they all bore the familiar plain Roman N, surmounted by a laurel wreath, or the Imperial eagle which had so often led the French legions to victory.
It is curious to notice how England, though so bitterly opposed to Napoleon, caught the infection of the dominant features of design which were prevalent in France about this time.
Nelson's Chairs. Designs Published by T. Sheraton, October 29th, 1806.
Thus, in Sheraton's book on Furniture, to which allusion has been made, and from which illustrations have been given in the chapter on "Chippendale and his Contemporaries," there is evidence that, as in France during the influence of Marie Antoinette, there was a classical revival, and the lines became straighter and more severe for furniture, so this alteration was adopted by Sheraton, Shearer, and other English designers at the end of the century. But if we refer to Sheraton's later drawings, which are dated about 1804 to 1806, we see the constrained figures and heads and feet of animals, all brought into the designs as shewn in the "drawing room" chairs here illustrated. These are unmistakable signs of the French "Empire" influence, the chief difference between the French and English work being, that, whereas in French Empire furniture the excellence of the metal work redeems it from heaviness or ugliness, such merit was wanting in England, where we have never excelled in bronze work, the ornament being generally carved in wood, either gilt or coloured bronze-green. When metal was used it was brass, cast and fairly finished by the chaser, but much more clumsy than the French work. Therefore, the English furniture of the first years of the nineteenth century is stiff, massive, and heavy, equally wanting in gracefulness with its French contemporary, and not having the compensating attractions of fine mounting, or the originality and individuality which must always add an interest to Napoleonic furniture.
Drawing Room Chair. Design published by T. Sheraton, April, 1804.
Drawing Room Chair. Design published by T. Sheraton, April 1, 1804.
There was, however, made about this time by Gillow, to whose earlier work reference has been made in the previous chapter, some excellent furniture, which, while to some extent following the fashion of the day, did so more reasonably. The rosewood and mahogany tables, chairs, cabinets and sideboards of his make, inlaid with scrolls and lines of flat brass, and mounted with handles and feet of brass, generally representing the heads and claws of lions, do great credit to the English work of this time. The sofa table and sideboard, illustrated on the previous page, are of this class, and shew that Sheraton, too, designed furniture of a less pronounced character, as well as the heavier kind to which reference has been made.
"Canopy Bed" Design Published by T. Sheraton, November 9th, 1803.
"Sister's Cylinder Bookcase." Designed by T. Sheraton, 1802.
Sideboard, In Mahogany, with Brass Rail and Convex Mirror at back, Design published by T. Sheraton, 1802.
A very favourable example of the craze in England for classic design in furniture and decoration, is shown in the reproduction of a drawing by Thomas Hope, in 1807, a well-known architect of the time, in which it will be observed that the forms and fashions of some of the chairs and tables, described and illustrated in the chapter on "Ancient Furniture," have been taken as models.
There were several makers of first-class furniture, of whom the names of some still survive in the "style and title" of firms of the present day, who are their successors, while those of others have been forgotten, save by some of our older manufacturers and auctioneers, who, when requested by the writer, have been good enough to look up old records and revive the memories of fifty years ago. Of these the best known was Thomas Seddon, who came from Manchester and settled in Aldersgate Street. His two sons succeeded to the business, became cabinet makers to George IV., and furnished and decorated Windsor Castle. At the King's death their account was disputed, and £30,000 was struck off, a loss which necessitated an arrangement with their creditors. Shortly after this, however, they took the barracks of the London Light Horse Volunteers in the Gray's Inn Road (now the Hospital), and carried on there for a time a very extensive business. Seddon's work ranked with Gillow's, and they shared with that house the best orders for furniture.
Thomas Seddon, painter of Oriental subjects, who died in 1856, and P. Seddon, a well-known architect, were grandsons of the original founder of the firm. On the death of the elder brother, Thomas, the younger one then transferred his connection to the firm of Johnstone and Jeanes, in Bond Street, another old house which still carries on business as "Johnstone and Norman," and who some few years ago executed a very extravagant order for an American millionaire. This was a reproduction of Byzantine designs in furniture of cedar, ebony, ivory, and pearl, made from drawings by Mr. Alma Tadema, R.A.
