One of these old tables is still to be seen in the Hall of Gray’s Inn, and the writer was told that its fellow was broken and had been “sent away.” They are nearly always of good rich mahogany, and have legs more or less ornamental according to circumstances.
A distinguishing feature of English furniture of the last century was the partiality for secret drawers and contrivances for hiding away papers or valued articles; and in old secretaires and writing tables we find a great many ingenious designs which remind us of the days when there were but few banks, and people kept money and deeds in their own custody.
[Illustration: Carved Jardiniere, by Chippendale.]
[Illustration: A China Cabinet, and a Bookcase With Secretaire. Designed by T. Sheraton, and published in his “Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book,” 1793.]
First Half of 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.
There 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 ebeniste, 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 members.