Mahogany Library Bookcase

In the possession of Messrs. ('¡ill and Reigate. II ft. 3 ins. long x S ft. 9 ins. high x 1 ft. o ins. deep. Date about 1770-80.

carcase-end is grooved for the adjustment of the shelves, and the backs are framed and panelled. The cornice and frieze are of mahogany, the dentils inlaid, but the flutes and the patene carved. The workmanship throughout of this piece is of the very highest order. It was evidently made to the order of a wealthy patron, and has been specially designed for removal from one house to another—probably from town to country and vice versa—as a favoured piece of furniture. In one of these houses the piece was probably divided, the centre standing by itself and the two wings joined together, temporarily, with screws, to form a separate bookcase. The inside ends of the wings are kept purposely thin to this end, and the locks of each door are " link-plated."

So far, we have seen the influence of the Adam style in each of the examples illustrated, in a gradually decreasing degree. In the library bookcase, Fig. 122, this has declined, almost to the vanishing point, the only details suggestive of Robert Adam being the central vase of the pediment and the oval carved patera below. There is hardly anything sufficiently distinctive in the design of this bookcase to establish a date, beyond the hollow corners of the mouldings in the lower doors ornamented with carved paterae, and the detail of the cornice, a small ogee and fillet and a comparatively large hollow and bead under, which is a certain indication, in original pieces, of a date after 1770.

Considerable space has been devoted to this question of the evolution from the style of Adam to that of Hepplewhite, as it is one of considerable importance to our subject. To those who study the development of English furniture of the eighteenth century very closely, it is always interesting to mark the influence of one designer or craftsman on another. The old-fashioned general classification of the subject under hard and fast general headings such as " Adam," " Hepplewhite," and " Sheraton " has long ago proved to be woefully inaccurate in points of detail. Each of these designers occupies a well-merited place in the history of English furniture of his period, and to show how the one was indebted to the other, and all three to the numerous joiners and designers of their time whose name and fame has been lost to posterity, detracts not one whit from their real position, but shows rather that, like all real artists, they were students until the close of their career, and did not disdain to profit by the experience and the teaching of others, even those of far lesser note in their profession. Were it possible to know the industrial history of this period as exactly as we do that of our own time, it would probably be found that a wholesale transference of credit for originality would have to be effected, which would impart a lustre to the name of many a worthy craftsman who had gone to his grave, with nothing left to posterity beyond the unspoken eloquence of certain pieces of furniture, fashioned with such conscientious skill that they have withstood the vicissitudes of a century and a half, and remain to-day as models of designing skill for the cabinet-makers of our day to imitate and to admire.

The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide.

N the attempt to critically examine any of the books of designs which were published during the latter half of the eighteenth century, several important points have to be borne in mind. The natural desire is to assess the measure of originality due to each other, and at the same time to accurately judge the artistic merit of the several designs, and the value of each piece for the purpose it was intended. In this connection it is almost impossible to dissociate a design for an article of furniture from the method in which it is presented, i.e. the pictorial value of the sketch. An exceptionally fine piece, with the general proportions quite accurate, the lines carefully studied and the details well chosen and executed, would lose immeasurably if portrayed by a poor draughtsman, whereas, on the contrary, a false idea of the artistic merit of an indifferent piece would be obtained if it were sketched by a cultured designer, who would, unconsciously perhaps, rectifv all errors of proportion, line and detail. The question of artistic convention plays also an important part ; far more so than one would, at first, imagine. Take any of the photographic representations of chairs given in this book, for instance, and compare them with any of the chair designs from Chippendale's Director, given in the second volume. The verdict, as to natural pose and general appearance, would, almost certainly, be in favour of the photographs, and vet we do not habituallv see chairs in this way, unless we are sitting, or occupying a position where the eye is not more than three feet from the ground. The convention during the eighteenth century appears to have been that all furniture should be represented as viewed from a height of eye-line five feet from the floor; hence chairs, and such-like articles, although drawn as they are habitually seen, appear to be distorted and out of drawing.

Another important point to be considered in judging the designs in these eighteenth century books is the submerging, to a great extent, of the personality of the draughtsman in that of the engraver. In the present clay of facsimile photographic processes of reproduction,—half-tone, zincography, photogravure, collotype and lithography,—it is possible to reproduce any monochrome sketch with absolute fidelity, no subtletv of line or shading being lost or altered in the slightest degree. The age of xylography is not so far removed, however, that many artists can remember how their drawings were radicallv altered bv translation into wood-engraving. Worse even than this, the one

engraver, with a particular style of line and texture, frequently had the knack of making the work of two draughtsmen, of totally unlike technical qualities in their sketches, resemble each other closely in the reproductions. This applied with especial force to the period before photography lent its aid to the wood-engraver. In spite of these drawbacks, however, xylography was a process admitting of great freedom in texture as compared with the steel-engraving of the previous era, and the mechanical copperplate work of the eighteenth century. Added to this, very few of the commercial engravers of this period were artists, or even draughtsmen ; they were copyists, purely and simply. In the case of Robert Adam,—apart from the fact that from his position he could afford to employ the best engravers,—the drawings prepared for the Works in Architecture are monuments of painstaking skill, carefully drawn in ink outline and shaded by graduated washes of sepia. At a distance of a few feet it is almost impossible to distinguish them from the engravings made after them. The cabinet-makers of the period, especially those of lowly position, were not so fortunately circumstanced. Chippendale, Ince and Mayhew and Thomas Johnson appear to have either been able to employ a competent draughtsman-engraver,—the conclusion that the two professions were united is irresistible from a study of their books,—or else they purchased the plates outright or commissioned so many proofs to be taken from them by the author whose name posterity has failed to preserve. In the usual way, however, a " joyner'' or chair-maker would submit either rough sketches or details of the articles of furniture he wished to illustrate to an engraver, and the rest was left to his skill in draughtsmanship, frequently, it must be confessed, with somewhat fatal results. Unless the craftsman possessed the necessary technical skill to actually engrave his own plates,—an almost impossible contention,—he was absolutely at the mercy of his engraver. His drawings could be copied, well or indifferently, according to the skill of the one he could afford to employ, but there was absolutely no mechanical means of transferring his sketches to the plate exactly as they were drawn. A good deal has been said, and written, of the vile draughtsmanship of Robert Manwaring, as evidenced in the Real Friend and other of his books, whereas these are no evidences at all of his skill or otherwise, beyond the fact that he probably could not draw at all. He was cursed with a bad engraver, and nothing more.

We have seen, in the chapter on Chippendale's Director, that the strong similarity,— one might almost say the identity of character,—between this book and the System of Ince and Mayhew is strong presumptive evidence that the actual drawings were neither the work of Chippendale nor Ince. Applying the same process of reasoning to Hepple-white's Guide, the dissimilarity between the proportions of certain pieces of otherwise identical design illustrated in the Guide and in the first edition of the London Book of

121 Q

0 0

Post a comment