Design of a Room, in the Classic Style, by Thomas Hope, Architect, In 1807.
Snell, of Albemarle Street, had been established early in the century, and obtained an excellent reputation; his specialité was well-made birch bedroom suites, but he also made furniture of a general description. The predecessor of the present firm of Howard and Son, who commenced business in Whitechapel as early as 1800, and the first Morant, may all be mentioned as manufacturers of the first quarter of the century.
Somewhat later, Trollopes, of Parliament Street; Holland, who had succeeded Dowbiggin (Gillow's apprentice), first in Great Pulteney Street, and subsequently at the firm's present address; Wilkinson, of Ludgate Hill, founder of the present firm of upholsterers in Bond Street; Aspinwall, of Grosvenor Street; the second Morant, of whom the great Duke of Wellington made a personal friend; and Grace, a prominent decorator of great taste, who carried out many of Pugin's Gothic designs, were all men of good reputation. Miles and Edwards, of Oxford Street, whom Hindleys succeeded, were also well known for good middle-class furniture. These are some of the best known manufacturers of the first half of the present century, and though until after the great Exhibition there was, as a rule, little in the designs to render their productions remarkable, the work of those named will be found sound in construction, and free from the faults which accompany the cheap and showy reproductions of more pretentious styles which mark so much of the furniture of the present day. With regard to this, more will be said in the next chapter.
There was then a very limited market for any but the most commonplace furniture. Our wealthy people bought the productions of French cabinet makers, either made in Paris or by Frenchmen who came over to England, and the middle classes were content with the most ordinary and useful articles. If they had possessed the means they certainly had neither the taste nor the education to furnish more ambitiously. The great extent of suburbs which now surround the Metropolis, and which include such numbers of expensive and extravagantly-fitted residences of merchants and tradesmen, did not then exist. The latter lived over their shops or warehouses, and the former only aspired to a dull house in Bloomsbury, or, like David Copperfield's father-in-law, Mr. Spenlow, a villa at Norwood, or perhaps a country residence at Hampstead or Highgate.
In 1808 a designer and maker of furniture, George Smith by name, who held the appointment of "Upholder extraordinary to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales," and carried on business at "Princess" Street, Cavendish Square, produced a book of designs, 158 in number, published by "Wm. Taylor," of Holborn. These include cornices, window drapery, bedsteads, tables, chairs, bookcases, commodes, and other furniture, the titles of some of which occur for about the first time in our vocabularies, having been adapted from the French. "Escritore, jardiniere, dejuné tables, chiffoniers" (the spelling copied from Smith's book), all bear the impress of the pseudo-classic taste; and his designs, some of which are reproduced, shew the fashion of our so-called artistic furniture in England at the time of the Regency. Mr. Smith, in the "Preliminary Remarks" prefacing the illustrations, gives us an idea of the prevailing taste, which it is instructive to peruse, looking back now some three-quarters of a century:—
"Library Fauteuil." Reproduced from Smith's Book of Designs, published in 1804
"The following practical observations on the various woods employed in cabinet work may be useful. Mahogany, when used in houses of consequence, should be confined to the parlour and the bedchamber floors. In furniture for these apartments the less inlay of other woods, the more chaste will be the style of work. If the wood be of a fine, compact, and bright quality, the ornaments may be carved clean in the mahogany. Where it may be requisite to make out panelling by an inlay of lines, let those lines be of brass or ebony. In drawing-rooms, boudoirs, ante-rooms, East and West India satin woods, rosewood, tulip wood, and the other varieties of woods brought from the East, may be used; with satin and light coloured woods the decorations may be of ebony or rosewood; with rosewood let the decorations be ormolu, and the inlay of brass. Bronze metal, though sometimes used with satin wood, has a cold and poor effect: it suits better on gilt work, and will answer well enough on mahogany."
"Parlor Chairs," Shewing the Inlay of Brass referred to. From Smith's Book of Designs, published 1808.
Amongst the designs published by him are some few of a subdued Gothic character; these are generally carved in light oak, or painted light stone colour, and have, in some cases, heraldic shields, with crests and coats of arms picked out in colour. There are window seats painted to imitate marble, with the Roman or Greco-Roman ornaments painted green to represent bronze. The most unobjectionable are mahogany with bronze green ornaments.
