Arts and Crafts Furniture
Published 28th November 2014
The Arts and Crafts Movement was at its zenith from around 1880 until the start of the First World War, but its influence not only in furniture design but elsewhere continued well into the first half of the 20th Century.
The movement was, of course, led by William Morris and the writer John Ruskin and resulted from a backlash to the industrial manufacture and commercialisation of the early Victorian era. It was based on traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, but often incorporating medieval and folk designs.
We have sold three special pieces of Arts and Crafts furniture from the Cotswold School of design in fine furniture auctions during 2014 at our Westcountry Saleroom Complex in Exeter that provide good examples of these simple forms.
Two of the pieces of furniture were by the celebrated cabinet maker Peter Waals (1870–1937): a walnut secretaire cabinet (FS24/868), which realised £34,000 and a dining table (FS24/870), which fetched £7,500.
Born in Holland, Waals was introduced to Ernest Gimson in 1901. He became foreman/chief cabinet maker at Gimson's workshop in the Cotswolds. After Gimson's death, he continued the business in the village of Chalford.
Other Cotswold School designers include Ernest Barnsley and his brother Sidney Barnsley, who were also associated with Ernest Gimson. Their business was continued by Sidney's son Edward Barnsley and the third item of Cotswold School furniture showing these simple forms, which was recently sold by us for £3,700, is a blackbean wood dining table by Edward Barnsley (FS21/966).
Another important Costwold School designer was the celebrated Gordon Russell, who was based in Broadway and whose designs and influence did indeed span the whole of the 20th Century.
The Arts and Crafts Movement would also not be complete without the mention of the firm of Shapland and Petter based in Barnstaple, North Devon. Founded by Henry Shapland and Henry Petter, the company produced significant numbers of pieces in the Arts and Crafts manner, although the extensive use of the most up to date machinery of the age meant that its principles were somewhat different to those of simplicity and handcraftsmanship of William Morris.
A prime mover in the Arts and Crafts movement was Charles Robert Ashbee (1863–1942). He set up his guild and School of Handicraft in London in 1888 and in 1890 had workshops in the Mile End Road and a retail outlet in Brook Street, London.
Sir Ambrose Heal was also a significant name in design of Arts and Crafts furniture and like Gordon Russell, the firm of Heal and Son contributed greatly to furniture design throughout the 20th Century.
It is interesting to note that the simple designs in oak made by Ambrose Heal when he joined the company in the 1890s and which were associated with Arts and Crafts furniture were regarded by the sales staff as 'prison furniture'.
Like Shapland and Petter, the firm of Heal and Son used up to date machinery to provide Arts and Crafts furniture to a wider audience in contrast to the principles of the movement's founders.
Liberty and Company were significant in the Arts and Crafts movement under the direction of Leonard Wyburd, who ran the furnishing and decoration studio at Liberty from 1883 to 1903.
A lecture from Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1903 provides a good definition of Arts and Crafts furniture and the movement in general when he stated that 'Utility, which means fitness is in itself beauty if rightly understood'.
Arts and Crafts Furntiture was written on Friday, 28th November 2014.