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Characteristics Of The Chair

Before proceeding to examine some of the best known examples in which the chief characteristics of the Age of Walnut in chairs are seen, it would be well to point out the new features introduced under Dutch influence, and to call attention to the marks of identity by which genuine specimens of walnut chairs of that period may be known. Dutch chair-makers and English makers who were taught the necessity of conforming to the new style soon realised that the frames of the Stuart period were unsuited to the backs they were required to fashion, and that they must accept Dutch ideals in their entirety. To begin with, the chair leg became cabriole in form, frequently terminating with a hoof. There was a stretcher of scroll-like form between the front legs, with serpentine stretchers between the front and the back legs.

The cabriole has been likened unto a leg with a bended knee, that is a shaped curve terminating with a narrow ankle and a foot, the graceful hoof-foot in time becoming a club foot, and losing much of its characteristic beauty. The back of the chair was comfortable in that it was fitted to the shape of the human back, a great improvement on the old flat upright which, however, had been upholstered or caned in the days of the Stuarts.

Another important feature to take note of is that the ornamental carved and cut through splat did not come down to the chair frame, but was supported by a stretcher connecting with the curved uprights of the back. In course of development this stretcher was done away with, and when the club foot, which came in at the commencement of the eighteenth century during the reign of Queen Anne, appeared, the stretcher disappeared and the splat was connected with the frame. Another important departure in the chairs of the Age of Walnut influenced by Dutch art is that the front stretcher is recessed back, that is to say, it is not in line with the front legs which themselves are curved inwards. The back legs with square bases were at first scrolled in the Restoration fashion. As the period advanced the carving on the top of the leg was cut back into the frame, doing away with the square corners of the earlier period.

The first point to observe is the cabriole leg, which commands so much attention in that its introduction marked a distinct departure from traditional lines. The inspiration is said to have come from the East, just as the claw-and-ball foot was Eastern (said to have been an adaptation of the Chinese legendary dragon, which was reputed to hold in its claw a pearl).

The ancient cabriole was used by the Greeks who got it from the Egyptians, and it can be traced further back to the Assyrian nation. The cabriole came into modern cabinet-making in the days of Queen Anne, or perhaps a little earlier. In conjunction with it there were many beautiful innovations in the foot. There were lions' feet, eagles' claws and talons, rams' hoofs, and heads of animals used as terminals of legs and arms. Another important characteristic is the Flemish ornament on the curved knee, usually indicating an early date, as the ornament gradually disappeared. The undecorated splats accompanied by the undecorated cabriole date from 1710 to 1730. The legs were at first joined by stretchers or under-braces, but the stretchers disappeared altogether about 1730, so that those chairs in which the stretchers are absent may be placed between 1730 and 1750.

In the days of Queen Anne the so-called Hogarth chair became popular. Although severe in form it is by no means without beauty, and was certainly comfortable. There are authentic examples of this chair at Hampton Court, and in many collections of walnut furniture, for as King William's reign advanced the houses of the nobility had been refurnished, and in the days of Queen Anne Dutch furniture had almost entirely superseded the Restoration furniture. The Hogarth chair was then popular. The sweeping away of the square corners of the seat toward the end of William's reign had for a time been popular, but the corners became square again when the Hogarth chair was made. In some of these chairs is seen the development from the hoof to the club foot.

In pronouncing the accomplishment of the evolution of the chair resulting in the Queen Anne or Hogarth chair of the commencement of the eighteenth century, we may reiterate the process of development which so rapidly conformed the new accepted style to English ideas or interpretations of the Dutch, and which as the outcome of Dutch influence modified the Hogarth chair which evolved. When Queen Anne came to the throne the smooth fiddle-shaped splat with a plain top to the back predominated. The cabriole leg was chiefly made with a club foot, the more ornate hoof foot having been passed over or seldom used.

