Victorian Art Furniture

Aesthetic Movement Art Furniture. Photo by James Sansum, dealer.

Aesthetic Movement Art Furniture. Photo by James Sansum, dealer.

It can be quite confusing trying to find images online when looking for art furniture – especially for antique art furniture. Art furniture, by its very definition, is furniture that, although useful, goes beyond what is expected in terms of style and sometimes function. Some put Art Nouveau furniture in this category because of its excessive, expensive-to-build, curves and ornamentation. Others put Arts and Crafts furniture in this category – but not the simple, boxy style we typically associate with Arts and Crafts.

Art furniture manufacturers differed from conventional companies in that they hired artists and even architects to design and decorate furniture. Having such a piece in one’s home was seen as an “expression of revolt” by the younger prosperous middle class against the stuffy Victorian furniture of their parent’s. The pieces had strong Gothic influences, and an interest in Japanese design.

The furniture had a lighter look, which was accomplished by using slender supports instead of the massively over-carved look of some of the furniture from that period. It was right in tune with the Aesthetic Movement, a style which popularized Medieval motifs, the use of ebony and gold, and painted panels of people or floral motifs. There were often lots of shelves for knickknacks.

An example of Victorian Art Furniture

An example of Victorian Art Furniture

Of course, these pieces were expensive, but as the concept of furniture as artistic expression dribbled down to those with less money, simpler versions appeared. The second image represents this type of furniture for the masses. I bought it at auction about ten years ago simply because it was different. You can see the Japanese influence in black ebony and bamboo supports. You can’t see the top but it is painted on the diagonal with stylized floral designs in the Aesthetic style.

It has an image of an English cavalier, complete with white ruff, costume and sword framed by a geometric border in painted colours of green, gold and coral on the front of the door. The interesting thing is that this design is permanently attached to the glass. If ever the glass should break, then the piece would lose most of its value.

The sides of the cabinet has wallpaper with raised designs in colours of ebony and Japanese red – all in all, a most unusual piece. Keep an eye out for pieces from this era and of this style – you’ll rarely have anyone say they saw one just like it.

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