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Jacobean Or Restoration Furniture

Influences at work — Characteristics of designs — Furniture of the Restoration—Distinctive types sprang up.

THE furniture treated on in this chapter is that which was made soon after the Restoration, and the style that continued to be followed with more or less change and development during the reigns of Charles H. and James II., in fact until Dutch influence made itself felt and an entirely new phase came about in the history of the furniture trade.

In order that the home connoisseur may rightly understand the chief points of distinction in the several periods in which he directs his researches, it is most important that he should bear in mind the conditions under which the changes which mark the boundaries of those periods were made.

In French furniture the revolutions and changes of monarchy through which the country passed, and was experiencing, had a remarkable bearing upon the characteristics of design and ornament. As we have seen, the Continental Renaissance had an immense influence upon the wood-workers' craft in this country, and as will be gathered from a perusal of a subsequent chapter Dutch influence, the result of a change in the line of the reigning sovereigns, was brought to bear upon the furniture which was made in England during the Age of Walnut,

English people were tired of the Commonwealth and gladly welcomed the son of the King they had executed ; so glad that the people looked with an indulgent eye upon his weaknesses and allowed what a few years before would have been sternly condemned to influence trade and commerce, and further to influence art, design, and even the purpose of domestic furniture. Royal favour was extended in many directions, but no one will take exception to that given to Grinling Gibbons, who found in Charles II. a patron.


The " discovery " of Gibbons was a great event. Evelyn tells us that the King saw some of the work of Grinling Gibbons at Whitehall. He was so pleased with it that he showed it to the Queen, who was delighted, and as the direct result some commissions were given forthwith for decorative carving for Windsor Castle. The ruthless destruction of old furniture after the downfall of the royal cause, and the subsequent trial and execution of Charles I., had stripped royal residences of much that was rare. The loss, however, gave Charles II., an opportunity of furnishing anew, and the influence of his example was followed by many royalists, who thought to retrieve their fallen fortunes and to restore the dignity of their homes—many of which they began to rebuild.

Grinling Gibbons, having been brought into notoriety by the patronage accorded to him by the King, was soon busy. Sir Christopher Wren employed him to carve some of his wonderful floral festoons, fruit, and flowers, some of which it is said were so delicate that they would shake with the vibration of passing vehicles. Gibbons' handiwork may be recognised in St Paul's Cathedral, many of the London churches, Windsor, Studley Royal, Lowther Castle, Trinity College, Oxford, and the Bristol Old Library. So much carving is attributable to the chisel of Gibbons, that probably much of it was done by his pupils, or by those wood-carvers who had caught his style, and had been brought under his influence.

The mistresses of Charles had great influence over him, and appear to have had much to do with the changes that came about in royal favour, and in art and craftsmanship, in such rapid succession. The " Fair Castlemaine," who was created Duchess of Cleveland, set the fashion during the first half of Charles II.'s reign, for she was then his chief favourite, and he. willingly conceded her every whim. Then later, when her rival came into power, French influence was brought into the English Court. It was then that Louise de Queronalle became Charles's mistress, and was eventually created Duchess of Portsmouth, her son being made Duke of Richmond. This lady's influence was remarkable, and some of the cabinet-makers of the day were commissioned to make new furniture for the King—for it is said that the extravagance of the Duchess of Portland demanded that her rooms should be re-furnished several times—and they sought to please the royal mistress by taking their inspiration for new designs of ornament in French art. French tapestry was favoured, and the apartments of this lady soon resembled those of the French Court in the days of Louis XIV. Her rooms were also filled with Japanese cabinets, screens, and tables, the cabinets being placed upon stands carved not unlike the Italian art of the Renaissance.

It may be pointed out here that although oak was still used it was in the reign of Charles II. that walnut was noticed, its smooth surface being regarded a merit in itself, influencing in no small measure its use.

The loyalty of the Royalists was shown by following every change in the mode at the Court, and the chairs and other pieces of furniture which were gradually introduced were duplicated ; one and all became a part of the Restoration, which influenced Society in this country at that time.

Another reason why so much new furniture was made in the reign of Charles II..—furniture makers must have been very busy then—was because the revulsion of feeling against the Commonwealth and the rule of the Lord Protector showed itself in an anxiety to discard every-thing that bore the stamp of the plain Puritanical order of things, and to substitute the new or Restoration style.

