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Upholstered Furniture

In many pieces of furniture dating from 1680 to 1690 the upholstery is the most conspicuous feature. As a matter of fact the framing of the chair or settee is a minor detail, and the consideration of such pieces seems to come under upholstery rather than cabinet work. The majority of the large high-padded chairs were doubtless intended for the bedroom, then, as it has been pointed out, one of the chief reception rooms of the house. Settees were used with equal frequency in the bedchamber and in the state rooms. There came a time later when the best efforts of the needleworker and the upholsterer were found in the drawing-room, but in the days of Charles II. greater attention was given to the furnishing of my lady's bed-chamber, where according to the custom of the age privileged guests assembled. The large settees and chairs were chiefly covered with petit point needle-work, the patterns of which were extravagantly large, and in some instances appear to have been specially woven for the furniture, in other cases to have been indiscriminately chosen.. Sometimes settees upholstered in embroidery, velvet, and tapestry are made grotesque by the use of these large designs, which oftentimes cut into the figure and leave an unfinished design on the back of the settee or chair, the remainder of the pattern disappearing behind the cushion of the seat, and in some instances going over the head and being hidden at the back. In the same way cushion seats limited in extent by the framework of the chair were not sufficiently large to display the pattern to full advantage. In a lesser degree the large patterns of woven damasks lost their effect when used on the ends of couches and settees or on smaller chair arms. The variety of patterns during the reign of William and Mary were as numerous as the variety of materials, and the colourings were not always happily chosen. Some were most gorgeous, especially the green damasks, crimson velvets, and the blues of the tapestries and embroideries. Striking contrasts were to be seen in many of the houses where their owners could not afford to entirely furnish a room en suite, but indiscriminately used such furniture and materials as they might possess. Undoubtedly while French Huguenots, and those whom they taught, were working away at Spitalfields the needlework hobby was extending, and hand-worked furniture, upholstery, and coverings were being made everywhere by the lady of the household and those she employed.

Although reference is made in the foregoing pages to the fine examples of upholstered furniture found in the homes of the wealthy and in royal palaces, the middle classes and those who were engaged in commerce were furnishing their houses with walnut furniture. Their upholstery was of a more homely kind, but it was none the less handsome in proportion to the other surroundings of the house. Ladies everywhere were plying the needle. It was indeed the age of needlework and the beautiful petit point or tent stitch. In some cases flowered damask sufficed for the coverings of the broad and copious backs of the walnut-framed chairs, but in nearly every household needlework was wrought, and little by little favourite chairs were covered with home-made embroidery. Large patterns continued popular, but when ladies had work on hand without any intention of buying new furniture, they usually worked a piece suitable for the chair they had already, and which they intended to re-cover with the labour of their hands.

In Fig. 41 is shown an early walnut chair with upholstered seat and back, and some carving on the arms and feet. Fig. 42 is a walnut settee, 1715-1720, also upholstered in petit point needlework with brass studs, the legs being quite plain cabriole design.

A new era in house furnishing came in with the advent of wall papers. The age of oak had been famous for the rich panelling of the walls with wood, for inlays and carvings, just as at an earlier date tapestries, covered the walls. The first patent for the manufacture of printed wall paper was granted in 1691 to W. Bayly. At that time it was of course very expensive, and was seldom used excepting in the homes of the wealthy ; indeed until the commencement of the nineteenth century whitewash and the colouring of the walls by lime and dry colours sufficed in many houses.


The gate-legged tables, so popular in the reigns of Charles II. and James II.., remained the type generally met with in English homes during the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne, and even in George I's day ; but during the reign of Anne there was a change which gradually caused the gate-legged table to be received with less favour. It was then that a Dutch or club-footed table, supported by cabriole legs without stretchers, came in. It was found suitable for flap leaves, and could be made either square or oblong. The new style became the groundwork of the beautiful walnut Queen Anne card-tables, which, covered with baize, served such a useful purpose, and could be extended by the addition of five flaps. Although walnut was used at first, mahogany was found equally as suitable, and when that wood came into general use the Dutch style was continued. Smaller tables became the vogue, and many were used as side-tables. Then when the day came for more refined bedroom appointments similar tables were used as dressing-tables.

Chests of drawers and bureaus were made during the days of Queen Anne, surmounted by bookcases and cupboards, a typical example shown in Fig. 43 being recently in the Hatfield Gallery of Antiques. The divisions of the interior were well made, and the brass handles and escutcheons strong and serviceable. In the example illustrated the candlestick slides should be noted, also the inlays and carved ornament.

Contemporary with the Age of Walnut commoner chairs were made in this country ; the kitchen furniture of the days of Queen Anne and the early Georgian period consisted largely of locally - made chairs and tables. The most popular styles of chairs were those known as "Windsor" and "rush bottom," and from these two base - lines many minor developments took place. The early eighteenth - century chairs were made by village carpenters and local chair-makers, and as the middle classes evolved they were for a long time satisfied with such furniture as they could obtain near at hand. The evolution of chairs, other than those made of walnut, already referred to, is a very interesting study, and collectors who desire to obtain chairs contemporary with the period they are specialising upon, or to identify any old chairs they may have that have come down to them as heirlooms, will find some useful hints given in the somewhat exhaustive account of chairs (see chapter xxiii.).

Walnut furniture continued to be made for some time after the days when walnut was the chief wood used. At that time there were many screens, stools, and sundry articles of furniture made for the needlework so many ladies were working. Generally speaking, there was not much activity among cabinet - makers during the last few years of the walnut period. There were, however, some new pieces introduced, for it was then that the rage came in for china cabinets and bureau-cabinets. Architectural ornament was then being introduced in the pediments of bureau-cupboards and book-cases. The same influence was at work when room decorations were contemplated. At that time, too, houses were being erected in large towns on sites which had hitherto been unoccupied, and in London on sites which had been vacant from the time of the Great Fire ; for those houses some new furniture was required. A change was taking place in outside architecture, frontages were being beautified by the erection of over-doors and carved porticos, incidentally influencing the carving of overdoors in the houses. There was also quite a rage for fine wrought iron work, such as railings and gates. It was about that time that Tijou published a " New Book of Drawings," showing a variety of designs for architectural work. This artist's work was much sought after, for he had then completed the magnificent gates and screens of wrought iron at Hampton Court Palace.

Those who are wishful to examine more fully the carver's art, and also the beautiful wrought iron work of the period, may do so at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where there are many examples in the wrought iron gallery. In the same museum there are some especially interesting examples of walnut furniture of a late date. There is a settee with walnut - wood arms which curl over and terminate with the heads and beaks of eagles. The cabriole legs are distinctive in that they have the cabochon - and - leaf decoration upon the bend. That latter ornament is indicative of the early Georgian period which is described in chapter xi.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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