Xxiii

THE EASTLAKE.

SOMETHING more than half a dozen years ago, a number of essays, written by Mr. C. L. Ea6tlake, were printed in the various English publications, and afterward collected in a volume that has done a great work toward revolutionizing the manufacture of furniture. Criticism, in the beginning, was almost altogether barred from the ideas propounded in these essay8 by Mr. Eastlake's asserting that if the virtuoso should find them wanting in antiquarian research, the scientific man in technical information, and the sentimentalist in the poetry of art, it must be remembered that nothing more had been attempted than to show readers how to furnish their houses picturesquely, yet with reference to modern ideas of comfort.

The book met a great want. Not a young marrying couple who read English were to be found without " Hints on Household Taste" in their hands, and all its dicta were accepted as gospel truths. They hung their pictures and their curtains just as Mr. Eastlake said they should; laid their carpets, colored their walls, hinged their doors, arranged their china, bought their candlesticks, insisted on their andirons, procured solid wood, abjured veneering, and eschewed curves, all after Mr. Eastlake's own heart. If, now, it is seen that some things which Mr. Eastlake laid down as immutable and irrevocable laws of art are really matters of taste, to be left to individual decision, it nevertheless remains true that the book occasioned a great awakening, questioning, and study in the matter of household furnishing. Presently there arose a demand for furniture in the 44 Eastlake style."

The upholsterers, with whom Mr. Eastlake had made quarrel in his pages, denied that there was any such style. Mr. Eastlake himself had said that he recommended the " readoption of no specific type of ancient furniture which is unsuited, whether in detail or in general design, to the habits of modern life." It was the spirit and principles of early manufacture which he desired to see revived, and not the absolute forms in which they found embodiment. The demand, however, was one which obliged the upholsterers to pocket their grudge, and if there were no East-

lake style, to invent one; for to-day Eastlake chairs, ugly past belief, but invincibly strong, Eastlake bedsteads, clean-shaped and charming, Eastlake wash-stands, dressing-cases, drawers, and cabinets, are to be seen everywhere disputing the palm with the so-called Queen Anne, and quite as quaint and picturesque as the lately revived Tudor styles. Mr. Eastlake called the Tudor styles, by-the-way, or perhaps rather the Elizabethan variety of them, "a miserable compromise by which classic details of the clumsiest description were grafted on buildings supported by the Tudor arch and crowned with the Tudor gable. It is," he continued, " perhaps the bizarre and picturesque character of this bastard style which still renders it popular with the uneducated. To this day Elizabethan mansions are admired by sentimental young ladies." But there are other judges who consider the Tudor styles, and the Elizabethan variety of them, as among

Eastlake Dluing-table.

the glories of old England. In the same way condemnation was pronounced upon many matters; among the rest upon all realistic wood-carving; yet the world will always recognize the marvellous beauty of the realistic carving of the Quattrocento, nor will the exquisite work of Grin-ling Gibbons be ignored, if not in the noblest school of art, nor the charm of the Palissy-ware with its realistic shells, its butterflies and flowers and reptiles. It is scarcely by wholesale condemnations or arbitrary pronun-ciamentos that real improvement can be made in the direction of art or anything else. The wise seeker is seldom so entirely sure of his attainment as to be absolutely without doubt that another may not be right.

