Modern Bedroom Furniture
Furniture in the Nineteenth Century
The French Revolution and First
Empire—Influence on design of Napoleon's Campaigns—The Cabinet presented to
Marie Louise—Dutch Furniture of the time—English Furniture—Sheraton's later
work—Thomas Hope, architect—George Smith's designs—Fashion during the
Regency—Gothic revival—Seddon's Furniture—Other Makers—Influence on design
of the Restoration in France—Furniture of William IV. and early part of
Queen Victoria's reign—Baroque and Rococo styles—The panelling of rooms,
dado, and skirting—The Art Union,—The Society of Arts—Sir Charles Barry and
the new Palace of Westminster—Pugin's designs—Auction Prices of
Furniture—Christie's—The London Club Houses—Steam—Different Trade
Customs—Exhibitions in France and England—Harry Rogers' work—The Queen's
cradle—State of Art in England during first part of present
reign—Continental designs—Italian carving—Cabinet work—General remarks.
here are great crises in
the history of a nation which stand out in prominent relief. One of these is
the French Revolution, which commenced in 1792, and wrought such dire havoc
amongst the aristocracy, with so much misery and distress throughout the
country. It was an event of great importance, whether we consider the
religion, the politics, or the manners and customs of a people, as affecting
the changes in the style of the decoration of their homes. The horrors of
the Revolution are matters of common knowledge to every schoolboy, and there
is no need to dwell either upon them or their consequences, which are so
thoroughly apparent. The confiscation of the property of those who had fled
the country was added to the general dislocation of everything connected
with the work of the industrial arts.
Nevertheless it should be borne in mind that
amongst the anarchy and disorder of this terrible time in France, the
National Convention had sufficient foresight to appoint a Commission,
composed of competent men in different branches of Art, to determine what
State property in artistic objects should be sold, and what was of
sufficient historical interest to be retained as a national possession.
Riesener, the celebrated ébeniste, whose work we have described in
the chapter on Louis Seize furniture, and David, the famous painter of the
time, both served on this Commission, of which they must have been valuable
There is a passage quoted by Mr. C. Perkins,
the American translator of Dr. Falke's German work "Kunst im Hause," which
gives us the keynote to the great change which took place in the fashion of
furniture about the time of the Revolution. In an article on "Art," says
this democratic French writer, as early as 1790, when the great storm cloud
was already threatening to burst, "We have changed everything; freedom, now
consolidated in France, has restored the pure taste of the antique! Farewell
to your marqueterie and Boule, your ribbons, festoons, and rosettes of
gilded bronze; the hour has come when objects must be made to harmonize with
Thus it is hardly too much to say that
designs were governed by the politics and philosophy of the day; and one
finds in furniture of this period the reproduction of ancient Greek forms
for chairs and couches; ladies' work tables are fashioned somewhat after the
old drawings of sacrificial altars; and the classical tripod is a favourite
support. The mountings represent antique Roman fasces with an axe in the
centre; trophies of lances, surmounted by a Phrygian cap of liberty; winged
figures, emblematical of freedom; and antique heads of helmeted warriors
arranged like cameo medallions.
After the execution of Robespierre, and the
abolition of the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1794, came the choice of the
Directory: and then, after Buonaparte's brilliant success in Italy, and the
famous expeditions to Syria and Egypt two years later, came his proclamation
as First Consul in 1799, which in 1802 was confirmed as a life appointment.
We have only to refer to the portrait of the
great soldier, represented with the crown of bay leaves and other attributes
of old Roman imperialism, to see that in his mind was the ambition of
reviving much of the splendour and of the surroundings of the Caesars, whom
he took, to some extent, as his models; and that in founding on the ashes of
the Revolution a new fabric, with new people about him, all influenced by
his energetic personality, he desired to mark his victories by stamping the
new order of things with his powerful and assertive individualism.
Cabinet in Mahogany with Bronze Gilt
Mountings, Presented by Napoleon I. to Marie Louise on his Marriage with
her in 1810 Period: Napoleon I.
The cabinet which was designed and made for
Marie Louise, on his marriage with her in 1810, is an excellent example of
the Napoleonic furniture. The wood used was almost invariably rich mahogany,
the colour of which made a good ground for the bronze gilt mounts which were
applied. The full-page illustration shews these, which are all classical in
character; and though there is no particular grace in the outline or form of
the cabinet, there is a certain dignity and solemnity, relieved from
oppressiveness by the fine chasing and gilding of the metal enrichments, and
the excellent colour and figuring of the rich Spanish mahogany used.
