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The Age Of Walnut

Some examples of royal palaces—Furniture of the period—Characteristics of the chair—Upholstered furniture—Walnut tables and cabinets —Other furniture of the Age.

ALTHOUGH we are accustomed to regard the Age of Walnut as dating from the accession of William III., as has been stated in previous chapters, walnut was used in England and in Holland during the reigns of the later Stuarts. Thus when William III. ascended the English throne in conjunction with Queen Mary, English cabinet - makers were prepared for the walnut furniture which was for some years afterwards to partake of Dutch characteristics, just the same as art in other directions was influenced by the King, who had strong natural prejudices in favour of all things Dutch. He had been accustomed to different surroundings, and a life quite at variance with the gorgeous and somewhat riotous court of the last of the Stuarts. He came over to England, and had not been established on the English throne more than a short time before Society discovered the new influence which was making itself felt at the royal palaces.

When William III. came over the magnificent palaces of Whitehall and St James's were furnished in the extravagant splendour with which the apartments of the mistresses of Charles II. had been supplied. Windsor was also the seat of great magnificence. Indeed, the furnishings of the castle outshone those of Whitehall. Then when Whitehall Palace was burnt down in the reign of William and Mary, and only the great banqueting hall left, Windsor gradually came under the spell of Dutch influence.

In order to understand the furniture then introduced it is necessary to recall the historical architecture of that day. Hampton Court was being added to, and the great galleries and apartments remained to be furnished in accordance with Dutch taste. It is said that while the King concentrated his efforts upon the architectural side, taking a keen interest in the building of the new wings and frontage of Hampton Court, which, in the opinion of architects and antiquarian experts of the present day, so ruthlessly destroyed the beauty of the pile of Tudor architecture, Mary was giving her whole - hearted attention to the furnishing of the palace. It is in Hampton Court, among the relics of the old furniture there, that we look for some of the finest examples of the Age of Walnut.

We do not overlook the Court influence nor the patronage given by Royalty to cabinetmakers. Indeed, we regard that as very important in that there is evidence that those who came over with the King and Queen had many partisans in this country, and they would not be long in making known the peculiarity of their sovereigns' taste. They would explain the domestic tendencies of the Queen, and give Society a very good idea of what would be done in London and in centres which came under Court influence.

Although we are apt to regard the cabinet-makers of London as the chief exponents of fashions and art, we must remember that there were always many persons who were wishful to employ local talent. For centuries English oak was wrought in the same way, and the style of wood-carving changed at a slow pace. Things were quickening, however, and during the Age of Walnut the pace advanced. The use of walnut spread rapidly, and the style of furniture which Dutch influence and Dutch interpretation of art and upholstery at that time encouraged became very general. The number of pieces—especially chairs—which were made early in the reign of the new King showing the " correct " style, indicated that as soon as makers caught the inspiration the furniture of the Stuarts would be put on one side and the newer furniture would be in the ascendency.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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