The Queen Anne

SO far as the Queen Anne style belongs to the past at all, it belongs to the reigns before and after Queen Anne as much as to her own brief reign. Anne was peculiarly English, says her historian; " and thus full many works of genius and renown, though they may have been commenced under William or continued under George, are taken by the world to be centred in her reign." It was certainly, let it belong to whose reign it may, a great departure from the fashions of the court of James II., an example of which is given in the accompanying cut. As a matter of fact, at court and in the politer circles of the beginning of the eighteenth century, the heavy Classic had superseded nearly everything else. Correctness and elegance were supposed to be found only in the Greek and Roman styles which the Renaissance had brought in, which it was believed were then to be had in pristine virtue, and in which the greater part of the public buildings and palaces erected during the eighteenth and

Silver Furuiture of the Time of Jamea II. the ^ of the ^y^^

century were elaborately designed. The mantel-pieces which we show today as indubitably of Queen Anne's time are as perfect specimens of classical device and workmanship as a Grecian could desire—of the pure Classic, that is, with columns and capitals of mathematical perfection, and wrought up with all of that ancient ornament which is severe without coldness, and although abundant, yet does not allow itself that wild exuberance of lawless grace which marks the Italian methods of the preceding eras. For these mantel-pieces in the original there is now an immense demand, and, as some one has said, pounds are paid for them where once pence were

Silver Furniture of the Time of James II.

ample equivalent ; and if tliey cannot be obtained, even by tearing down old houses—there is a regular class of labor for such purposes in England, whose members are called house-breakers—then copies of them are almost as eagerly accepted. It was doubtless to correspond with these mantelpieces in their first estate that the white and gilt finish and upholstery which filled the mansions of that era were used ; yet it is not with any snch finish and upholstery now that we associate the name in general of Queen Anne furniture.

But out of compliment to William of Orange after he came over from Holland to become king, numerous country-houses that happened to be building in the last part of his brief reign were built with Dutch features. It is this sort of country-house, with some important modifications and improvements, to be sure, that seems to have suggested the quaint new style of architecture which goes by the name of Queen Anne ; and it is the delightful furniture of these mansions, also adapted to more modern ideas, built in defiance of the severe Classic, but soon superseded by it, that is the archetype of the present style in furniture.

From the moment of its reintroduction the Queen Anne style met with a great opposition, which it is but just conquering—now from dealers, who disliked the interference with their stock, and the necessary change it occasioned to their existing designs and habits ; and now from others, purists who insisted upon the " unities," and those who hated to have their ideas jostled out of the ruts which they had long pursued, or objected to having it forced upon them that they had not already reached all the perfection that remains to be had. It was at first denied that there was really any such thing as a Queen Anne style, and asserted, as if one could ask anything better, that a parcel of poets and painters—William Moms, Dante Rossetti, and various others—had devised it between them. But when the genuine articles were shown that had descended from the time just preceding Queen Anne and following her, and that had been manufactured during her reign, and it was seen that they formed the working model of the new style, and sometimes were perhaps fortunate enough to exceed it, it had to be confessed that if the painters and poets were at all responsible in the affair, it was simply in having the fine taste first to appreciate that overlooked beauty.

The excitement which its reintroduction caused was rather remarkable, and all sorts of conflicting statements, and even ignorant ones, were made by critics, converts, and manufacturers ; these maintaining that it was original and indigenous, those declaring it mongrel and an importation. The architects and designers of London, in their usual meetings, held animated discussions concerning the phenomenon, certain of them announcing their ignorance, and seeking information from its sponsors. Mr. Barry, a professor at the Royal Academy, speaking of the era from which it professed to be revived, doubtingly said: " I suppose few of us, at any rate until lately, would have been disposed to credit that epoch with any well-defined style. Queen Anne's reign recalls to our minds principally days of English daring and triumphs on the Continent, childish affectations and intrigues about the court As far as it developed a style at all, it would seem to have done so by breaking away from established traditions; a Renaissance, in fact, but less strict and refined than the style to which the term is usually applied." Mr. Stevenson, another authority on such matters, said of the style that, fundamentally, in its system of construction and in its forms of moulding, the Queen Anne forms were the same as the common vernacular style—that is to say, the free Classic, the vernacular, the customary and prevailing method everywhere—with a touch of interest and art added. But, on the other hand,

Hanging Cabinets of Chippendale's Design.

