Laquer Furniture & Japanning in England
The Restoration period of British furniture saw a great fashion for laquered furniture especially between 1680 and 1720 although at this time it was sometimes called "Indian" due to a lack in the seventeenth century Englishman's geography knowledge.
In 1688 a book was published under the title of "A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing", the authors being John Stalker and George Parker. The work was not exactly modest in its claims, and after the title it is stated that in the matter of "Japaning" and "Varnishing" the volume reveals "the Compleat Discovery of those arts, with the best way of making all sorts of Varnish for Japan, Wood, Prints and Pictures, the Method of Guilding, Burnishing, and Lackering, with the Art of Guilding, Separating and Refining Metals."
Some furniture was made in England and then sent to Japan or China for laquering however this was obviously expensive and as such most laquered furniture was entirely made in England, the laquering being a form of imitation of the original, called japanning or japaning. While earnestly done it often was awkward and inferior to Japanese and Chinese laquer furniture. Lacquer screens and cabinets were also imported from the East and used in connection with furniture made in Britain, being cut up for that purpose.
English laquered furniture used usually black or red backgrounds and the oriental landscapes, or attempts at them, are raised and finished in gilt. The actual lacquer made in England was more in the nature of a decorative coating and it did not benefit by the skill and knowledge lavished on the Oriental product, and the surface of the English work, in common with European lacquer, lacked the lustre and colour quality that the Chinese and Japanese craftsmen achieved.
Lacquer brought to furniture making a variety of colours, all of which possessed a wonderful softness, and in the darker hues a rich depth that gave additional value to the gold decoration of such work. The ground colours included black, red, a dull scarlet, yellow, shading into buffs and creams, green and, more rarely, blue. The raised ornamental work, the trees, figures, flowers, birds, dragons, all the variety of strange but altogether fascinating scenes in still stranger perspective, would be gilded and coloured ; but with incised lacquer the ornament is formed by cutting down from the surface colour to layers below, which are decorated with colour after the design has been cut out so.
Although the laquered furniture of the 17th century was brightly coloured surviving antiques have largely lost their colour.