To the cabriole leg is due the gradual abolition of cross stretchers. More refined conditions made it possible for the occupants of the chair to place their feet underneath. Cleanliness was coming to the floor, and there was no longer any need for the deep and low cross stretcher. The turned rails disappeared along with the carving of the Restoration. No doubt there were several influences at work, one of the most important being that Dutch predilection for inlaying, which suggested the beautiful marqueterie which was to follow. The Hogarth chair in its fulness was smooth, light, and graceful. The back had outer upright supports, and there was a splat to support the back of the sitting person. Above the splat there was a convex curve, said to have been fashioned to fit the nape of the neck, so that any one reclining against the tall upright back could rest the head, the shoulders falling naturally into hollow curves. The decorativeness of the Restoration chairs had gone, and with it discomfort. The stages in the evolution have been passed, and the Queen Anne chairs of the Age of Walnut became an acceptable feature in English house furnishing. It is said that this chair of the so-called Hogarth or Queen Anne style was the first in which the furniture maker had carefully considered human anatomy.

Another feature in connection with the Dutch chair is that the seat was very broad, the front being wider than the back.

Coming to the question of ornament, one of the characteristics of the chairs of this period is the carved escallop shell on the knee of the cabriole leg.. The acanthus leaf continued to be used in some of the more decorative chairs. The splat was seldom pierced, but there was a change going on in its form which gradually developed a spoon-like shape and eventually a fiddle back.

Fig. 39 is a fine upholstered William and Mary chair, with claw-and-ball feet to the handsomely carved legs.

Fig. 40 is one of the winged sleeping chairs of the same period, the cabriole legs terminating in claw-and-ball feet.

The days of Queen Anne are noted for the introduction of the cosy or grandfather chair, also for the rush bottom Dutch chair and the Windsor chairs. Upholstery became the vogue, and in the course of development the foundation was being laid to the settees and couches of later days with which the names of love-seats and grandfather chairs are generally associated. The connoisseur of furniture, however, must disassociate these from his mind when studying the Age of Walnut as seen in the furniture of Queen Anne's reign, and the years which immediately preceded it.

The love-seat or double chair of those days is some-thing quite different to the light and attractive double chair or settee formed of two or more chair backs of the light and decorative Chippendale and Hepplewhite periods. The cabriole-legged love-seats, with plain stretchers with smooth surface upholstery, with arms and back, were long enough to accommodate two persons. The convenience of these chairs caused their development into longer seats, the term love-seat only being applied to the smaller sizes, for when they would seat three or more persons they became sofas or couches. These upholstered seats were covered with needlework, the fashion for which was set by Queen Mary.

Side by side with the double love-seat the upholstered chair with the higher back, the so-called "grandfather," developed. Many of the old chairs are found, when the needlework is removed, to have been first covered with a silk case or slip. When a new chair was made it was probably covered with a temporary covering, during the time the owner would be occupied in working the needlework cover.

It is not often that sentiment has been introduced into the furniture trade. We can, however, discover in the Age of Walnut more than one influence which can be traced to sentimental objects, and episodes in which love enters, governing its progress. In the Stuart days, the early days of walnut, the love affairs of the sovereign, by no means creditable, proved very useful to the furniture maker, who owed many profitable orders to the demands made upon the royal purse by Charles II'.s mistresses.

At a later date, when the habits of Society had changed somewhat, and there was a different atmosphere at the Court, Cupid again influenced furniture designs. The large and richly upholstered chairs were possibly large enough for two—on occasion—but they were inconveniently small when fashions demanded much space. Men and women wore garments which were stiff and bulky. The ladies of Queen Anne's day wore heavily brocaded and largely hooped dresses, their skirts being covered with frills and pleatings. Another fashion of the day was sacque backs and large panniers. Then it was that double chairs were called for, and many of them were literally so, for they were fully double in the capacity of the seating accommodation and in the width of the backs.. Otherwise the " chair " maintained its individuality.

Towards the close of Queen Anne's reign wooden double seats were made as well as upholstered seats. They were the love - seats which in time became the fashion, developing into the light and delicate and beautiful love - seats or ornamental small settees of the Chippendale era. The love - seats of Queen Anne's day certainly looked like two wood-backed chairs with cabriole legs joined together in single upholstery and furnished with one pair of arms. They set the fashion, which continued throughout the reigns of the Georges.

When we come to the end of what may be termed the Age of Walnut, and note the gradually developing and altering style in the carving of the legs of chairs and tables, we discover the overlapping which at all periods inevitably occurs. One of the characteristics of this time, about 1735, was the introduction of the heads of satyrs and lions in the carving of legs and other portions of the framework. It is noticeable at the end of the walnut period, and it is equally indicative of the beginning of mahogany. This feature in the carver's art is seldom seen after 1740.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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