Mr. Eastlake was not always perfectly precise in his archaeological information. In commenting, for instance, upon the usual modern dining-ta-ble, and with much justice finding it unsatisfactory, he went on to praise an ancient table, and to say that " it was from no lack of skill that this old table was not made capable of being enlarged at pleasure. The social cus toms of the age in which it was produced did not require such a piece of mechanism. In those days the dining-table was of one uniform length, whether a few or many guests were assembled at it; and I am not sure whether, of the two fashions, the more ancient one does not indicate a more frequent and open hospitality. But be that as it may, if the Jacobean table had been required for occasional extension, we may be certain it would have been so constructed, and that, too, on a more workman-like principle than our foolish telescope slide." But, as a matter of fact, the reader will find in Sir Samuel Myrick's book of ancient specimens, still in preservation, an old table made to pull apart, with a slide and an extension, precisely the thing whose existence is thus denied. In another place, speaking of the design of a piece of Moorish pottery, Mr. Eastlake said: "In the centre or hollow portion is painted, on a white ground and in various colors, a very remarkable pattern. The idea seems to have been taken from a ship, for there are masts and sails, and pennants flying, and port-holes, and a patch of bluish-green below, which, I presume, must be accepted as typical of water. . But in such a hurry has the artist been to make his dish gay with color and a pleasant flow of lines, that no one can say which is the bow and which the stern of his vessel, whether we are looking at her athwart or alongships, where the sea ends and the ship's side begins, and finally, what relation the improbable hulk bears to the impossible rigging. The whole thing is, pictorially considered, absolute nonsense, and yet, as a bit of decorative painting, excellent." Now, it is much more likely that, whether the Moorish artist was in a hurry or not to " make his dish gay with color and a pleasant flow of lines," it is not because of that hurry that one cannot say which is the bow and which the stern of his vessel, or where the sea ends and the ship begins, but because of the fact that the Moorish artist was not allowed by the strict requirements of his religion to represent a single article of still or animated life; and desiring to paint the beauty of a ship, he subtly and skilfully represented all the lovely light lines and curves and colors, and suggested all the idea without touching the reality of the airy architecture of the sea.

But these are things apart. And we must confess that it would be hard, on any of the principles of taste that are generally thought sound, to find fault with the greater part of Mr. Eastlake's recommendations, founded as they are upon simplicity, honesty, and propriety. These are the fundamental principles of the Eastlake style, and those on whose basis the upholsterers had to work when the style was demanded; and if artistic taste and grace could be added to them, the style would be perfect. The articles given in Mr. Eastlake's own design were very few, although most of them were fine. There were some chairs, at once exceedingly handsome, stately, and graceful, not at all like the little Eastlake chair most commonly seen; a bedstead and tester, quaint and charming; a hall and extension table; a sideboard, bookcase, and wash-stand; but out of the material of these articles and the hints they afforded, the upholsterers had to provide the whole train of household furniture "after East-

Bastlake Sideboard.

lake." They have succeeded in producing an interesting variety, quaint, with an attractive air of antiquity, full of character and picturesqueness, but always a little stiff, and seldom very graceful. The upholsterers themselves have no fancy for its straight up-and-down angularity; they say they would as lief be 6hut up all night in a church as in a room with it; and they describe a house furnished in it as seeming too solemn for any of the trivialities of daily life; but if people want it, they must have it. Although they manufacture the article, they still seem to dislike calling it " the Eastlake;" and with some reason, as it so nearly fulfils the requirements of the mediaeval as scarcely to need a separate name—not of the lovely pointed Gothic, indeed, with its perpetual poetry and beauty, but of the modernized Gothic, in which the principles of early manufacture are recognized, and whose less striking shapes are better suited to common domestic use. Mr. Eastlake himself made the production of the articles called by his name easy to the furniture-makers. "Every article of furniture," he said, "which is capable of decorative treatment should indicate by its general design the purpose to which it will be applied, and should never be allowed to convey a false notion of that purpose. Experience has shown that particular shapes and special modes of decoration are best suited to certain materials. Therefore the character, situation, and extent of ornament should depend on the nature of the material employed, as well as on the use of the article itself. On the acceptance of these two leading principles — now universally recognized in the field of decorative art—must always depend the chief merit of good design. To the partial and often direct violation of those principles we may attribute the vulgarity and bad taste of most modern work." Farther on Mr. Eastlake added: " The best and most picturesque furniture of all ages has been simple in general form. It may have been enriched by complex details of carved work or inlay, but its main outline was always chaste and sober in design, never running into extravagant contour or unnecessary curves."

