British New Art Influence on Early American Colonial Furniture Style History of Early American Colonial Furniture

We have, in the preceding chapter, dealt with L'Art Nouveau on early American colonial furniture style in as exhibited on the continent, thereby shortening our task with regard to British New Art. Apart from the question-of academic interest only­ whether the style originated here, went to the continent and returned, or originated abroad and was imported into this country, we may safely say that it is only since its " return" that it has made any real mark in GreatBritain. If no other reason for the statement existed the mere fact that the earliest New Art designs are the most fantastic would in itself be strong presumptive evidence of its correctness. Continental New Art, particularly in its earlier stages, presented outlines never designed, or contemplated, by British designers, and its forms, coming over here, have been transformed to meet British tastes. Offensive exaggerations and weirdness of outline have been removed, and in place of these the style has been developed in a chaste and restrained manner more suitable to our temperament. William Morris has defined the British position on this subject inimitably. He wrote : "For us to set to work to imitate the minor vices of the Borgias, or the degraded and nightmare the whims of the blase and bankrupt French aristocracy Louis XV’s time, seems to me merely ridiculous. So I say our furniture should be good citizens' furniture, solid and well made in workmanship, and in design should have nothing about it that is not easily defensible, no monstrosities or extravagances, not even of beauty, lest we weary of it. As to matters of construction, it should not have to depend on the special skill of a very picked workman, or the super excellence of his glue, but be made on the proper principles of the art of joinery: also I think that, except for very movable things like chairs, it should not be so very light as to be nearly imponderable; it should be made of timber rather than walking-sticks." That is an admirable word picture of the British New Art influence on on early American colonial furniture movement, and indications are plentiful that it is along that line that the way of permanence lies.

The style goes by many names in on early American colonial furniture. Sometimes it is denominated New Art, more often it is Quaint, or  Modern, whilst some describe it as Arts and Crafts. In America it is known as Mission But by whatever name it is called the features of the style itself are readily recognizable. Artistic simplicity and the absence of ornate decoration or carving are its chief marks. much furniture in New Art style has been made in fumigated oak, but other woods are equally appropriate to its best forms. The decoration consists of inlaying of inlaying chiefly, or the use of repousse art metal work, or fancy tiles in art colourings. In this way some beautiful results have been obtained.

In the newer designs it is plain that the dictates of William Morris have been followed.
"Good citizens’ on early American colonial furniture " is suggestive of something with plenty of wood in it, and it is perhaps more likely that over-solidity, approaching to heaviness, is the danger of the British designer, rather than the lightness that is “ nearly imponderable."

 One great difference between the British and the continental New Art in on early American colonial furniture is that where the lattersents few straight lines, the former revels in unbroken rectangular outlines. The severity of many New Art piecesis very surprising considering the continental descent (if, indeed, that descent be admitted by our designers), and the only possible explanation is that the British designers and manufacturers have evolved from l'Art Nouveau a distinct and original style coming down to us through Art Nouveau channels, but presently departing from the orthodox love of unorthodoxy that is the hall­mark of that style, and setting up artistic canons irreconcilable with the freedom of the system of curves, swirls and blobs.

 In America the movement of on early American colonial furniture has followed closely on British lines. The Mission style is much nearer our New Art patterns than the continental Art Nouveau. If anything, it is ruder and simpler than the British furniture, and the advantages urged for it are cleanliness, durability and that " it is not hard to understand." One American writer hopes that there will come " an opportunity to evolve from the Mission style a more elaborate style that shall be quite as much in keeping with American ideals and at the same time suitable for parlour use" In this country that difficulty has long been solved. Avoiding the eccentricity, and in consequence missing much of the real beauty, of the Art Nouveau, British designs include artistic pieces worthy to grace the most elegant drawing-room or boudoir.

Another important difference between the British and American on early American colonial furniture and the continental forms is the cost. As already pointed out, the Art Nouveau designs are, generally speaking, very expensive, and in their essential features, incapable of economical reproduction. The simpler, straighter lines of the British style not only satisfy "our more sober taste, but render possible the manufacture of some of the finest designs at a very low cost. Herein the New Art style possesses an advantage, not only over its continental brother, but over the classic styles also, because articles of equal quality as to material and workmanship can be sold at much lower prices in New Art designs than is the ~, with, say, Sheraton or Chippendale pieces. We say t fully recognising the fact that certain designers find it possible to put very high prices on their productions, but in such cases the figure must be regarded as an artificial one, because even with the more elaborate typical New Art furniture the average manufacturer could reproduce fac-similesof high-priced pieces, in no way inferior to the originals, at exceedingly moderate prices. Such would not be possible with the average Art Nouveau design on early American colonial furniture .