Of the furniture of this period there are several pieces in the Mansion House, in the City of London, which apparently was partly refurnished about the commencement of the century.
Bookcase. Design Published by T. Sheraton, June 12th, 1806. Note.—Very similar bookcases are in the London Mansion House.
In the Court Room of the Skinners' Company there are tables which are now used' with extensions, so as to form a horseshoe table for committee meetings. They are good examples of the heavy and solid carving in mahogany, early in the century before the fashion had gone out of representing the heads and feet of animals in the designs of furniture. These tables have massive legs, with lion's heads and claws, carved with great skill and shewing much spirit, the wood being of the best quality and rich in color.
"Drawing Room Chairs in Profile." From G. Smith's Book, published 1808.
In the work of the manufacturers just enumerated, may be traced the influence of the "Empire" style. With the restoration, however, of the Monarchy in France came the inevitable change in fashions, and "Le style de l'Empire" was condemned. In its place came a revival of the Louis Quinze scrolls and curves, but with less character and restraint, until the style we know as "baroque," 19 or debased "rococo," came in. Ornament of a florid and incongruous character was lavished on decorative furniture, indicative of a taste for display rather than for appropriate enrichment.
It had been our English custom for some long period to take our fashions from France, and, therefore, about the time of William IV. and during the early part of the present Queen's reign, the furniture for our best houses was designed and made in the French style. In the "Music" Room at Chatsworth are some chairs and footstools used at the time of the Coronation of William IV. and Queen Adelaide, which have quite the appearance of French furniture.
The old fashion of lining rooms with oak panelling, which has been noticed in an earlier chapter, had undergone a change which is worth recording. If the illustration of the Elizabethan oak panelling, as given in the English section of Chapter III., be referred to, it will be seen that the oak lining reaches from the floor to within about two or three feet of the cornice. Subsequently this panelling was divided into an upper and a lower part, the former commencing about the height of the back of an ordinary chair, a moulding or chair-rail forming a capping to the lower part. Then pictures came to be let into the panelling; and presently the upper part was discarded and the lower wainscoting remained, properly termed the Dado,20 which we have seen revived both in wood and in various decorative materials of the present day. During the period we are now discussing, this arrangement lost favour in the eyes of our grandfathers, and the lowest member only was retained, which is now termed the "skirting board."
As we approach a period that our older contemporaries can remember, it is very interesting to turn over the leaves of the back numbers of such magazines and newspapers as treated of the Industrial Arts. The Art Union, which changed its title to the Art Journal in 1849, had then been in existence for about ten years, and had done good work in promoting the encouragement of Art and manufactures. The "Society of Arts" had been formed in London as long ago as 1756, and had given prizes for designs and methods of improving different processes of manufacture. Exhibitions of the specimens sent in for competition for the awards were, and are still, held at their house in Adelphi Buildings. Old volumes of "Transactions of the Society" are quaint works of reference with regard to these exhibitions.
About 1840, Mr., afterwards Sir, Charles Barry, R.A., had designed and commenced the present, or, as it was then called, the New Palace of Westminster, and, following the Gothic character of the building, the furniture and fittings were naturally of a design to harmonize with what was then quite a departure from the heavy architectural taste of the day. Mr. Barry was the first in this present century to leave the beaten track, although the Reform and Travellers' Clubs had already been designed by him on more classic lines. The Speaker's chair in the House of Commons is evidently designed after one of the fifteenth century "canopied seats," which have been noticed and illustrated in the second chapter; and the "linen scroll pattern" panels can be counted by the thousand in the Houses of Parliament and the different official residences which form part of the Palace. The character of the work is subdued and not flamboyant, is excellent in design and workmanship, and is highly creditable, when we take into consideration the very low state of Art in England fifty years ago.
