'While the prevalence of a fashion may account for the strong similarity in the design of many of the tall chairs, there are details of almost identical character which suggest that the area of production must have been restricted. These were the aristocratic chairs of their period; we have seen, in the preceding chapter, that to place the late Stuart chairs in strict chronological order would entail both oak and walnut chairs being illustrated together, however widely they might differ, not only in material, detail and proportion, but in constructive principles as well. The oak and walnut examples have been kept apart in this book, for obvious reasons, but it must not be forgotten that both were made at the same period, although the fashion for oak was declining, and walnut chairs were taking their place as the mode of the time. It is inevitable, with this insulating of examples for the purposes of reference and to trace developments of types, that they acquire an exclusiveness which they do not really possess.
Fig. 347. Walnut Chair. - The tall-back chair of 1685-9 with the cup-turned leg of 1695. - Messrs. Gill and Reisrate.
The fine settee from Lyme Park, Fig. 339, shows the bulb-turning of front legs and the typical flat serpentine stretcher, centred with a turned finial, which became the fashion shortly after 1690. The evolution of this type may be followed in succeeding illustrations. Fig. 340 is a large arm-chair from the same house, with its original covering and fringe. The material here is a flat-pile velvet with an applique of bullion braiding, whereas the settee is upholstered with very elaborate stitchery on a morine ground. Both examples, together with the chair from Glemham Hall, Fig. 327, show the influence of the French Huguenot weavers and artists exiled in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Fig. 341 is the more fully developed version of Fig. 340, with arm balusters and front legs cut out and carved, in a manner which suggests Chinese inspiration, as exhibited in the ivory carvings from Nankin. Fig. 342 is a fine chair from Hemsted, of beech stained black, with the inward C-scrolled leg of the fashion of Figs. 316 and 326, and the voluted Spanish foot. The covering is an old Genoese or patterned velvet on a cream ground with tasselled fringe to match, of considerable age, but not original to the chair. Fig. 343 has the square-sectioned leg inspired from the later Louis XIV period, and the French version of the Orange flat serpentine stretcher.
Fig. 348. Walnut Chair. - (? Dutch.) The embryonic cabriole leg. c. 1695-1700. Victoria and Albert Museum.
This square-sectioned leg became a very favourite alternative to the more usual turning, shortly before 1700, especially with chairs made for important houses. Fig. 344, one of a pair, is in the advanced fashion of 1695-1700, and shows the type of chair which was specifically designed to display the elaborate silks and velvets which were being woven by the French Huguenots in Spitalfields and elsewhere at this date. The upholstery of this period is characterised not only by the exceptional quality of its covering fabrics, but also by the lavish use of magnificent braidings or tasselled fringes of silk and bullion. Unfortunately, this use of metal in conjunction with silk has been the direct cause of the perishing of these trimmings by the cutting or abrading of the fabric.
This chair is directly copied from French models, but it possesses a grace in proportion and a charm in detail which are unmistakably English. It is only when chairs of this kind are found, divested of their original coverings and trimmings, that the full value of these adjuncts, even if in the last stage of dilapidation, is appreciated. From the point of view of the practical chairmaker, as well as that of the designer, these tall graceful chairs, of the closing years of the seventeenth century, are superior to any which were made during the years from 1660 to 1690.
Of slightly earlier date, but in the same fine manner, is the interesting wing chair, Fig. 345, which has its original covering of pale blue-green damask, but has been shorn of its fringes. Here the front legs have the Spanish vase-form from which the inverted cup-turning develops. It is rare to find an easy chair of this form and date with legs and carved stretcher as in this example. Fig. 346 is one of the stools of about the same period, with legs of similar detail, and the fully-developed flat serpentine Orange stretcher. Fig. 347 shows the smooth undecorated cup-turning of the front legs and the flattened foot of 1695, on a chair which, otherwise, is late Stuart in proportion and detail. Fig. 348, which concludes this series, is a chair, the English origin of which is questionable, although many of a similar kind were made in this country just prior to 1700. Apart from the French back, in the later Louis XIV manner which was adopted and freely rendered in Holland and Belgium at this period, this chair possesses a great interest in illustrating the beginning of the development towards the smooth cabriole leg finishing in a plain club foot, which is so characteristic, not only of the early eighteenth century, but of the narrow margin of years contained in the duration of the reign of Anne. With chairs, therefore, although not with other furniture, it is possible to coincide the conclusion of this chapter with that of the seventeenth century itself, leaving the later development of the English walnut chair to be further considered in a later book.
Examples Of English And French Fringes And Braids As Used On Late Stuart And Orange Furniture.
Fig. 349. Table-Top Inlaid With Marqueterie.
Fig. 350. A "Pricking" Of The Marqueterie Of The Above Table-Top.