Arts and Crafts Antique Furniture: A Return to Simpler Times
When we think of names like Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) and William Morris (1834-1896) today, we think of these men as decorators; Pugin being responsible for the insides of the Houses of Parliament, and perhaps rather unkindly, Morris for wallpaper, tiles and placemats. However, both these men were ardent reformers of their day and were in part responsible for the beginnings of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which reacted against low quality mass produced furniture and other household items being manufactured during the Victorian era.
Both these men wanted a return to simpler hand crafted forms of production. For Pugin it was the medieval designs of Gothic furniture and honesty in construction, where joints were shown on the surface of pieces. A famous design of his, an armoire made by J. G. Crace for the 1851 Great Exhibition, was purchased directly by the Victoria and Albert Museum where it remains today.
Morris set up Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Unlike Pugin, Morris did not design furniture but his associates J P Seddon, William Burges and Philip Webb all produced the hand crafted simply styled pieces so reminiscent of Arts and Crafts furniture. The 'Sussex' chair' by Webb was an example of a traditionally styled rush seated chair made of blackened or ebonized beech. Other later examples by George Jack included a handmade oak dining table with herringbone design along the side, and eight hand carved and twisted legs with floral decorations inserted.
Keeping to the idylls of the Arts and Crafts movement was difficult. Pugin exhausted himself in his attempts to recreate his Gothic Revival style in the Houses of Parliament and died soon after the decorations were completed. Morris was fighting a losing battle in his desire to compete with Victorian mass produced furniture which was much cheaper than his firm's hand created pieces. Ironically, Arts and Crafts furniture that was made to champion the handcraftsmanship of the artisan could only be afforded by the very wealthy.
After going into politics in 1883, Morris caved in to mass production somewhat by allowing furniture from his firm to be made using machinery in part in order that pieces should be cheaper and more generally affordable. In his idealised world, factories were only open four hours a day and workers were able to wander around factory gardens and appreciate pieces of sculpture on show, rather than be chained to the wheel of Victorian mass production.
The Arts and Crafts Movement itself gained momentum later in the 19th century and through followers such as Voysey, Mackmurdo, Ashbee and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Arts and Crafts 'progressive' furniture was developing its own particular style and was eventually adopted by firms such as Heals & Son. Rennie Mackintosh's furniture designs still retain that element of modernity today and his work managed to straddle the simpler right angled styling of the Arts and Crafts with the more organic floral forms of the Art Nouveau.
Fine Arts and Crafts furniture and Cumbria have become synonymous in the antiques world. Should you wish to source some interesting examples of Arts and Crafts furniture in Cumbria, local antiques dealers will be able to assist you.
About the Author:
The author Christian Davies is a second generation antiques dealer and owner of Christian Davies Antiques, a family based antiques business based in Preston, Lancashire.
Christian has over 23 years experience in the antiques business and has a passion for genuine, high quality antiques furniture, particularly Arts & Crafts furniture, which he sources from the UK and Europe.