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Furniture - Some Examples From Royal Palaces

Connoisseurs of old furniture, always keen on learning the chief characteristics of antiques of an early period from the examination of authentic specimens, have the satisfaction of knowing that there are examples of the Age of Walnut during the reigns of William and Mary and of Queen Anne which are not only authentic but pure in style. As it has already been stated, Dutch influence was in the ascendency when Hampton Court Palace was being refurnished, and it is well known that the furniture supplied to the palace was the best that could be obtained, and in accordance with the accepted styles then developed in English furniture made under Dutch influence. Most of this furniture has remained at Hampton Court, and can be examined by any one who wishes to study the peculiarities of that style. The earlier examples were made about the year 1690, and were made for house-hold use. They were for the rooms which were to be occupied by the King and Queen in their new home, for Hampton Court Palace was intended as a residential palace, not as a show place. It was distinct from either the traditional grandeur of the great Norman castle of Windsor, or the Court of St James's in London.

In the great hall at Hampton Court there is to be seen a set of ten chairs, originally twelve. They are of walnut ; the high open backs are carved and interlaced with scroll ornament. The seats are supported by cabriole legs with hoof feet, and there are scrolled stretchers between the front legs and horizontal serpentine stretchers connecting the back with the front. We are told that Queen Mary spent much of her time in needlework, and her ladies-in-waiting were to be seen every day producing the beautiful coverings with which the new furniture of the palace was to be upholstered.

At Hampton Court Palace there are indeed many examples of upholstered chairs, including some very beautiful armchairs, which were probably made within the first few years of William III.'s reign. The upholstery at the present time is that of the days of Queen Anne, when the chairs were probably recovered with the large patterned velvet corresponding with the bed hangings which Queen Anne ordered for her bed-chamber and for other apartments of the palace. It has been pointed out in connection with these chairs that there is a great similarity between the stretchers and those appertaining to the later Restoration days. That indicates that they were made early in William's reign, before any striking alteration had been made by the Dutch influence which gradually altered the characteristics of the walnut furniture of the reign of William and Mary.

The upholstery of much of this early furniture (see chapter xxxi.), is of English-made velvet, such as came into vogue soon after the commencement of the eighteenth century. There was a strong attempt then to prevent the importation of foreign silks and velvets, and English makers began to do a large trade in so-called Genoa and Venetian velvets. Although these were made in this country, like many other goods they retained the name of the place of origin. Thus English textiles were often sold under the name of foreign localities, just the same as English makers today produce English counterparts of foreign goods.

As it has been stated, William III. was much occupied in building operations.. He had also the affairs of State to deal with. Queen Mary, therefore, had to bear the responsibility of setting the fashion. This she certainly did, both in furniture, the manner in which it was displayed in her home, and in her handiwork. It is said that Queen Mary was specially fond of china, and that she covered the tops of her marqueterie cabinets and chimney-pieces with blue and white Kang-He china and Dutch delft ware and other ornaments. At Hampton Court she had set apart for her own use, where she could retreat from the affairs of State, " a set of lodgings," and Defoe, writing about those lodgings, says they were exquisitely furnished, and " there was a fine chintz bed, a great curiosity." " There, too, she had fine china ware, the like whereof was not to be seen in England." Bishop Burnet, referring to her handiwork, tells how the Queen wrought with her own hands, " with a diligence as if she had been compelled to earn her own bread with it." It was thus that she set the fashion to the beautiful petit point needlework, so much of which is to be seen on old walnut furniture of her day. The Queen died in 1694, and it seems as if in sympathy a change passed over the ornamental marqueterie, for the white jasmine flowers and green leaves gave place to the endive-leaved acanthus and the so-called seaweed marqueterie of the later years when William reigned alone. Although the Age of Walnut still lingered on, and in later years was revived in another form, the Georgian era is to be distinguished by the advent and fuller treatment of mahogany rather than of walnut.


In previous chapters the chairs of Jacobean days have been described, also those of the later Restoration days, which with their glorious carving contrasted with the more substantial and plainer chairs fashioned under Cromwellian influence. Walnut had already come to the front, and many of the finer examples of walnut-carved furniture were made before the Restoration period, The smooth-surfaced cabriole-legged Dutch chair is, how-ever, essentially a feature of the Age of Walnut as understood during the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne. The Flemish chair, it is true, although generally of walnut, is sometimes of maple or beech, but when walnut once became the popular wood it retained its hold on the furniture trade until the days of mahogany. It is said that when William came he brought with him the latest Dutch fashions, which included the scrolled Flemish legs and the cabriole knee accompanied by the hoof, which eventually became a Dutch pad or club foot.