This want of taste was very much discussed in the periodicals of the day, and, yielding to expressed public opinion, Government had in 1840-1 appointed a Select Committee to take into consideration the promotion of the fine Arts in the country, Mr. Charles Barry, Mr. Eastlake, and Sir Martin Shee, R.A., being amongst the witnesses examined. The report of this Committee, in 1841, contained the opinion "That such an important and National work as the erection of the two Houses of Parliament affords an opportunity which ought not to be neglected of encouraging, not only the higher, but every subordinate branch of fine Art in this country."
Mr. Augustus Welby Pugin was a well-known designer of the Gothic style of furniture of this time. Born in 1811, he had published in 1835 his "Designs for Gothic Furniture," and later his "Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume"; and by skilful application of his knowledge to the decorations of the different ecclesiastical buildings he designed, his reputation became established. One of his designs is here reproduced. Pugin's work and reputation have survived, notwithstanding the furious opposition he met with at the time. In a review of one of his books, in the Art Union of 1839, the following sentence completes the criticism:—"As it is a common occurrence in life to find genius mistaken for madness, so does it sometimes happen that a madman is mistaken for a genius. Mr. Welby Pugin has oftentimes appeared to us to be a case in point."
Prie-dieu, In Carved Oak, enriched with Painting and Gilding. Designed by Mr. Pugin, and manufactured by Mr. Crace, London.
At this time furniture design and manufacture, as an Industrial Art in England, seems to have attracted no attention whatever. There are but few allusions to the design of decorative woodwork in the periodicals of the day; and the auctioneers' advertisements—with a few notable exceptions, like that of the Strawberry Hill Collection of Horace Walpole, gave no descriptions; no particular interest in the subject appears to have been manifested, save by a very limited number of the dilettanti, who, like Walpole, collected the curios and cabinets of two or three hundred years ago.
Secretaire and Bookcase, In Carved Oak, in the style of German Gothic. (From Drawing by Professor Heideloff, Published in the "Art Union," 1816.)
York House was redecorated and furnished about this time, and as it is described as "Excelling any other dwelling of its own class in regal magnificence and vieing with the Royal Palaces of Europe," we may take note of an account of its re-equipment, written in 1841 for the Art Journal. This notice speaks little for the taste of the period, and less for the knowledge and grasp of the subject by the writer of an Art critique of the day:—"The furniture generally is of no particular style, but, on the whole, there is to be found a mingling of everything, in the best manner of the best epochs of taste." Writing further on of the ottoman couches, "causeuses," etc., the critic goes on to tell of an alteration in fashion which had evidently just taken place:—"Some of them, in place of plain or carved rosewood or mahogany, are ornamented in white enamel, with classic subjects in bas-relief of perfect execution."
Towards the close of the period embraced by the limits of this chapter, the eminent firm of Jackson and Graham were making headway, a French designer named Prignot being of considerable assistance in establishing their reputation for taste; and in the Exhibition which was soon to take place, this firm took a very prominent position. Collinson and Lock, who have recently acquired this firm's premises and business, were both brought up in the house as young men, and left some thirty odd years ago for Herrings, of Fleet Street, whom they succeeded about 1870.
Another well-known decorator who designed and manufactured furniture of good quality was Leonard William Collmann, first of Bouverie Street and later of George Street, Portman Square. He was a pupil of Sydney Smirke, R.A. (who designed and built the Carlton and the Conservative Clubs), and was himself an excellent draughtsman, and carried out the decoration and furnishing of many public buildings, London clubs, and mansions of the nobility and gentry. His son is at present Director of Decorations to Her Majesty at Windsor Castle. Collmann's designs were occasionally Gothic, but generally classic.
There is evidence of the want of interest in the subject of furniture in the auctioneers' catalogues of the day. By the courtesy of Messrs. Christie and Manson, the writer has had access to the records of this old firm, and two or three instances of sales of furniture may be given. While the catalogues of the Picture sales of 1830-40 were printed on paper of quarto size, and the subjects described at length, those of "Furniture" are of the old-fashioned small octavo size, resembling the catalogue of a small country auctioneer of the present day, and the printed descriptions rarely exceed a single line. The prices very rarely amount to more than £10; the whole proceeds of a day's sale were often less than £100, and sometimes did not reach £50. At the sale of "Rosslyn House," Hampstead, in 1830, a mansion of considerable importance, the highest-priced article was "A capital maghogany pedestal sideboard, with hot closet, cellaret, 2 plate drawers, and fluted legs," which brought £32. At the sale of the property of "A man of Fashion," "a marqueterie cabinet, inlaid with trophies, the panels of Sêvres china, mounted in ormolu," sold for twenty-five guineas; and a "Reisener (sic) table, beautifully inlaid with flowers, and drawers," which appears to have been reserved at nine guineas, was bought in at eight-and-a-half guineas. Frequenters of Christie's of the present day who have seen such furniture realize as many pounds as the shillings included in such sums, will appreciate the enormously increased value of really good old French furniture.
