Notebook, 1993-


FURNITURE - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - A Selection of Cabinetmakers and Designers

American - Chinese and Japanese - English - European Lacquer Furniture - French - Italian


. . . . The aim of the Furniture section in this volume is to acquaint the reader with the basic styles which were prevalent throughout Europe and America from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century, and also to fit into this complex picture the leading designers and cabinet makers who were instrumental in the birth of the various styles.

In many ways the study of the history of furniture seems to have been completed, but this is, in fact , far from the truth, and we are only now beginning to understand the complexity of the subject.

It has been the practice for many years to hang furniture styles on convenient pegs in the guise of the names of reigning sovereigns, leading designers, or architectural styles, many of them in fact being complete misnomers. Thus, terms such as George I or Louis XVI, Chippendale or Sheraton, the barogue or the neoclassical, are frequently used in books and auction catalogues to denote periods which are in many cases only remotely connected with the literal meaning of these phrases. Recent research has now tended to expose the fallacy of this system and, although the sovereigns' names still give some indication as to the periods, the hitherto accepted žuvres of the leading designers and cabinet makers are now being ruthlessly pruned, in much the same way as the works of the Great Masters are being systematically sifted from that of their pupils and followers. If Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton had been instrumental in the production of a quarter of the pieces that have been ascribed to them by enterprising dealer and optimistic collector, then they must have run their businesses on the lines of modern mass production.

Of these three, we can only be certain that Chippendale owned a workshop and ran a cabinet maker's business and, notwithstanding this, he is primarily remembered by posterity for the publication of his Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director. Sheraton and Hepplewhite also published highly successful design books, but, as far as we know, neither of them actually made any important furniture. Many of the designs in these books were freely plagiarized from the creations of rivals and were, in their turn, shamelessly copied by cabinet makers throughout the country. Thus a pier glass, the design for which is in Chippendale's Director, may not necessarily have been produced in his workshop, because any of the numerous cabinet makers who subscribed to the book, or who even borrowed it, could have easily made the glass.

Therefore a piece of furniture can be proved to have been made by a certain cabinet maker only if its original account, or some contemporary description, is extant. The fact that a similar piece is illustrated in a design book is not evidence enough to who the maker was, although it is, of course, often a very good pointer. It would, therefore, appear that the essence of the true study of English furniture design is contained in contemporary bills and daybooks, and the increased study of these is enabling us to view the subject in a completely fresh light and from a new angle. The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum include photostat copies of notable accounts, bills, and inventories of household furniture and other objects of art. Additions are constantly being made. A number of these in the charge of the Department of Woodwork, are accessible to students. The names of many cabinet makers, carvers, and designers are emerging from obscurity and, in years to come, let us hope that we may have a list of British cabinet makers, together with their histories, which may rival those long and detailed records that the French have published of their ébénistes.

In this section of the book the reader is given a highly erudite and comprehensive essay on French furniture and, thus, may start to enjoy the study of this complex subject in his own language.

The analysis or expertise of a piece of French furniture almost puts one in the place of a detective, for there is often so much of the false and contradictory in a piece that one needs a very level head and practiced eye to separate the spurious from the original.

The importance of Italian furniture has now at last been realized, primarily because the Italians have been so intent on the tracking down of their furniture, which has for five hundred years been poured into the melting pot of Europe, owing to that period. The essay devoted to its history is not solely directed to the creations of the Renaissance, as has been the tendency in earlier publications, but covers its entire history to the early nineteenth century, with special reference to Venetian lacquered furniture and Lombard intarsia decoration.

After the inclusion of French and Italian furniture the compilers were faced with the decision of what boundaries to set with regard to the other European countries. Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, to mention only a few, have all produced important and individual furniture styles. These have to a great extent been moulded by national traits, historical influences, the dictates of climate, local conditions and indigenous woods, and the great general art impulse engendered by the Renaissance. The study [p. 131] of the furniture of the majority of these countries in this language is still in its infancy, and the need for systematic research and scholarship is acute. A comprehensive work on the entire history of Continental furniture is badly needed in this country before the subject can be properly understood and appreciated. All these countries produced national and individual styles during, and following, the Renaissance, which thrived and blossomed until Louis XIV superimposed his artistic autocracy on France and then Europe, and thus extinguished their short-lived careers. The Grand Style which the Roi Soleil created for himself at Versailles, with the help of Le Brun's direction from Les Gobelins, completely shattered any vestiges that remained of national styles [with the exception of England], and the princelings of Germany and the grandees of Spain thus vied with one another in the emulation of all that was Gallic. From 1680 onwards the applied arts obeyed the dictates of Versailles and Paris, and the Louis XIV, Régence Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Empire styles were freely copied and slavishly adopted throughout Europe; thus Swedish and Spanish Empire furniture appear very similar and can be differentiated only after prolonged study. However, long scrutiny is not required to distinguish them from Parisian furniture, as neither kingly neighbour nor country cousin could truly emulate the pure style français.

The chapter on American furniture is of great interest and is a fitting introduction to a difficult subject. The Americans, in their borrowing from English and French styles, have in many way improved on them, and their furniture has a vigorous and unmistakable national appearance.

In this section the reader will find a useful survey of lacquered furniture, the history of which is traced in detail throughout Europe from the first importation of Oriental lacquer in the sixteenth century. The difference has clearly been shown between the European copies of Eastern lacquer, or the art of japanning as it was called, and the incorporation of Oriental lacquered panels in Occidental furniture. [pp. 131-132]

I n d e x - for the Texts on Furniture:
Chief Periods and Styles
William and Mary
Queen Anne
Early Georgian
Cabinet makers
American Victorian Furniture
Cast-Iron Furniture

Chinese and Japanese

The Age of Oak
Surface Decoration
Chief Periods and Styles
The Age of Walnut
Chief Periods and Styles
Other Timbers
Veneers, Marquetry,and Parquetry
Bureaux, Cabinets, Bookcases, etc.
Chairs, Day Beds, Stools, and Settees
Chests of Drawers and Tallboys
Clock Cases
The Age of Mahogany and Satinwood
Chief Periods and Styles
Other Timbers
Metal Mounts
Bureaux, Cabinets, Desks, Bookcases, etc.
Chests of Drawers, Commodes, and Tallboys
Clock Cases
Tables and Sideboards
Small Tables
Tripod Tables
Dining Tables
Victorian Furniture
Early Victorian Furniture 1837-51
Mid-Victorian Furniture 1851-67
The Gothic Revival
Morris Furniture
Bruce J. Talbert and C. L. Eastlake
T. E. Collcutt
The Anglo-Japanese Style
The Arts and Crafts Movement
Smaller Furniture of All Periods

Eurpean Lacquer Furniture
Importations of Oriental Lacquer
The Earliest European Lacquer
English Lacquer
Dutch and Flemish Lacquer
French Lacquer
German Lacquer
Italian Lacquer
Lacquer Made in Other Countries

From 1500-to the Revolution
The Renaissance and 17th Century
The Louis XIV Period
The Louis XV Period
The Louis XVI Period
Cabinet Makers and Craftsmen

Renaissance F urniture
Baroque and Rococo Furniture
Cabinet Makers

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].