We can understand what an impetus was given to trade, especially import trade, when the nobility and the leading politicians and country gentry discovered the style which was acceptable to the new King, and they quickly refurnished, put on one side Carolean chairs, and superseded them with chairs made after Flemish and Dutch patterns.

It is noteworthy that although the Dutch chairs of William were Flemish in design they were introduced into this country at a time when Flemish design had received much of its inspiration from Spanish sources. Thus the Flemish chair, which came in the reign of Charles II. out of Italy, through France, and out of Spain, was more decorative, and had more exaggerated mouldings than the Flemish Dutch chair which had received Dutch influence on the way. Now we have to remember that however Dutch the chairs of William and Mary were, those which were made in this country received an English interpretation. At that time Englishmen were making square oaken wainscot chairs. When the English workman made a Flemish chair he gave a squareness to the frames which were to be caned ; otherwise he modulated the pattern he had before him.

The examples of walnut furniture of this period are very numerous, and fine examples are to be found in many old English homes besides those on view at Hampton Court. The treasures of Boughton House, in Northamptonshire, in the possession of the Earl of Dalkeith, have recently been brought under the notice of the public, in consequence of the splendid exhibition of these antiques, which by the kindness of the Earl were on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington quite recently. These well-authenticated pieces of furniture, and tapestries and embroideries shown with them (see chapter xxix.), were got together by Lord Montagu, the Master of the Great Wardrobe to William III., who was created Duke of Montagu by Anne in 1705. He enlarged Boughton House, which had been purchased by his ancestor Sir Edward Montagu in 1528. The Castle is rich in many early Stuart and Jacobean pieces of carved furniture, as well as those made in the reign of William. There is a fine carved walnut stool covered with flame embroidery in floss silks and ornamental edging ; one of carved walnut covered with pale blue damask ; and one in velvet which has a large floral pattern in colours on a cream-coloured ground. There are several curious armchairs of walnut with seats and backs covered with flame embroidery in floss silk and trimmed with decorated silk edging ; one very remarkable armchair is upholstered with brocade showing a rococo design of canopies, trees, vases, and other objects in silver on a cream-white ground ; and another evidently of the closing days of the seventeenth century is covered with a brocade of floral pattern in silver on a pale blue ground. Of the same period there are marqueterie tables and some gate-legged tables veneered with walnut.

During the last few years dealers and connoisseurs have been amazed at the money value of old furniture still remaining in private houses. On several occasions pieces of furniture which have been in the possession of the families, for whom they were originally made, in an unbroken line of succession, have been brought under the hammer and dispersed. There is always greater interest in a sale of such family relics than in the dispersion of even more valuable pieces which have been collected and got together from a collector's view point rather than that of actual utility, which was, of course, the purpose of the buyers in olden time. Many will recall the famous dispersal of the Holme Lacy treasures, so many of which were rare and were snapped up by wealthy collectors ; in not a few instances the coveted treasures passed over from this country to the New World, where any genuine antique of the period when their forefathers were crossing the Atlantic and founding that great nation which was to grow up on American soil, is greatly appreciated by the millionaires of the States.

Some of our readers will recall the important sale of old furniture at Madryn Castle, Carnarvonshire, a few years ago. Among the old furniture then dispersed were a number of pieces made during the Age of Walnut. There was a pair of William and Mary high-backed chairs, with elaborately carved backs in leaf and scroll ornament and graceful spiral columns. The seats and backs were upholstered in needlework of a contemporary date. The beautiful cabriole legs terminated in claw-and-ball feet. There was a set of six William and Mary marqueterie walnut chairs with broad splats inlaid with vases of flowers and birds. The cabriole legs were ornamented with marqueterie, too, and these handsome chairs, which had been in use in Madryn Castle since the time when Dutch marqueterie was in vogue, were in excellent condition, the old crimson figured velvet upholstery being well preserved. Corresponding with this beautiful suite was a marqueterie-topped walnut table, further enriched by inlays of ivory and mother-of-pearl. There was another fine example of Dutch marqueterie of the William and Mary period, a magnificent bureau chest with three long drawers, the fall-front enclosing a beautifully fitted secretaire. This also was decorated in marqueterie with vases of flowers. It was supported by claw-and-ball feet, and there was a profuse use of chased ormolu mounts.