Perhaps the most noticeable comparison between the present day and that of half-a-century ago may be made in reading through the prices of the great sale at Stowe House, in 1848, when the financial difficulties of the Duke of Buckingham caused the sale by auction which lasted thirty-seven days, and realised upwards of £71,000, the proceeds of the furniture amounting to £27,152. We have seen in the notice of French furniture that armoires by Boule have, during the past few years, brought from £4,000 to £6,000 each under the hammer, and the want of appreciation of this work, probably the most artistic ever produced by designer and craftsman, is sufficiently exemplified by the statement that at the Stowe sale two of Boule's famous armoires, of similar proportions to those in the Hamilton Palace and Jones Collections, were sold for £21 and £19 8s. 6d. respectively.
We are accustomed now to see the bids at Christie's advance by guineas, by fives and by tens; and it is amusing to read in these old catalogues of marqueterie tables, satin wood cabinets, rosewood pier tables, and other articles of "ornamental furniture," as it was termed, being knocked down to Town and Emanuel, Webb, Morant, Hitchcock, Raldock, Forrest, Redfearn, Litchfield (the writer's father), and others who were the buyers and regular attendants at "Christie's" (afterwards Christie and Manson) of 1830 to 1845, for such sums as 6s., 15s., and occasionally £10 or £15.
A single quotation is given, but many such are to be found:—Sale on February 25th and 26th, 1841. Lot 31. "A small oval table, with a piece of Sêvres porcelain painted with flowers. 6s."
It is pleasant to remember, as some exception to this general want of interest in the subject, that in 1843 there was held at Gore House, Kensington, then the fashionable residence of Lady Blessington, an exhibition of old furniture; and a series of lectures, illustrated by the contributions, was given by Mr., now Sir, J.C. Robinson. The Venetian State chair, illustrated on p. 57, was amongst the examples lent by the Queen on that occasion. Specimens of Boule's work and some good pieces of Italian Renaissance were also exhibited.
A great many of the older Club houses of London were built and furnished between 1813 and 1851, the Guards' being of the earlier date, and the Army and Navy of the latter; and during the intervening thirty odd years the United Service, Travellers', Union, United University, Athenaeum, Oriental, Wyndham, Oxford and Cambridge, Reform, Carlton, Garrick, Conservative, and some others were erected and fitted up. Many of these still retain much of the furniture of Gillows, Seddons, and some of the other manufacturers of the time whose work has been alluded to, and these are favourable examples of the best kind of cabinet work done in England during the reign of George IV., William IV., and that of the early part of Queen Victoria. It is worth recording, too, that during this period, steam power, which had been first applied to machinery about 1815, came into more general use in the manufacture of furniture, and with its adoption there seems to have been a gradual abandonment of the apprenticeship system in the factories and workshops of our country; and the present "piece work" arrangement, which had obtained more or less since the English cabinet makers had brought out their "Book of Prices" some years previously, became generally the custom of the trade, in place of the older "day work" of a former generation.
Cradle, In Boxwood, for H.M. the Queen. Designed and Carved by H. Rogers, London.
In France the success of national exhibitions had become assured, the exhibitors having increased from only 110 when the first experiment was tried in 1798, by leaps and bounds, until at the eleventh exhibition, in 1849, there were 4,494 entries. The Art Journal of that year gives us a good illustrated notice of some of the exhibits, and devotes an article to pointing out the advantages to be gained by something of the kind taking place in England.