Mr. Spiers declared that principles were entirely wanting in this style, and there was nothing whatever to reason from. Meanwhile, although this voice maintained that it was " free Classic," and that one that it w7as gotten up by a clique of " Gothic devotees," and another that it had the merits of the Gothic and the faults of the Classic, and a fourth, while confessing that it was certainly a form of Classic, was sure that it violated all classic rules, and still others claimed that it combined the " truthfulness, variety, and picturesqueness of the Gothic with the common-sense of the Italian," despite this clamor the style progressed, the sale increased, and it became the fashion—a passing fashion, say the critics. No one, to look at the illustrations of this chapter, would imagine that their simple lines and forms could liave occasioned such discussion and heat. "We are now offered," said the Builder," the revival of the furniture of the Queen Anne and Georgian period, of which Chippendale and Sheraton were the leading makers. Of this there are one or two good specimens in the Museum (South Kensington) This type of furniture revels in curved lines and surfaces really unsuitable, as we have before said, to wood construction, and which, in fact, seem designed to create difficulties in order to overcome them." This, by-the-way, would seem to be a mistake into which the Builder was led by recollection of Chippendale's collection of one hundred and sixty plates, in which almost all of the earlier ones were designed in deference to the Rococo, then in vogue on the Continent, and which were full of " curved lines and surfaces unsuitable to wood construction, and which, in fact, seemed designed to create difficulties in order to overcome them," but the succeeding portion of which plates were formed upon a base of straight lines and ornaments of simple grace. "There is much to be said for this school of furniture design, however," the Builder continued. "Its execution is nearly always lirst-rate, and articles which appear slight are so well made and put together as to have a fair chance of outlasting more bulky-looking objects. There is much fancy and elegance in its forms and it deserves, also, the praise of being a purely original type of furniture design, not imitative of anything else, and not dependent on the reproduction of forms properly belonging to architecture; and if somewhat wanting in dignity, it has at least elegance and refinement to recommend it."

The Builder was certainly right in allowing the style elegance and refinement. To our eye it has dignity too—as much dignity, that is, as belongs to the parlor rather than the church. It makes none of the pretension of the Gothic, and has none of the wearisome iteration of the common Classic. It seems exactly the furniture to surround unostentatious people of gentle manners and culture.

Articles in this style may be characterized as severely square, with sharp corners, standing on feet usually straight, but sometimes slightly bending outward, built in an upright and downright fashion, with no pretence and no sham, the motif being solidity and compactness. The panel-work is small, square, and in multiplicity. When glass is used, it is always bevelled plate; a tiny Classic balustrade frequently crowns the articles; and they are decorated to the last point with carvings in the face, sometimes of birds, fruit, figures, but usually with conventional treatment, and largely of mere floral suggestions. The Queen Anne style, then, may be summed up as possessing the remarkable simplicity and quietness of old work, together with great picturesqueness and 6ome quaintness. Although straight and square, with right lines and angles, it yet contrives to have a want of formality and a freedom from restraint, and always seems to be enriched with a "flavor of the past."

A great deal of furniture that may fairly pass under the head of Queen Anne may be found with those families here that have descended from the old colonial houses of our own country. If it does not own all that artistic finish which the cultured fancy abroad has added to the same type, it feet lines, their quaint carving, and their very few but choice brasses, make up a lovely interior. Many of these are not easily distinguished from the furniture of the Louis Treize. Some of the tables, for instance, are identical ; and although they may not range, indeed, under the actual head of the modern Queen Anne, yet they consort with it perfectly, and certain of the chairs have but slight variation from the lines of pure Italian models.