In conjunction with these beautiful examples of marqueterie there was a table on shaped tapered legs, fitted with a drawer to which was attached chased ring drop handles. The marqueterie ornamentation was exceedingly good.

The illustrations given here represent several distinct types. In Fig. 33 is seen one of a pair of exceptionally fine walnut stools of the period 1690-1695. The needle-work and the way in which it is nailed on can be seen very clearly. The table illustrated in Fig. 35 is a pleasing example of a walnut table with twisted legs strongly braced together.

We have already referred to the early introduction of walnut, and to its frequent presence in Restoration days. The high - back French chair of James II..'s reign was strongly Flemish in its characteristics. The cresting was usually hooped and carved, and was dowelled on to the side uprights or balusters, whereas at an earlier period the top rail had been tenoned. The legs were not mortised to the seat rail as they had been in earlier Restoration days. They were simply let in to the seat framing.

In chairs made in provincial towns there are often slight discrepancies and indications that local workmen were prejudiced in favour of former methods. Hence there is much composite workmanship in some of the chairs which have come from old country houses. It was at the commencement of James II.'s reign that the cabriole leg became a feature, and right through the Age of Walnut it was a distinctive mark.

In William III.'s reign the older Flemish styles changed, and the back instead of being separated by balusters was caned right across to the outer framing. Upholstered chairs were in a similar way upholstered across the back with cut-pile velvet trimmed with narrow braid or tasselled fringes, and sometimes the material was fastened with brass nails.

Fig. 36 and Fig. 37 are carved walnut chairs typical of the early use of walnut. Fig. 36, of late Jacobean type, 1689-1690, has a well-carved back, the seat being upholstered. Fig. 37 is one of the carved back chairs of the period 1685-1689, the cross braces being absent ; the feet, too, are somewhat unusual.

One important feature during the Age of Walnut was the introduction of marqueterie, which is fully dealt with in chapter xx. The marqueterie of English furniture and of furniture imported into this country forms such a distinctive class of cabinet work that it cannot with any degree of fairness be treated upon exhaustively in the different periods when it was in use concurrently with other styles. Right through the Age of Walnut marqueterie crops up. In the Tudor it is met with, to be seen again during the Restoration period, and at a later date, when Dutch influence predominated in this country during the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne. It changed in its characteristics as different materials were available. It was applied to English walnut and to French and Italian walnut, and many of the beautiful cabinets made of English straight-grained walnut were inlaid with marqueterie. The processes changed when the hot caul and press were used. Veneering with the hammer was another process, and as the English and foreign cabinet - makers acquired different experience we find the marqueterie of the Walnut Age undergoing many changes, enriching cabinets, tables, bureaus, and chests of drawers with decorated inlays. For examples of these various pieces of marqueterie work see chapter xx. ; also Fig. 38, which is a fine walnut easy chair of the Queen Anne period, circa 1710, with marqueterie legs, upholstered in petit point needle-work. It was lately in the galleries of Messrs Gill & Reigate, Limited..

Referring to the technique of the construction of furniture made shortly after 1690 an expert says: "Several improvements with regard to construction of furniture are noticeable after 1690, being in all probability introductions from Holland. Drawer sides are nearly always dovetailed to the fronts, the `pins' being usually coarse — seldom less than a quarter of an inch in the thickest part. The Stuart mortise is nearly always carried through the stile with the tenon wedged on the end and pinned through the front; the joint being made without glue. In Queen Anne furniture the mortise is stopped, the tenon ` shouldered,' and the framing secured with an adhesive, probably 'cheese-glue' made from milk curds. Shelves and partitions are frequently slot-dovetailed after 1700. Flush-panelled frames for doors and the writing flaps of fall-front escritoires and bureaux —that is, with the panel rebated on the front to bring it level with the surface of the framing—are also usual features at this period, and it bears good testimony to the care with which the wood was seasoned, that the panels, although often very wide, are rarely found shrunken or cracked."

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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