Charles II., and those who had shared his banishment, could not readily forget the countries where they had spent their exile, neither could they look with other than favour upon the objects to which they had grown accustomed. Thus it was that foreign fashion and French, Italian, and Flemish styles were welcomed, and English artisans were encouraged to copy them.


The collector finds some noticeable characteristics in the designs followed by chair-makers during the Restoration period. The spiral turning of the legs is very remark-able. This beautiful method was practised with good effect by the leading chair-makers, but we find much contemporary work not so good ; indeed, it is evident that many tried to copy the peculiar style of turning without having proper tools or appliances to produce the best effects. In reference to the spiral twist, it is said that this peculiarly characteristic ornament was of. Eastern origin, travelling westward and coming to this country by way of Portugal and Holland.

The solid wood backs of the chairs of Elizabethan days were continued right up to the end of the Stuart period, but they were used side by side with the handsomely carved chairs with caned backs, which became so famous at that time, also in conjunction with larger chairs which were so effective with their richly coloured upholsteries. The carved and pierced work of the chair backs and front rails was very decorative. The horizontal back rails and uprights were deeply carved, and although much of the wood was cut away there was sufficient left to make them substantial. At that time the backs became higher, affording greater opportunities of decorative carving in the upper portion ; the crown surmounting the tall carved frame of the caned back chairs was then a conspicuous feature (note examples illustrated in this chapter).

The free adoption of the Dutch style of carving became a growing influence,- increasing in its use, and eventually predominating in the designs of the period. There are marked characteristics about the decorative ornaments of the chests of drawers, and the chests on drawers which became cupboards. Pendant decoration is a decided feature ; it was produced by turned ornament split and laid on. At that time chests on stands with twisted rails and supports were mostly of oak ; but walnut was coming, and when it came it did so with a rush. The moulded panelling, a distinct feature in the furniture of Charles II., is one of the characteristics of the closing years of the Stuart era.. These panels arranged in geometrical lines took the place of the inlays of Elizabethan days (these inlays are, of course, in no way associated with the Dutch marqueterie, which is referred to more particularly in another chapter).

The large lock plates and straps of an- earlier period gave place in Charles's time to fancy decorative escutcheons. It was then that the chest of drawers finally evolved from the simple chest with a drawer under it, and became such an important piece of furniture.


It is difficult to distinguish what have been called characteristics of designs from the objects themselves. It may be taken that the prevailing style of ornament was applied with more or less success to all decorative furniture.. The chests of drawers were the most noticeable in that there had been some considerable developments in form as well as in decoration and ornament. The drawers and cupboards and canopied tops assumed the form of the chests of drawers as made during the last quarter of the seventeenth century and onwards, although the cupboard underneath was often retained. It was at that time that the high boys, or tall boys," as they were called later, came into being, and their popularity continued throughout the whole of the eighteenth century. It is noteworthy that the legs under drawers and chests were superseded by a bracket foot about the year 1680; an example of the foot is seen in Fig. 22, in which the bracket is conspicuous.

The style of the room in which furniture of this period was used may be gathered from inspection of the paneling removed from one of the rooms in an old house in Clifford's Inn, now reconstructed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was taken from a house built in 1686, and is of the style then prevailing. Such old rooms, or reconstructed rooms, are indeed fitting places in which to show off to the best advantage Jacobean furniture, and collectors are wise in preparing a suitable casket in which to enclose their gems. Fortunate indeed are those who have an old house at their disposal, a ready-made museum.

The gate-legged tables with spiral twisted legs which collectors so much admire are of that period. The table is usually oval, the top being made in three pieces, two of which are flaps which can be raised or lowered by moving the gate-leg supports under them. Such tables are mostly of oak, although not of that wood in every case. For instance, Fig. 23 represents an oak table in its original condition, whereas Fig. 24 indicates a gate-legged table made of cherry-wood, the legs in the latter case being turned, in the former spirally cut.

It is interesting to note here the greater width of the dining-table used from Restoration days onwards. It was due, it is said, to greater strength of security enabling the guests to be served from either side of the table, which was then placed in the centre of the room, where-as at an earlier time, the guests sat with their backs to the wall, facing the servers who moved about in front of narrow tables.

Many of the older London halls of the City Companies contain fine examples of Jacobean furniture, which were made after the rebuilding of the halls which had been destroyed in the Great Fire. Specially noticeable is the Master's Chair of the Brewers' Company ; the fruit and flowers with which it is ornamented is a masterpiece of carving. At Dalkeith Palace there are some fine chairs which were given by Charles II. to his son, the Duke of Monmouth.

