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Gerrit Jensen : William & Mary Designer


Gerrit, or Gerreit, Jensen was of obscure origins, probably Dutch or perhaps Flemish and was active as a furniture designer from 1680 to 1715. There is some confusion over his name, the hapless and not-very-cosmopolitan English of the late 17th century managed to spell Jensen's name in fourteen different ways and it was often anglicised to Johnson.

Jensen was heavily influenced by Pierre Golle of France and is sometimes referred to as the English Boulle. He is almost certainly the first furniture designer of any importance that England can claim as its own.

Gerrit Jensen settled in London sometime before 1680 - the accounts of the Royal Household record a payment to him in this year for furniture that Charles II had commissioned for the King of Morocco.

A "Garrett Johnson" had bought his freedom of the City of London in 1667 and a "Gerrard Johnson" had become a liveryman of the Joiners' Company in 1685. Either of these two men could have been Gerrit Jensen.

Cabinet On Stand
Pine and Oak Cabinet On Stand, By Gerrit Jensen c.1690. Has veneered panels of seaweed marquetry.

In any event it is certain that he began living in central London from 1693 after having been employed frequently by the King after the 1688 Revolution.

Early in his career in England Jensen made some furniture for King Charles II including "a table, stands and looking glass and covers for the table and stands" in 1685 but all of this furniture has not survived the years.

Gerrit Jensen is primarily known for his work for King William and Queen Mary and also for Queen Anne. In a royal document of 1689 Jensen is said to be employed:

Making and selling of all sorts of cabinets, boxes, looking glasses, tables and stands, ebony frames, and for the furnishing of all sorts of glass plates of well plained and polished as not plained or polished and all things relating to the cabinet makers trade.

Jensen is most famous for his use of metal inlays, a technique derived from France. He specialised in the use of silver, in particular, and made a set of glittering silver furniture for Knole House. These examples had oak frames and are covered with very ornate silver embossed with acanthus.

Silver Furniture
Silver Furniture.

The table tops at Knole have large oval plaques in the middle showing tales from Greek mythology and the legs curve in an S-scroll joined by concave stretchers. Stands end in a tripod of S-curved brackets typical of the baroque style torchere.

Whatever the technical design details the overall effect when set off by flickering candlelight must have been impressive.

Jensen Mirror
Jensen Mirror.

Gerrit Jensen seems to have had a monopoly on the supplying of mirrors to go over fireplace mantels and on the piers between windows of the royal palaces and he did work at various palaces and great homes including Boughton House, Hamilton Palace, and at Kensington Palace.

Although Jensen has a justifiably good reputation now it may need to be said that the work he produced was not in exactly the same class as that being produced by his contemporaries in France and Italy such as Cucci and Boulle.

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