From 1827 onwards we had established local exhibitions in Dublin, Leeds, and Manchester. The first time a special building was devoted to exhibition of manufactures was at Birmingham in 1849; and from the illustrated review of this in the Art Journal one can see there was a desire on the part of our designers and manufacturers to strike out in new directions and make progress.
We are able to reproduce some of the designs of furniture of this period; and in the cradle, designed and carved in Turkey-boxwood, for the Queen, by Mr. Harry Rogers, we have a fine piece of work, which would not have disgraced the latter period of the Renaissance. Indeed, Mr. Rogers was a very notable designer and carver of this time; he had introduced his famous boxwood carvings about seven years previously.
Design for a Tea Caddy, By J. Strudwick, for Inlaying and Ivory. Published as one of the "Original Designs for Manufacturers" in Art Journal, 1829.
The cradle was also, by the Queen's command, sent to the Exhibition, and it may be worth while quoting the artist's description of the carving:—"In making the design for the cradle it was my intention that the entire object should symbolize the union of the Royal Houses of England with that of Saxe-Coburg and Gothe, and, with this view, I arranged that one end should exhibit the Arms and national motto of England, and the other those of H.R.H. Prince Albert. The inscription, 'Anno, 1850,' was placed between the dolphins by Her Majesty's special command."
Design for One of the Wings of a Sideboard, By W. Holmes. Exhibited at the "Society of Art" in 1818, and published by the Art Journal in 1829.
In a criticism of this excellent specimen of work, the Art Journal of the time said:—"We believe the cradle to be one of the most important examples of the art of wood carving ever executed in this country."
Rogers was also a writer of considerable ability on the styles of ornament; and there are several contributions from his pen to the periodicals of the day, besides designs which were published in the Art Journal under the heading of "Original Designs for Manufacturers." These articles appeared occasionally, and contained many excellent suggestions for manufacturers and carvers, amongst others, the drawings of H. Fitzcook, one of whose designs for a work table we are able to reproduce. Other more or less constant contributors of original designs for furniture were J. Strudwick and W. Holmes, a design from the pencil of each of whom is given.
Design for a Work Table, By H. Fitzcook. Published as one of the "Original Designs for Manufacturers" in the Art Journal, 1850.
But though here and there in England good designers came to the front, as a general rule the art of design in furniture and decorative woodwork was at a very low ebb about this time.
In furniture, straight lines and simple curves may be plain and uninteresting, but they are by no means so objectionable as the over ornamentation of the debased rococo style, which obtained in this country about forty years ago; and if the scrolls and flowers, the shells and rockwork, which ornamented mirror frames, sideboard backs, sofas, and chairs, were debased in style, even when carefully carved in wood, the effect was infinitely worse when, for the sake of economy, as was the case with the houses of the middle classes, this elaborate and laboured enrichment was executed in the fashionable stucco of the day.
Large mirrors, with gilt frames of this material, held the places of honour on the marble chimney piece, and on the console, or pier table, which was also of gilt stucco, with a marble slab. The cheffonier, with its shelves having scroll supports like an elaborate S, and a mirror at the back, with a scrolled frame, was a favourite article of furniture.
Carpets were badly designed, and loud and vulgar in colouring; chairs, on account of the shape and ornament in vogue, were unfitted for their purpose, on account of the wood being cut across the grain; the fire-screen, in a carved rosewood frame, contained the caricature, in needlework, of a spaniel, or a family group of the time, ugly enough to be in keeping with its surroundings.
The dining room was sombre and heavy. The pedestal sideboard, with a large mirror in a scrolled frame at the back, had come in; the chairs were massive and ugly survivals of the earlier reproductions of the Greek patterns, and, though solid and substantial, the effect was neither cheering nor refining.
In the bedrooms were winged wardrobes and chests of drawers; dressing tables and washstands, with scrolled legs, nearly always in mahogany; the old four-poster had given way to the Arabian or French bedstead, and this was being gradually replaced by the iron or brass bedsteads, which came in after the Exhibition had shewn people the advantages of the lightness and cleanliness of these materials.
In a word, from the early part of the present century, until the impetus given to Art by the great Exhibition had had time to take effect, the general taste in furnishing houses of all but a very few persons, was at about its worst.