On secretaires and tables, a common ornament
of this description of furniture, is a column of mahogany, with a capital
and base of bronze (either gilt, part gilt, or green), in the form of the
head of a sphinx with the foot of an animal; console tables are supported by
sphinxes and griffins; and candelabra and wall brackets for candles have
winged figures of females, stiff in modelling and constrained in attitude,
but almost invariably of good material with careful finish.
Tabouret, or Stool, Carved and Gilt; Arm
Chair, In Mahogany, with Gilt Bronze Mountings. Period of Napoleon I.
The bas-reliefs in metal which ornament the
panels of the friezes of cabinets, or the marble bases of clocks, are either
reproductions of mythological subjects from old Italian gems and seals, or
represent the battles of the Emperor, in which Napoleon is portrayed as a
Roman general. There was plenty of room to replace so much that had
disappeared during the Revolution, and a vast quantity of decorative
furniture was made during the few years which elapsed before the disaster of
Waterloo caused the disappearance of a power which had been almost meteoric
in its career.
The best authority on "Empire Furniture" is
the book of designs, published in 1809 by the architects Percier and
Fontaine, which is the more valuable as a work of reference, from the fact
that every design represented was actually carried out, and is not a mere
exercise of fancy, as is the case with many such books. In the preface the
authors modestly state that they are entirely indebted to the antique for
the reproduction of the different ornaments; and the originals, from which
some of the designs were taken, are still preserved in a fragmentary form in
the Museum of the Vatican.
The illustrations on p. 205 of an arm chair
and a stool, together with that of the tripod table which ornaments the
initial letter of this chapter, are favourable examples of the
richly-mounted and more decorative furniture of this style. While they are
not free from the stiffness and constraint which are inseparable from
classic designs as applied to furniture, the rich colour of the mahogany,
the high finish and good gilding of the bronze mounts, and the costly silk
with which they are covered, render them attractive and give them a value of
The more ordinary furniture, however, of the
same style, but without these decorative accessories, is stiff, ungainly,
and uncomfortable, and seems to remind us of a period in the history of
France when political and social disturbance deprived the artistic and
pleasure-loving Frenchman of his peace of mind, distracting his attention
from the careful consideration of his work. It may be mentioned here that,
in order to supply a demand which has lately arisen, chiefly in New York,
but also to some extent in England, for the best "Empire" furniture, the
French dealers have bought up some of the old undecorated pieces, and by
ornamenting them with gilt bronze mounts, cast from good old patterns, have
sold them as original examples of the meubles de luxe of the period.
In Dutch furniture of this time one sees the
reproduction of the Napoleonic fashion—the continuation of the
Revolutionists' classicalism. Many marqueterie secretaires, tables, chairs,
and other like articles, are mounted with the heads and feet of animals,
with lions' heads and sphinxes, designs which could have been derived from
no other source; and the general design of the furniture loses its bombé
form, and becomes rectangular and severe. Whatever difficulty there may be
in sometimes deciding between the designs of the Louis XIV. period, towards
its close, and that of Louis XV., there can be no mistake about l'epoch
de la Directoire and le style de l'Empire. These are marked and
branded with the Egyptian expedition, and the Syrian campaign, as legibly as
if they all bore the familiar plain Roman N, surmounted by a laurel wreath,
or the Imperial eagle which had so often led the French legions to victory.
It is curious to notice how England, though
so bitterly opposed to Napoleon, caught the infection of the dominant
features of design which were prevalent in France about this time.
Nelson's Chairs. Designs Published by T.
Sheraton, October 29th, 1806.
