William and Mary Furniture
King William and Queen Mary ruled England from 1688 to 1702. William of Orange was Dutch and hence a great deal of Dutch influences entered into English life, not least in the area of William and Mary style furniture.
Large numbers of Dutch furniture cabinet makers and craftsmen came with William III to England and worked for him at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. They tended to be very skilful in the fine arts of furniture design and decoration and lifted the standards of English furniture making by considerable degrees and brought it closer into line with the major movements in Europe.
Not only Dutch but French influence was to be found in the William and Mary period. William III spoke French in preference to English and Dutch and although he was politically opposed to Louis XIV there was a great deal of sneaking admiration and jealousy. There was more than a bit of the "keeping up with the Jones" attitude in the way William viewed the court of Louis XIV and it appears that considerable effort went into attempts to imitate it. Celia Fiennes is given to remark at Windsor Castle on the decoration of the State Drawing Room, 1701:
It looked very glorious and was newly made to give audience to the French Ambassador to show the grandeur and magnifigence of the British Monarch - some of these fooleries are requisite sometimes to create admiration and regard to keep up the state of a kingdom and nation.
Additionally, after 1685, due to persecution, numbers of French Protestant refugees began arriving in England, with furniture designers among them, such as Daniel Marot, as well as manufacturers of silk tapestry.
Other important influences on William and Mary furniture included the refining and proper application of classical architectural forms as developed in the work of Sir Christopher Wren, in architecture, the handmaiden of furniture.
Dutch Marquetry Cabinet
William and Mary furniture was graceful and decorative, it had a well-developed sense of display and articulation. While much of English furniture in previous periods seems to us today rather strange, Gothic, primitive, harsh, and uncomfortable, in William and Mary period furniture we often see something more recognisable, a foreshadowing of things to come, especially in William & Mary chairs and settees.
There was much use of ornate decorative effects on surfaces such as veneering, parquetry, lacquer, and marquetry, particularly in side tables. This was the beginning of the era of the cabinetmaker and men such as Gerrit Jensen exceled at very fine inlay and marquetry work.
Laquer furniture continued to be made in great amounts. Laquered cabinets often had gilt stands and were made curvy by the use of foliate scrolls. Cabinets, as well as writing bureaus and escritoires, gained domed tops, and were set on heavily baroque style stands with doric columns, as were tables.
Chairs were set on turned legs whose stretchers were tied and curved and mirrored the carving decoration of the crest at the back. Upholstered chairs had square back rests and supports separating them from the seats and their upholstering was more ample and comfortable. However on the whole it has to be said that for the most part William and Mary style chairs were still a way for owners to "show off" and had many elaborate accents and fringes that made no bow to the needs of comfort.
Walnut was very much in demand by the immigrant Dutch and French furniture makers of the William and Mary period. Oak was rapidly sliding into country obscurity and mahogany was just making its very first inroads. There was also use of kingwood and amboyna for inlay work and ebony was used for very fine, fancy pieces such as looking glasses and curio cabinets.
Antiques & Revival
Antiques of the era have survived in some number although few walnut pieces have made it through the years. Revival and reproduction works are particularly popular in the American market. Sometimes though, when pieces are called William and Mary reproductions it is doubtful what this really means.
William and Mary Style
The reign of King William III and Mary II was short and the style of furniture was in the baroque tradition that had largely taken root in the Restoration period. In the late 17th century England of William and Mary greater Dutch influence (and later, French) was to be seen and there was much love of baroque splendour and this largely continued into the Queen Anne furniture era.
Cabinet on Stand, c.1695.