The dresser underwent some changes at this time, and some important developments which gave rise to a distinct local characteristic are referred to in another paragraph in this chapter.

The day-bed or couch of the second half of the seventeenth century is an important departure. Of these there are several in the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of them having beautifully carved rails, the head being supported by figures carved in the framework. The upholstery used has evidently been renewed, for the needlework with which it is covered is of a somewhat later date. The illustrations of day-beds or couches shown in Fig. 6 and Fig. 105 are specially interesting, as they are exceptionally fine examples of different types.

Fig. 25 illustrates another gate-legged table of oak with deeply cut spiral legs. It is a fine example of the Stuart period. Fig. 26 is a chair of the same period, upholstered in leather and studded with brass nails. Both these examples were lately in the antique galleries of Messrs Waring & Gillow Ltd.

As it has already been suggested the solid oak chairs which had been in use in this country for so many years, continued to be used and also made during the Jacobean period. It is not an uncommon thing to find such chairs made for public corporations and ecclesiastical purposes still in use, having served the object for which they were made nearly three centuries. Fig. 27 represents an oak vestry chair in splendid condition. Similar chairs are met with in many old church rooms and vestries. The decorative carved chairs with caned seats and backs, so special a feature in the reign of Charles II., are typified in Fig. 29, in which are illustrated four small chairs and one armchair, the style of carving suggesting an early date, probably about 1686. A some-what different style of armchair is shown in Fig. 28, which represents a carved walnut Jacobean chair, of the period 1689. It has both caned back and seat, the caned back extending to the outer frame. The Jacobean tables and dressers gradually assumed a distinct style, the moulding of the drawers having already been referred to. The drop handles also became characteristic of the period, as well as the larger and more ornamental escutcheons.

Fig. 30 represents one of these panelled side - tables made, probably, about 1700. Its height is 2 ft. 8 in., the length 7 ft., and the depth 1 ft. 9 in.. In Fig. 31 is shown an oak dresser-table of the same period, there being six drawers and a centre cupboard. At the Manor House, Hitchin, it is placed against oak panelling on an old oaken floor. The characteristic drops superseding the bulbous and turned supports to the canopies of the Court cupboards and buffets were general in the Jacobean period. Two very fine pieces representing slightly different styles, yet all characteristic of the period, are shown in Figs. 32 and 34. The first of these, Fig. 32, is a carved oak Jacobean buffet, dated 1689. There are cupboards at either end of the upper portion with an unusually large double panel, exhibiting beautiful carved scroll work in the centre. Below there are two doors, and the lower panels of 'the doors are decoratively panelled.

Fig. 34 is another carved oak buffet, dated 1677, the initials upon it being "R. A." The upper portion is more ornamental than the lower section, which almost suggests an earlier piece.

Among the sundry furniture of this period are quaintly carved wood cradles of oak. There is one in the Victoria and Albert Museum dated 1691. Some are quite plain on the panel sides but have ornamented heads ; others are carved on the rails. There are also some pretty and useful linen presses of oak and walnut, and it is not an uncommon thing to meet with a massive carved oak case for a towel roller, such pieces being fairly common late in the seventeenth century.


In concluding this chapter which brings to a close the period of Jacobean or Stuart influence, it may be pointed out that styles change slowly. Although the leading furniture makers, and those in touch with the Court and its courtiers changed the styles of the furniture they were making according to intrigue and influence brought to bear, local furniture makers—and there must have been many men making furniture for their patrons in remote districts—continued to make chairs, chests, and tables according to the patterns with which they had been long acquainted ; and although they might in part copy newer styles, they were long in doing so in their entirety. Hence it is that many genuine antiques puzzle dealers, and especially home connoisseurs by whom they may be owned.

Moreover, during the seventeenth century distinct local types sprang up. One of these is the Welsh dresser or buffet. It was often three tiers in height, the upper one being merely a shelf supported by pillars. It is a distinctive piece rarely met with beyond the borders of Wales, excepting in a few of the border towns. The high-backed dresser is another local development, peculiar in one particular form in the West of England. One writer, referring to the curious styles becoming very local in their use, mentions the brass-studded chests of the Eastern Midlands as a peculiarity. On these chests the initials of their owners and sometimes the dates when they were made are recorded by the use of small brass nails, varied by inlays of lead or pewter.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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