Thus, in Sheraton's book on Furniture, to
which allusion has been made, and from which illustrations have been given
in the chapter on "Chippendale and his Contemporaries," there is evidence
that, as in France during the influence of Marie Antoinette, there was a
classical revival, and the lines became straighter and more severe for
furniture, so this alteration was adopted by Sheraton, Shearer, and other
English designers at the end of the century. But if we refer to Sheraton's
later drawings, which are dated about 1804 to 1806, we see the constrained
figures and heads and feet of animals, all brought into the designs as shewn
in the "drawing room" chairs here illustrated. These are unmistakable signs
of the French "Empire" influence, the chief difference between the French
and English work being, that, whereas in French Empire furniture the
excellence of the metal work redeems it from heaviness or ugliness, such
merit was wanting in England, where we have never excelled in bronze work,
the ornament being generally carved in wood, either gilt or coloured
bronze-green. When metal was used it was brass, cast and fairly finished by
the chaser, but much more clumsy than the French work. Therefore, the
English furniture of the first years of the nineteenth century is stiff,
massive, and heavy, equally wanting in gracefulness with its French
contemporary, and not having the compensating attractions of fine mounting,
or the originality and individuality which must always add an interest to
Drawing Room Chair. Design published by T.
Sheraton, April, 1804.
Drawing Room Chair. Design published by T.
Sheraton, April 1, 1804.
There was, however, made about this time by
Gillow, to whose earlier work reference has been made in the previous
chapter, some excellent furniture, which, while to some extent following the
fashion of the day, did so more reasonably. The rosewood and mahogany
tables, chairs, cabinets and sideboards of his make, inlaid with scrolls and
lines of flat brass, and mounted with handles and feet of brass, generally
representing the heads and claws of lions, do great credit to the English
work of this time. The sofa table and sideboard, illustrated on the previous
page, are of this class, and shew that Sheraton, too, designed furniture of
a less pronounced character, as well as the heavier kind to which reference
has been made.
"Canopy Bed" Design Published by T. Sheraton,
November 9th, 1803.
"Sister's Cylinder Bookcase." Designed by T.
Sideboard, In Mahogany, with Brass Rail and
Convex Mirror at back, Design published by T. Sheraton, 1802.
Sofa Table, Design published by T. Sheraton,
A very favourable example of the craze in
England for classic design in furniture and decoration, is shown in the
reproduction of a drawing by Thomas Hope, in 1807, a well-known architect of
the time, in which it will be observed that the forms and fashions of some
of the chairs and tables, described and illustrated in the chapter on
"Ancient Furniture," have been taken as models.
There were several makers of first-class
furniture, of whom the names of some still survive in the "style and title"
of firms of the present day, who are their successors, while those of others
have been forgotten, save by some of our older manufacturers and
auctioneers, who, when requested by the writer, have been good enough to
look up old records and revive the memories of fifty years ago. Of these the
best known was Thomas Seddon, who came from Manchester and settled in
Aldersgate Street. His two sons succeeded to the business, became cabinet
makers to George IV., and furnished and decorated Windsor Castle. At the
King's death their account was disputed, and £30,000 was struck off, a loss
which necessitated an arrangement with their creditors. Shortly after this,
however, they took the barracks of the London Light Horse Volunteers in the
Gray's Inn Road (now the Hospital), and carried on there for a time a very
extensive business. Seddon's work ranked with Gillow's, and they shared with
that house the best orders for furniture.
Thomas Seddon, painter of Oriental subjects,
who died in 1856, and P. Seddon, a well-known architect, were grandsons of
the original founder of the firm. On the death of the elder brother, Thomas,
the younger one then transferred his connection to the firm of Johnstone and
Jeanes, in Bond Street, another old house which still carries on business as
"Johnstone and Norman," and who some few years ago executed a very
extravagant order for an American millionaire. This was a reproduction of
Byzantine designs in furniture of cedar, ebony, ivory, and pearl, made from
drawings by Mr. Alma Tadema, R.A.
Design of a Room, in the Classic Style, by
Thomas Hope, Architect, In 1807.
Snell, of Albemarle Street, had been
established early in the century, and obtained an excellent reputation; his
specialité was well-made birch bedroom suites, but he also made furniture of
a general description. The predecessor of the present firm of Howard and
Son, who commenced business in Whitechapel as early as 1800, and the first
Morant, may all be mentioned as manufacturers of the first quarter of the
Somewhat later, Trollopes, of Parliament
Street; Holland, who had succeeded Dowbiggin (Gillow's apprentice), first in
Great Pulteney Street, and subsequently at the firm's present address;
Wilkinson, of Ludgate Hill, founder of the present firm of upholsterers in
Bond Street; Aspinwall, of Grosvenor Street; the second Morant, of whom the
great Duke of Wellington made a personal friend; and Grace, a prominent
decorator of great taste, who carried out many of Pugin's Gothic designs,
were all men of good reputation. Miles and Edwards, of Oxford Street, whom
Hindleys succeeded, were also well known for good middle-class furniture.
These are some of the best known manufacturers of the first half of the
present century, and though until after the great Exhibition there was, as a
rule, little in the designs to render their productions remarkable, the work
of those named will be found sound in construction, and free from the faults
which accompany the cheap and showy reproductions of more pretentious styles
which mark so much of the furniture of the present day. With regard to this,
more will be said in the next chapter.
There was then a very limited market for any
but the most commonplace furniture. Our wealthy people bought the
productions of French cabinet makers, either made in Paris or by Frenchmen
who came over to England, and the middle classes were content with the most
ordinary and useful articles. If they had possessed the means they certainly
had neither the taste nor the education to furnish more ambitiously. The
great extent of suburbs which now surround the Metropolis, and which include
such numbers of expensive and extravagantly-fitted residences of merchants
and tradesmen, did not then exist. The latter lived over their shops or
warehouses, and the former only aspired to a dull house in Bloomsbury, or,
like David Copperfield's father-in-law, Mr. Spenlow, a villa at Norwood, or
perhaps a country residence at Hampstead or Highgate.
In 1808 a designer and maker of furniture,
George Smith by name, who held the appointment of "Upholder extraordinary to
H.R.H. the Prince of Wales," and carried on business at "Princess" Street,
Cavendish Square, produced a book of designs, 158 in number, published by
"Wm. Taylor," of Holborn. These include cornices, window drapery, bedsteads,
tables, chairs, bookcases, commodes, and other furniture, the titles of some
of which occur for about the first time in our vocabularies, having been
adapted from the French. "Escritore, jardiniere, dejuné tables, chiffoniers"
(the spelling copied from Smith's book), all bear the impress of the
pseudo-classic taste; and his designs, some of which are reproduced, shew
the fashion of our so-called artistic furniture in England at the time of
the Regency. Mr. Smith, in the "Preliminary Remarks" prefacing the
illustrations, gives us an idea of the prevailing taste, which it is
instructive to peruse, looking back now some three-quarters of a century:—
"Library Fauteuil." Reproduced from Smith's
Book of Designs, published in 1804
"The following practical observations on the
various woods employed in cabinet work may be useful. Mahogany, when used in
houses of consequence, should be confined to the parlour and the bedchamber
floors. In furniture for these apartments the less inlay of other woods, the
more chaste will be the style of work. If the wood be of a fine, compact,
and bright quality, the ornaments may be carved clean in the mahogany. Where
it may be requisite to make out panelling by an inlay of lines, let those
lines be of brass or ebony. In drawing-rooms, boudoirs, ante-rooms, East and
West India satin woods, rosewood, tulip wood, and the other varieties of
woods brought from the East, may be used; with satin and light coloured
woods the decorations may be of ebony or rosewood; with rosewood let the
decorations be ormolu, and the inlay of brass. Bronze metal, though
sometimes used with satin wood, has a cold and poor effect: it suits better
on gilt work, and will answer well enough on mahogany."
"Parlor Chairs," Shewing the Inlay of Brass
referred to. From Smith's Book of Designs, published 1808.
Amongst the designs published by him are some
few of a subdued Gothic character; these are generally carved in light oak,
or painted light stone colour, and have, in some cases, heraldic shields,
with crests and coats of arms picked out in colour. There are window seats
painted to imitate marble, with the Roman or Greco-Roman ornaments painted
green to represent bronze. The most unobjectionable are mahogany with bronze
Of the furniture of this period there are
several pieces in the Mansion House, in the City of London, which apparently
was partly refurnished about the commencement of the century.
Bookcase. Design Published by T. Sheraton,
June 12th, 1806. Note.—Very similar bookcases are in the London
In the Court Room of the Skinners' Company
there are tables which are now used' with extensions, so as to form a
horseshoe table for committee meetings. They are good examples of the heavy
and solid carving in mahogany, early in the century before the fashion had
gone out of representing the heads and feet of animals in the designs of
furniture. These tables have massive legs, with lion's heads and claws,
carved with great skill and shewing much spirit, the wood being of the best
quality and rich in color.
"Drawing Room Chairs in Profile." From G.
Smith's Book, published 1808.
Modern Bedroom Furniture