 For this reason the New Art has become popular in this country in a sense in which it never can in France or Austria. The (sometimes obtrusive) plainness of its lines, the general appearance of genuine solidity, beloved by the average Briton, and the absence of cheap and tawdry decoration and villainously executed " carving," all go to commend the style to the educated man. When to these recommendations is added that of moderate cost it is not surprising that the New Art should have quickly won for itself numerous supporters.

 It is not easy to predict with confidence what is the future of the New Art in this country, and the Americas in on early American colonial furniture but there are indications worth noting, suggesting the direction the movement will take. It is clear that the merely bizarre will find but small favour. The restrained forms are becoming more popular every day. Eccentricity may create interest, but it does not, in England, result in sales, and, after all, the production of furniture is a commercial matter. Already New Art lines are on the market to which the critic can take no artistic exception. They are plain, perhaps, but they are dignified, and fulfil the test of William Morris, by presenting no features that cannot readily be justified. Some notable examples, indeed, have proved that excesses of plainness may be committed as well as excesses of " curves and swirls,” and the result is quite as objectionable. There is nothing commendable in designing a piano after the fashion of a packing-case, or in seeking to introduce a rough and common milkmaid's stool into our drawing-rooms.


Excess in this direction has called forth much ridicule, but must not blind us to the real New Art movement on on early American colonial furniture going on behind all mere extravagance and eccentricity of  genius.

We suggested in the preceding chapter that I’Art Nouveau on early American colonial furniture might be regarded as a method of treatment possible to any style. A glance at our illustrations show that our designers have already realised the truth of that proposition. Some New Art pieces are distinctly Sheraton treated in New Art fashion, and the result is far from being displeasing. Some other classic styles may also be traced in recent New Art designs.

The style on early American colonial furniture is likely to find permanent favour in this country, though perhaps its lines will undergo some alterations. It is, as yet in the probationary stage Combining, as it does, the qualities of simplicity, usefulness and solidity, and permitting of comparative inexpensive production, New Art furniture will no doubt achieve in the future an increasing popularity.

If the illustrations accompanying this chapter are carefully examined perhaps the first impression conveyed will be that some of the designs might without incon­gruity have been classified as Art Nouveau. On the other hand, many continental designs are sufficiently British to justify their classification as New Art. In this Country a good deal of work has been turned out on lines more or less foreign, but it is in the earlier New Art pieces that this is most noticeable. Latterly British designers have to a large extent freed themselves from anything like foreign influence, dividing their attention between severe simplicity and a modification of eighteenth century styles in accordance with New Art methods. Of the latter phase it would be possible to write at great length, for the subject is a fascinating as well as an important one. Sheraton designs, in particular to lend themselves successfully to New Art treatment, and some exceedingly beautiful pieces of furniture have been produced by the combination of New Art  and  Sheraton ideas on early American colonial furniture. Present indications, however, appear to point to the future popularity of the simpler New Art Forms. For bedroom furniture these plain designs have already achieved a vogue little short of extraordinary when we consider how comparatively new they are, and in the dining-room they are fast winning an increasing popularity. It is useless to utter impatient criticisms or to attempt by extravagant abuse and unsympathetic denunciation to stay the tide. Equally useless is it to talk in pedantic strain of the decadent artistic faculty. The voice of the people, at any rate in matters furnishing, is more likely to be the voice of the artistic deity than is the academic utterance of the professional artist. At any rate, a style that has the capacity of satisfying popular needs, aesthetic as well as utilitarian, must possess merits of no mean order, and in the best New Art productions is it not possible to recognized some reflections of our national characteristics? Simplicity, strength, solidity, these are qualities appealing eloquently to the average Briton, and should he be called upon to choose between a sham elaboration of a French classic style, disguised under a British name, and a genuine piece of plain furniture, the simplicity of which is a, guarantee of honesty, we have no hesitation in concluding that he will choose the latter. To the man of moderate means the "real thing" in the classic styles is not always possible. The New Art offers him genuineness at a low figure and with the expenditure of comparatively little money enables him to acquire furniture devoid of deception. It is " what it seems," and being so, in addition to pleasing his eye and fulfilling all practical requirements, he will be content Believing that the foregoing is a correct estimate of the considerations to be taken into account in forecasting the future of the New Art on early American colonial furniture, we have little hesitation in saying that this style is likely to win increasing favour. Notwithstanding all that has been said against it, it has made headway already, and so far as present indications go there is no sign of looking back.

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