Some among the manufacturers, in introducing novelties, are combining the Queen Anne with the Chinese and Japanese ornaments in cabinets, étagères, bedsteads, and other pieces, and are congratulating themselves on their inventiveness. It is an inventiveness, however, as old as Chippendale himself, as he has given numerous illustrations of articles where he had already done the same thing. China had been largely an unknown land to the rest of the world until shortly before that cabinetmaker's day. Tea, to be sure, had been introduced some half-century previous, but a shadowy knowledge of the customs of the country was but just entering the English ports with its porcelains, its bamboos, carved ivories, and lacquered trays. Its curiosities took the fancy. Chinese paper-hangings were everywhere. Whole rooms were furnished in what was

Queen Anne Cabinet

yet remembers whence it came, the era in which it was born, and preserves a family resemblance. It became the fashion with us, half a dozen years ago, to gather it from here and there, to furbish it, to discard Gothic and Renaissance incompetencies in order to make room for it, and to furnish as far as possible with these old waxed and polished articles, as if one had ancestors and heirlooms. They certainly, with their dark surfaces, their per-

Sir William Chambers Furniture Images

called the Chinese fashion, Sir William Chambers publishing several plates to that effect, and hints from it thus came to be introduced into almost all the work of the day, sparingly and delicately, but quite pointedly enough to be recognized. The love of tea—the fashion of drinking it, at any rate —together with the influence of Queen Mary, the predecessor of Queen Anne, had brought in a great passion for china at that time too, and chiefly in the grotesque forms that had first struck the Dutch fancy and been imported into Holland. " In every corner of the mansion," says Macaulay, "appeared a profusion of gewgaws not yet familiar to English eyes. Mary had acquired at the Hague a taste for the porcelain of China, and amused herself by forming at Hampton a vast collection of hideous images, and of vases on which houses, trees, bridges, and mandarins were depicted in outrageous defiance of all the laws of perspective. The fashion—a frivolous and inelegant fashion, it must be owned—which was thus set by the queen spread far and wide. In a few years almost every great house in the kingdom contained a museum of these grotesque baubles. Even statesmen and generals were not ashamed to be renowned as judges of teapots and dragons; and satirists long continued to repeat that a fine lady valued her mottled green pottery quite as much as she valued her "— ^^^^^^^^LjMfc^jlLB'

than she valued her hus- Mother Queen Anne Cabinet band." Nevertheless, a piece of fine pottery is capable of containing infinitely finer and better art than many a coarser and larger object which the satirist would not dare to despise.

The influence which this love of china had upon the forms of the Queen Anne furniture is very noticeable—in the mahogany tea-trays and the tiny tables for pouring out tea and for holding the cup and saucer, with a standing rim round them like that of the old abacus, the rim sometimes plain, sometimes cut in an open-work of the Chinese filigree ; and in the great accommodation for its display also presented by every article— the open shelves and cupboards without glass that ran up the sides of buffets and mantel-pieces, the finely glazed receptacles in the same articles for more precious bits, and in the hanging wall-cabinets, where the beauty was displayed on a smaller scale. Old china is thus an essential accompaniment of the Queen Anne upon shelf and mantel, table and bracket, and adds to it a brightness and color that it perhaps needs, and which it takes better extraneously than in its own construction.

We are shown by dealers many minor articles and some miscellaneous bric-à-brac which they classify as Queen Anne, although not always with any better reason than that it harmonizes with that style. Among these are some wonderful mirrors made by the Adam brothers, who did not live, however, till a generation after Queen Anne.

The Queen Anne style, in its present modification, is, upon the whole, utterly destitute of any sort of affectation. Without the grandiosity of the Gothic or the intricate art of the pure Renaissance, it has attained a dignity and beauty proper to the age, and seems to be the very style to reward the search of the nineteenth century for something natural, beautiful, suitable, and convenient.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment