In honor of today’s ‘Brexit’ (Britain’s vote to exit from the European Union) I want to share a few thoughts on English furniture.
It would be easy to assume a country just across a short body of water (the English Channel) from France, the great taste-maker in interiors for centuries, would have no problem creating excellent copies of the best French furniture.
The English did indeed look to France for their sense of style for many years (until the mid-1800s), however, in true British fashion, they refused to create furniture that merely copied the French. No, the proud English always decided to make changes. And often times these were quite quirky (not terribly surprising to those of you acquainted with the Brits).
When I studied furniture history at Sotheby’s Institute (an institution run by Brits) I was told the easiest way to tell if a piece of furniture is English is if it appears just a bit off, a bit strange. France did high style perfection, America did elegant simplicity, the English did quirky.
So here we go-
French chair at the Met Museum from aprox 1750, elegant and sensuous in its lines, it appears as the gilded frame was carved out of one piece of wood, with one stroke of the artist’s hand:
American chair at the Met Museum from 1750, simple, clean (no gilding, little fuss), but quite elegant and refined in it’s lines:
English chair from 1755 auctioned at Sotheby’s, somewhat oddly proportioned, feels squat, too wide, and quite fussy and pointy!
This is not to say that English furniture is not as good as French or American (although I did have a professor or two who did say that). There is a distinct charm to English furniture; an feeling the maker had an intense interest to make the piece his own.
I can only hope the English desire to do things just a bit differently will come to their aide over the next few years as they re-adjust to their preferred position just outside Europe. Good luck to a great country with its own iron will!