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English Arts and Crafts Movement & Art Furniture

Late Victorian Era

The late Victorian era, from the 1860's until the end of the 19th century, sees the rise of two movements in furniture design in England, the Arts and Crafts movement and the Aesthetic or Art Furniture movement. Alongside these important developments there was also a number of revivals of antique styles of earlier centuries, new foreign influences, and the late rise of the avant garde.

In general terms furniture produced in the late Victoria era was composed of straight lines, solid wood usually stained black or dark green, and had not as much upholstery compared to early Victorian furniture. Painted decoration was preferred to carving.

Art Furniture

Every article of manufacture should indicate by its general design the purpose to which it will be applied.

From the 1867 "Hints on Household Taste" by Charles Eastlake as well as this complaint about the design of sideboards:

The backs are curved in the most senseless and extravagant manner.

Aesthetic Style Armchair
Aesthetic Style Armchair, 1868.

Art furniture of the late Victorian era designed by Eastlake and others was solidly built, well constructed and had few decorative effects for their own sake. The wood was unvarnished and usually without veneer, and the whole appearance was one of simplicity and usefulness. It drew on a number of traditions, mainly the Gothic and medieval as well as the oriental.


Chippendale Rerproduction Chair
Chippendale Rerproduction Chair, c.1870

In the mid to late nineteenth century a number of revivals of antique styles took place. There was some renewed interest in Egyptian designs as well as an "Etruscan" and Greek phase. Especially from the 1860's a revival of the Robert Adam style occurred with many neoclassical style pieces being made and additionally there was some interest in the mid Georgian period and the work of Thomas Chippendale with many reproductions of his coming onto the market.

The Exotic

Ebonised Table
1876, Ebonised table from mahogany inspired by Japanese woodwork.

In 1853 trade lines with Japan were opened and interest among those in search of novelty such as E.W. Godwin and Bruce Talbert grew in the tradition of Japanese craftsmanship and decoration motifs. As a result some amount of black and ebonised furniture was made in the late Victorian era with Japanese painted fretwork panels and imitation bamboo arms and legs.

Arts and Crafts Movement

Men living amongst such ugliness cannot perceive of beauty and, therefore, cannot express it.

William Morris and John Ruskin inspired the Arts and Crafts Movement with their reaction against the machine age and its effect on ordinary working people. The term "Arts and Crafts" was coined in 1888 and the movement saw the peak of its influence from 1890 to 1910.

Arts and Crafts Cabinet
1893, Cabinet, a popular Arts and Crafts design.

Victorian Arts and Crafts style furniture in England was handmade in a country or farmhouse style and often looked nicer than it was to sit on in the case of chairs. Morris and co. also produced simply made cabinets and sideboards on which Morris painted scenes of medieval fantasy. The designers of the Arts and Crafts style wanted to show the superiority of handmade furniture and they made pieces that were affordable for most classes.

Art Nouveau

The final days of late Victorian England witnessed the rise of the art nouveau or avant garde movement in design. English Art Nouveau furniture was pioneered by the designers Arthur Mackmurdo, Charles Voysey, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Hugh Baillie Scott. Art Nouveau continued to have some influence in the following Edwardian furniture period.

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