Kensington School of Wood-carving
The School of Art Woodcarving at South Kensington, which was established some eight years ago at " the City and Guilds Institute," is also doing a useful and practical work. With a very moderate grant from the City Guilds and the use of free quarters the School maintains itself, and is the means of educating, either free or at reduced terms, a great many students who go out into the world the better prepared to compete with their foreign rivals. The Committee of Management, under the presidency of Major-General Sir J. F. D. Donelly, K.C.B., is composed of artists and architects of note and others who not only give their moral support to the institution but bring some of their ornamental woodwork to the School for execution under their direction.
The management of Miss Rowe (Miss Rowe, who has made some valuable contributions to the literature of Woodwork, has written hand-books for young woodcarvers, which are published under the sanction of the South Kensington authorities.) is evidence of the success which attends the effort of an intelligent and enthusiastic lady, and the instructors, Messrs. Grimwood and Ross, are practical carvers, who can not only correct but can design and cut the patterns set for their pupils. After the first year of probation the professional students receive a fair proportion of the value of their work, which is assessed by the instructors.
It is by the maintenance of such technical schools, which with more or less success are now being started by our local authorities in different parts of England, that we can to some extent replace the advantages which the old system of apprenticeship gave to the learners of a craft.
Many other societies, guilds, and Art schools have been established with more or less success, with a view of improving the design and manufacture of furniture, and providing suitable models for our young woodcarvers to copy. The Ellesmere Cabinet (illustrated on page 243) was one of the productions of the " Home Arts and Industries Association," founded in 1883 by the late Lady Marian Alford, a well known connoisseur and Art patron. It will be seen that this is virtually a Jacobean design.
It has been observed that as Architecture became a settled Art or Science, it was accompanied by a corresponding development in the design of the room and its furniture, under, as it were, one impulse of design, and this appropriate concord may be said to have obtained in England until nearly the middle of the present century, when, after the artificial Greek style in furniture and woodwork which had been attempted by Wilkins, Soane, and other contemporary architects, had fallen into disfavour, there was first a reaction, and then an interregnum, as has been noticed in the previously. The Great Exhibition marked a fresh departure, and quickened, as we have seen, industrial enterprise in this country: and though, upon the whole, good results have been produced by the impetus given by these international competitions, they have not been exempt from unfavourable accompaniments. One of these was the eager desire for novelty, without the necessary judgement to discriminate between good and bad. For a time, nothing satisfied the purchaser of so-called " artistic " products, whether of decorative furniture, carpets, curtains, or merely ornamental articles, unless the design was " new." The natural result was the production either of heavy, or ugly, or flimsy and inappropriate furniture, which has been condemned by every competent writer on the subject. In some of the designs selected from the exhibits of '51 this desire to. leave the beaten track of conventionality will be evident; and for a considerable time after the Exhibition, we can see, in our designs, the result of too many opportunities for imitation, acting upon minds insufficiently trained to exercise careful judgement and selection.
About the early part of the present century, the custom of employing architects to design the interior fittings and the furniture of their buildings, so as to harmonize, appears to have been abandoned; this was probably due, partly to some indifference to this subsidiary portion of their work, but also to the change of taste which led people to prefer the cheapness of painted and artificially grained pine-wood, with decorative effects produced by wall-papers, to the more solid but expensive though less showy wood-panelling, architectural mouldings, well-made panelled doors and chimney pieces, which one finds, down to quite the end of the last century, even in houses of moderate rentals. Furniture therefore became independent and " beginning to account herself an Art, transgressed her limits " and " grew to the conceit that it could stand by itself, and, as well as its betters, went a way of its own." (Essay by Mr. Edward S. Prior, " Of Furniture and the Room.") The effect of this is to be seen in "interiors" of our own time which are handed over from the builder, as it were, in blank, to be filled up from the upholsterer's store, the curiosity shop, and the auction room, while a large contribution from the conservatory or the nearest florist, gives a finishing touch to a mixture, which characterises the present taste for furnishing a boudoir or a drawing room.
There is, of course, in very many cases, an individuality gained by the "omnium gatherum" of such a mode of furnishing. The cabinet which reminds its owner of a tour in Italy, the quaint stool from Tangier, and the embroidered piano-cover from Spain, are to those who are in the habit of travelling, pleasant souvenirs; as are also the presents from friends (when they have taste and judgement), the screens and flower-stands and the photographs, which are reminiscences of the forms and faces separated from us by distance or removed by death. The test of the whole question of such an arrangement of furniture in our living rooms, is the amount of judgement and discretion displayed. Two favourable examples of the present fashion, representing the interior of the Saloon and Drawing Room at Sandringham House, are here reproduced.
There is at the present time an ambition on the part of many well-to-do persons to imitate the effect produced in houses of old families, where, for generations, valuable and memorable articles of decorative furniture have been accumulated, just as pictures, plate and china have been preserved; and failing the inheritance of such household gods, it is the practice to acquire, or as the modern term goes, "to collect," old furniture of different styles and periods, until the room becomes incongruous and overcrowded, an evidence of the wealth, rather than of the taste, of the owner. As it frequently happens that such collections are made very hastily, and in the brief intervals of a busy commercial or political life, the selections are not the best or most suitable; and where so much is required in a short space of time, it becomes impossible to devote a sufficient sum of money to procure really valuable specimens; in their place, effective and low-priced reproductions of an old pattern (with all the faults inseparable from such conditions) are added to the conglomeration of articles requiring attention, and taking up space. The limited accommodation of houses built on ground which is too valuable to allow spacious halls and large apartments, makes this want of discretion and judgement the more objectionable. There can be no doubt that want of care and restraint in the selection of furniture, by the purchasing public, affects its character, both as to design and workmanship.
These are some of the faults in the modern style of furnishing, which have been pointed out by recent writers and lecturers on the subject. In " Hints on Household Taste," (Published in 1868, when the craze for novelties was at its height.) Mr. Eastlake has scolded us severely for running after novelties and fashions, instead of cultivating suitability and simplicity, in the selection and ordering of our furniture; and he has contrasted descriptions and drawings of well designed and constructed pieces of furniture of the Jacobean period with those of this century's productions. Col. Robert Edis, in " Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses," has published designs which are both simple and economical, with regard to space and money, while suitable to the specified purpose of the furniture or " fitment."
The ruling principle in the majority of these designs has been to avoid over-ornamentation, and pretentions to display, and to encourage good solid work, in hard, durable, and (on account of the increased labour) expensive woods, or, when economy is required, in light soft woods, painted or enamelled. Some manufacturing firms, whose high reputation renders them independent of any recommendation, have adopted this principle, and, as a result, there is now no difficulty in obtaining well designed and soundly well constructed furniture, which is simple, unpretentious, and worth the price charged for it. Unfortunately for the complete success of these sounder principles, really good and appropriate furniture meets with a fierce competition from more showy and ornate productions, made to sell rather than to last: furniture which seems to have upon it the stamp of our " three years' agreement," or " seven years' lease." Of this it may be said, speaking not only from an artistic, but from a moral and humane standpoint, it is made so cheaply, that it seems a pity it is made at all.