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Furniture Styles - Some Definite Features

Gothic influence predominated in medieval days, and French designs became interwoven with those of English origin in the sixteenth century, and intermittently in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dutch influence and art, especially that of marqueterie, was seen during the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne. The consorts of English kings and queens were responsible for the introduction of foreign art, and for the encouragement of foreign artists, all tending to prevent any one insular style outside foreign influence becoming developed. Thus the wood-workers of this country have been peculiarly cosmopolitan, and they have in turn worked after different styles, favouring a variety of materials and finishes.

The home connoisseur thus meets with many varieties of style in family relics, and discovers side by side the wonderful lacquer cabinets from the Far East and the japan work of English artists ; Chinese curios and useful pieces of English-made furniture ornamented in the Chinese style ; beautiful French chairs in rich Genoa velvets, along with English-made couches, beds, and cabinets, showing the strong influence of the days of Louis XIV. and the later time of Louis XVI. Collectors may well confuse genuine Dutch marqueterie with the marqueterie cases of grandfather clocks made in this country, just as they do the Italian carving of the Renaissance, and the English-made carved stands of Charles II., frequently surmounted by English lacquer cabinets.

Some may desire a concrete example of distinctive evidence of style which can be easily separated. As an example then let us take the simple distinction in the styles in the chair backs of the eighteenth century. The walnut chairs of the period when Dutch influence was strong had a solid central supporting splat from the chair frame of the seat rising to the top of the back, which under Chippendale's chisel was cut through and became ornamental, joined to its bow-shaped top. Both these splats, the solid and the decorative, touched the seat-frame. Then came the shield-shaped backs of Hepplewhite, which came down almost to the upholstery of the seat, but the point of the shield did not touch the wood-work ; the backs of Sheraton chairs, square at the top and rectangular in form, had almost invariably an open space between the rail of the back and the seat. Yet these chairs were all upholstered, although the Cromwellian chairs had loose cushions !

English cabinet-makers were less dependent upon continental artists in the eighteenth century, when the makers and designers, some of whose work has just been mentioned, issued their own pattern books, although even the designs in the books published by such men as the Brothers Adam, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton showed unmistakable signs of the influence of other schools. Thus Robert Adam travelled in Italy and became imbued with classic ideas ; Chippendale took his rococo from French styles ; the designs of Sheraton, perhaps, showed more originality, although he was not free from taint. In subsequent chapters special attention is drawn to local styles which evolved from those more generally practised. Thus in due course a local style sprang up known as Irish Chippendale ; the Welsh wood-workers evolved characteristic pieces of Welsh furniture, and as the outcome of their separation from the Mother Country the colonists and settlers in America gradually evolved distinctive styles, although partly based on old-world models.

The chief styles which are reviewed fully in subsequent chapters include as follows :—First, there are the older or primitive styles evolving from imitations of natural furniture, such as might be found in cave and forest ; then follow the styles of the older civilised nations—Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine, and afterwards continental styles and those copied or adapted in our own country. Of these there are the Romanesque, followed by the Gothic ; the early French school of Louis XII. and Henry II. ; the French Renaissance ; the Spanish Renaissance ; and the later French Empire and regal styles and those of the Republic.

In England, following one another in proper sequence, there are the styles which succeeded the mediaeval, mostly known by the names of the reigning sovereigns and their houses. These are commonly called Tudor, Elizabethan or late Tudor, Cromwellian, and Jacobean or Restoration styles. With the end of the Stuarts came the Dutch influence in the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne, followed by early Georgian adaptations and developments from which sprang the much-collected furniture distinguished by the names of the founders of specific designs, among them the Brothers Adam, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton. Under those and minor distinguishing titles the collector separates his furniture and classifies his collections.

As indicating different styles of furniture, and showing the rapid change in the seventeenth century, during which period several distinct styles prevailed, the accompanying illustrations, Figs. 4, 5, and 6, indicate the progress made in wood-carving during a comparatively short time. In Fig. 4 are shown an oak cupboard and two chairs. The oak cupboard is of early seventeenth century workmanship, crude and yet decorative. It is a cupboard of the type which might have been expected to evolve from a chest or coffer. The two chairs are such as were in vogue about 1705, quite early in the eighteenth century, and show the early form of the cabriole leg (see chapter ix.). Fig. 6 represents one of the beautiful day-beds which came into vogue when the privacy of the bedroom was respected ; the bed was then no longer in the living-room, and, there-fore, not available as a seat or lounge, the chair-bed, or day-bed as it was frequently called, becoming a favourite piece of furniture and a comfortable lounge. The one shown in Fig. 6, of the period 1670-1680, is handsomely carved, the rail being exceptionally so. There are double ends, although in some instances the day-bed was made with only one. Before the seventeenth century closed more decorative carving had been applied to chair backs and a definite style evolved, the carved walnut Jacobean chair of 1689, illustrated in Fig. 5, upholstered in velvet, with fringed border, being an excellent example.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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