Among the decided principles that Mr. Eastlake pronounced for direction are such as that mouldings should be carved from the solid, not made of detached slips of wood glued on a surface; that doors should be hung on long, ornamented, noble hinges; that surfaces should be left in their native hue, never varnished, but if painted at all, painted in flatted color, with a " line introduced here and there to define the construction, with an angle ornament (which may be stencilled) at the corners;" that mitred joints shall be abolished; that joints, moreover, shall be tenoned and pinned together without the nails and glues in use at present; that an article meant to bear weight shall look capable of bearing it; that chests of drawers, and pieces of that sort, shall never bulge out in front, after the style that came in with the Rococo, but shall present a straight line; that curves shall be forsaken, and rounded corners abominated.

The tendency of the present age of upholstery, Mr. Eastlake asserted, is to run into curves—a vicious reminder of the old Louis Quatorze extravagance of contour. "Chairs are invariably curved in such a manner as to insure the greatest amount of ugliness with the least possible comfort. The backs of sideboards are curved in the most senseless and extravagant manner; the legs of cabinets are curved, and become in consequence constructively weak; drawing-room tables are curved in every direction— perpendicularly and horizontally—and are therefore inconvenient to sit at, and always rickety. In marble wash-stands the useful shelf, which should run the whole length of the rear, is frequently omitted in order to insure a curve. This detestable system of ornamentation is called shaping."

Under stress of such remark and instruction, the curve, as usually seen, is not to be found in the Eastlake sofa and chair—the curve rising and sinking on the outlines of the back, and sprawling in and out in those of the legs. The legs and backs of these articles are upright and downright, mortised and tenoned, and connected with under-bars, and consequently rather heavy, and certainly very stiff; and the frame-work of the construction is concealed no more than is inevitable by the springs, padding, and covering. It is not, however, the curve as a line that is objected to, but as a weakener of the fibre of the wood. As a line and an ornament, it is frequently to be found in the style—between the shelves of the cabinet, in the round-topped panels of other articles, in many various uses, and in the delicate turner's-work which adorns the backs and arms of chairs, the rolls now and then on the foot-board and headboard of bedsteads, and the posts of

Thus it will be seen that the construction to be recognized in the ^H^fcL Eastlake style is from the solid wood,

H^^fe^^^^^S^^^^^BE unvarnished, usually without veneer, l|| My W ■ 8 made in the simplest manner that

HRfll " I I conforms to the purpose of the ar-

verses slightly chamfered at the corners (that is, with a little groove or a I I \\ narrow slanting slice pared off); and

  • i!- \\ this purpose is always to be declared
  • there is to be no disposing of a ^^tti bed by day in the wardrobe or the „ ,, ^ t lounge-box: the bed is a bed, and the

wardrobe a wardrobe unmistakably. Wherever there is a plain surface of wood, as on table-top, sideboard door, or foot-board, if it is not covered with the single deeply moulded panel, or with a multitude of little square panels, it is apt to be made of narrow pieces of wood, laid crosswise, meeting each other pyramidally at one end and retreating at the other, held in place by vertical and horizontal pieces, sometimes the narrow pieces running in one slant all the way, but boxed in after the same fashion, the effect of the different running of the grain being supposed ornamental in itself, much after the idea—on a vastly enlarged scale—of the Italian tarsiatura, where some of the shading of the inlay is obtained by the opposite laying of the grain. The other most frequent ornaments are the insertion of painted panels, of tiles and plaques, the substitution of well-wrought brass, nickel, and iron handles and hinges for those seen customarily ; and in the choicest examples the free use of conventional carvings in sunk relief, the zigzag, the shell, the trefoil, the tracery of a bit of idealized foliage. With all this, the furniture of this description is a vast improvement in shape, in ideas, and in durability to anything that has been in use for many generations ; and it is a comfort to see it in so many houses, if not for its intrinsic beauty, yet as an evidence of thought that lias dared to question the supremacy of that Louis Quatorze arm-chair that has so long held the sceptre. If the Eastlake, so called, is not all in itself that might be wished, if it is here and there a little inconsistent with itself, it yet represents a movement seldom if ever before effected by a single person ; and it has succeeded in inaugurating a new régime, which bears the same relation to the loose and wanton Quatorze and Quinze régimes that virtue bears to vice.

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