In other countries the rococo taste had also taken hold. France sustained a higher standard than England, and such figure work as was introduced into furniture was better executed, though her joinery was inferior. In Italy old models of the Renaissance still served as examples for reproduction, but the ornament became more carelessly carved and the decoration less considered. Ivory inlaying was largely executed in Milan and Venice; mosaics of marble were specialites of Rome and of Florence, and were much applied to the decoration of cabinets; Venice was busy manufacturing carved walnutwood furniture in buffets, cabinets, Negro page boys, elaborately painted and gilt, and carved mirror frames, the chief ornaments of which were cupids and foliage.
Italian carving has always been free and spirited, the figures have never been wanting in grace, and, though by comparison with the time of the Renaissance there is a great falling off, still, the work executed in Italy during the present century has been of considerable merit as regards ornament, though this has been overdone. In construction and joinery, however, the Italian work has been very inferior. Cabinets of great pretension and elaborate ornament, inlaid perhaps with ivory, lapislazuli, or marbles, are so imperfectly made that one would think ornament, and certainly not durability, had been the object of the producer.
In Antwerp, Brussels, Liege, and other Flemish Art centres, the School of Wood Carving, which came in with the Renaissance, appears to have been maintained with more or less excellence. With the increased quality of the carved woodwork manufactured, there was a proportion of ill-finished and over-ornamented work produced; and although, as has been before observed, the manufacture of cheap marqueterie in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities was bringing the name of Dutch furniture into ill-repute—still, so far as the writer's observations have gone, the Flemish wood-carver appears to have been, at the time now under consideration, ahead of his fellow craftsmen in Europe; and when in the ensuing chapter we come to notice some of the representative exhibits in the great International Competition of 1851, it will be seen that the Antwerp designer and carver was certainly in the foremost rank.
In Austria, too, some good cabinet work was being carried out, M. Leistler, of Vienna, having at the time a high reputation.
In Paris the house of Fourdinois was making a name which, in subsequent exhibitions, we shall see took a leading place amongst the designers and manufacturers of decorative furniture.
England, it has been observed, was suffering from languor in Art industry. The excellent designs of the Adams and their school, which obtained early in the century, had been supplanted, and a meaningless rococo style succeeded the heavy imitations of French pseudo-classic furniture. Instead of, as in the earlier and more tasteful periods, when architects had designed woodwork and furniture to accord with the style of their buildings, they appear to have then, as a general rule, abandoned the control of the decoration of interiors, and the result was one which—when we examine our National furniture of half a century ago—has not left us much to be proud of, as an artistic and industrious people.
Some notice has been taken of the appreciation of this unsatisfactory state of things by the Government of the time, and by the Press; and, as with a knowledge of our deficiency, came the desire and the energy to bring about its remedy, we shall see that, with the Exhibition of 1851, and the intercourse and the desire to improve, which naturally followed that great and successful effort, our designers and craftsmen profited by the great stimulus which Art and Industry then received.
Sideboard in Carved Oak, with Cellaret. Designed and Manufactured by Mr. Gillow, London. 1851 Exhibition.
Chimneypiece and Bookcase. In carved walnut wood with colored marbles inlaid and doors of perforated brass. Designed By Mr. T. R. Macquoid, Architect, and Manufactured by Messrs. Holland & Sons. London, 1851 Exhibition.
Cabinet in the Mediaeval Style. Designed and Manufactured by Mr. Grace, London. 1851 Exhibition.
Bookcase in Carved Wood. Designed and Manufactured by Messrs. Jackson & Graham, London, 1851 Exhibition.
Grand Pianoforte. In Ebony inlaid, and enriched with Gold in relief. Designed and Manufactured by Messrs. Broadwood, London. 1851 Exhibition
I. Ancient Furniture.
Chapter II. The Middle Ages.
Chapter III. The Renaissance.
Chapter IV. Jacobean furniture.
Chapter V. The Furniture of Eastern Countries.
Chapter VI. French Furniture.
Chapter VII. Chippendale and his Contemporaries.
Chapter VIII. First Half of the Nineteenth Century
Chapter IX. From 1851 to the Present Time.