The book of decorative furniture
A Survey of the world's beautiful woodwork is before us. My first desire is, as an artist, to express gratitude to owners, in this country and abroad, for their assent to the illustration of their choicest heirlooms; and, as an author, to add thanks for the information— often from family chronicles and necessitating* considerable research — relative to these examples, which has materially increased the interest of the colour plates.
Quite one of the most delightful features in the preparation of The Book of Decorative Furniture has been the opportunity of meeting conservators of old work, and of gauging the wealth of fine furniture remaining in this country.
Though it should be superfluous, one must not omit to point out that the consent of owners to the publication of examples from their private collections is an act of courtesy to the public, and does not indicate that the collection is open to public inspection. In expressing obligations, home and foreign state authorities are included.
Without the exceptional facilities accorded, certainly important and previously little-known specimens must have been omitted. Whilst, with diffidence, deliberately dissenting at times from a few accepted conclusions, I have been greatly helped by some of the works — old and new — upon various aspects of decorative woodwork history.
I trust my obligations have been fully acknowledged in the classified Bibliography forming part of this publication; but when one has been studying a subject for a considerable time, it is obviously impossible to trace the possible source of every detail or idea. If therefore, every such source is not included, this general acknowledgement will, I hope, be accepted in lieu thereof.
The term Furniture, originally implying a store or supply of anything (as is obvious if its origin is the old High German Frummen, to accomplish) is here employed in its more restricted popular sense to signify movable articles, almost invariably of wood, used in the home for personal rest, work, and pleasure, or for the storing of household requisites and ornaments. In many cases, however, for the better presentation of a style,
I have not scrupled to include typical examples of fixed woodwork, such as panellings and chimney pieces among the illustrations. The chronological sequence has been adhered to in the arrangement of the plates and matter; with the obvious exceptions of the chapters on the evolution and history of particular pieces or phases in furniture history, which, since they cover many periods, are equally in or out of order wherever inserted.
The catholicity of taste has been aimed at in the selection of the examples for the colour plates; with an equal breadth of outlook and sympathy of interpretation even when treating periods towards which one suspects oneself temperamentally antagonistic. An endeavour has been made to show each example with contemporary accessories and environment.
When of equal beauty, preference has been given to less-known specimens, or those not previously illustrated in colour; though this has involved the elimination of deservedly favourite pieces, the result, it is believed, has been to add to the value and interest. Loving labour has been expended upon the colour illustrations, in the hope of achieving the happy mean between an insistence upon detail, so exacting as to destroy the real appearance of the example, and an impressionist sketch expressing details so vaguely as to be void of informative value.
There are two ways of knowing a piece of furniture. One, utilitarian, prosaic, superficial, and withal dreary, as a mere detail, tool, or item of existence — a table at which to eat, a chair to sit upon, "only this and nothing more." The other way is to know it as a whole, not only its purpose, but its evolution, history, and romance; the origin of this piece of ornament, the reason for that previously unconsidered shape, its beauties as well as its defects.
The latter is the vitalising, interesting method, and my aim and hope will be to infuse its spirit into our book of furniture modes; by its aid, we see that the furniture of bygone days often significantly mirrors the political, social, and ethical ideals of its time.
There are pieces of furniture so fine as to convey a sense of almost human personality. Some remind one of Haydn's simple melodies, some of the bravuras of the old Italian school, whilst the austere formal beauty of fugues or church music seems to emanate from others. How often in a room does one feel that some fine piece of old work stands solitary and disdainful of its modern companions; or, if the odds be with the old nobility of woodwork, that a coalition has been formed by them, to overawe an incongruous novelty of present-day woodwork thrust among them.
the book details :