Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chairs That Go Bump in the Night: Gothic Furniture, Part 1

Literature wasn’t the only thing that was influenced by the Gothic craze in 18th and early 19th century England.  Horace Walpole, who’d started the whole Gothic thing with The Castle of Otranto, built and decorated his home, Strawberry Hill in Twickenham as a sort of fairytale homage to the middle ages... and for the next hundred and fifty years or so, this fanciful style fell in and out of fashion.

Even the Prince Regent himself was caught up in the early nineteenth century’s “in” cycle of Gothic love: his splendid London home, Carlton House, featured Gothic rooms such as the cast iron and stained glass conservatory (and it is a serious downer that he decided to demolish Carlton House and focus instead on Buckingham Palace; the existing illustrations of it are amazing.)

Well, if it was good enough for Prinny, it was good enough for the rest of society...and our old friend Mr. Ackermann followed suit in The Repository with a series of illustrations of Gothic furniture, suitable for fashionable homes everywhere...even if your house wasn’t Strawberry Hill.

The series started in 1825, but the interest in Gothic decor was already well underway, as demonstrated by this State Bed from the September 1823 issue. The description is interesting: The authors who have written on the arrangement of furniture in olden times, have given to the common bed a width of six feet, and to state ones an altitude quite unknown to the present day, except as we see it exemplified in some of our very ancient mansions, whose chambers exhibit the four-post bedstead at from 20 to 30 feet in height.... The recurrence to such sources for designs of furniture for buildings in the Gothic style is to be desired, because they afford the means of assimilating them to such edifices, in accordance with the practices of the times which they are intended to imitate. 

Here we have an Episcopal Chair in The Repository's November 1825 issue (...the wood is of light oak with gilt mouldings, relieved by rich crimson velvet cushions and tassels. This chair may be introduced with propriety into a church, prelate's mansion, or an extensive library.) The Drawing-Room light oak, and the mouldings gilt; the tracery should be filled up with velvet of the same colour as the room; perhaps it would be more appropriate if it were of rose-wood or cedar. And the Table for a Boudoir (can I pretty please have a boudoir some day?) is also of oak or rose-wood.

This Gothic Sofa (Ackermann, December 1825) would appear to be completely at home (so to speak) in a gothic novel, conveniently located, perhaps, for the beleaguered heroine to swoon onto... This piece of furniture, in which the modern form is preserved, is embellished according to the style of the 13th century; or rather the parts are adapted from Gothic tracery executed at that period, so as to combine the peculiar features of Gothic art with the form that is now considered to afford the best accommodation for its purpose.)

I do like the griffin-like beasts guarding the pedestal of this Gothic Table from March 1826, as well as the illuminated manuscripts and books so artfully displayed on its surface...because of course, doesn’t everyone just have to have a table like this to display their 14th century psalter collection? Somehow this plate really brings home that these plates are truly advertisementsthat they are selling a "look" to which readers longing to be fashionable should aspire.

More delicious Gothic Chairs...I find the right-hand chair with the blue seat to be most interesting, as it marries aspects of the previously fashionable Classical influence with Gothic decoration. I think I'll skip the middle one, though, as it doesn’t look very comfortable. (The Repository, May 1926)

And to end on a high note (see what I did there? ☺) we have An Horizontal Grand Pianoforte (July 1826’s Repository). Even the editor who wrote the descriptive copy accompanying the plate is forced to recognize the irony of decorating a pianoforte, a relatively recent invention at the time, in the style of many centuries past: This instrument being totally unknown to our ancestors, and only invented within the last half century, we can merely decorate the given forms by traceries and other Gothic ornaments best calculated to assist the sound, and to fulfil the intent of the instrument.

I’ll post more Gothic furniture in coming weeks...which was your favorite?


Paula Shreckhise said...

I like the table with the puectust edge.

Marissa Doyle said...

I like the table too...but gee, I'd hate to be the one who had to dust any of this furniture!

QNPoohBear said...

I'm not into the Gothic style but I do want to visit the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale. If you can't make it there, you can take a virtual tour of Strawberry Hill