Furniture of Queen Anne
The first mention of corner cupboards appears to have been made in an advertisement of a Dutch joiner in "The Postman" of March 8th, 1711; these cupboards, with their carved pediments, being part of the modern fittings of a room of the time of Queen Anne.
The oak presses common to this and earlier times are formed of an upper and lower part, the former sometimes being three sides of an octagon with the top supported by columns, while the lower half is straight, and the whole is carved with incised ornament. These useful articles of furniture, in the absence of wardrobes, are described in inventories of the time (1680-1720) as "press cupboards," "great cupboards," "wainscot," and "joyned cupboards."
The first mention of a "Buerow," as our modern word "Bureau" was then spelt, is said by Dr. Lyon, in his American book, "The Colonial Furniture of New England," to have occurred in an advertisement in "The Daily Post" of January 4th, 1727. The same author quotes Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum, published in London, 1736, as defining the word "bureau" as "a cabinet or chest of drawers, or 'scrutoir' for depositing papers or accounts."
In the latter half of the eighteenth century these convenient pieces of furniture came into more general use, and illustrations of them as designed and made by Chippendale and his contemporaries will be found in the chapter dealing with that period.
Dr. Lyon also quotes from an American newspaper, "The Boston News Letter" of April 16th, 1716, an advertisement which was evidently published when the tall clocks, which we now call "grandfathers' clocks," were a novelty, and as such were being introduced to the American public. We have already referred to one of those which is in the South Kensington Museum (date 1700), and no doubt the manufacture of similar clocks became more general during the first years of the eighteenth century. The advertisement alluded to runs, "Lately come from London, a parcel of very fine clocks - they go a week and repeat the hour when pulled" (a string caused the same action as the pressing of the handle of a repeating watch) "in Japan cases or wallnut."
The style of decoration in furniture and woodwork which we recognise as "Queen Anne," apart from the marqueterie just described, appears, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, to be due to the designs of some eminent architects of the time. Sir James Vanbrugh was building Blenheim Place for the Queen's victorious general, and also Castle Howard. Nicholas Hawksmoor had erected St. George's, Blooms-bury, and James Gibbs, a Scotch architect and antiquary, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and the Royal Library at Oxford: a ponderous style characterises the woodwork interior of these buildings. We give an illustration of three designs for chimney pieces and overmantels by James Gibbs, the centre one of which illustrates the curved or "swan-necked" pediment, which became a favourite ornament about this time, until supplanted by the heavier triangular pediment which came in with "the Georges."
The contents of Hampton Court Palace afford evidence of the transition w-hich took place in the design of woodwork and furniture from the time of William III. until that of George II. There, is the Dutch chair with cabriole leg, the plain walnut card table also of Dutch design, which probably came over with the Stadtholder; then, there are the heavy draperies, and chairs almost completely covered by Spitalfields silk velvet, to be seen in the bedroom furniture of Queen Anne. Later on, as the heavy Georgian style predominated, there is the stiff ungainly gilt furniture, console tables with legs ornamented with the Greek key pattern badly applied, and finally, as the French school of design influenced our carvers, an improvement may be noticed in the tables and torcheres, which, but for being a trifle clumsy, might pass for the work of French craftsmen of the same time. The state chairs, the bedstead, and some stools, which are said to have belonged to Queen Caroline, are further examples of the adoption of French fashion.
Nearly all writers on the subject of furniture and woodwork are agreed in considering that the earlier part of the period discussed in this chapter, namely, the seventeenth century, gives us the best examples of English work. As we have seen in noticing some of the earlier Jacobean examples already illustrated and described, it was a period marked by increased refinement of design, through the abandonment of the more grotesque and often coarse work of Elizabethan carving, and by soundness of construction and thorough workmanship.
Oak furniture made in England during the seventeenth century, is still a credit to the painstaking craftsmen of those days, and even upholstered furniture, like the couches and chairs at Knole, after more than 250 years' service, are fit for use. When we come to deal with furniture of the present day, and the methods of production which are now in practice, a comparison will be made which must be to the credit of the Jacobean period.