The Charles II Restoration Chair (1660)

Ah, that’s better, great to get the weight of my feet. How many of us think something similar on a daily basis? This sort of brings us to the means of that relief, the humble chair. They come in all forms, the chairs for special occasions and for special people, down to the most functional and simple. All basically serve the same function, that of allowing one to sit down. The chair has been with us through the eons of time, the ancient Greeks used chairs, as did the Ancient Egyptians. Some of the earliest known pieces of furniture were chairs. These were of course status symbols sat in by monarchs, with the more lowly souls sitting on benches or stools. The importance of the chair is reflected in much of society, with a position of importance being associated with a particular chair. For example, in academia becoming a professor is referred to as acquiring a chair.Charles II Restoration Chair1a

Early English chairs were normally of local woods, such as oak and were typically constructed using large solid panels, so one didn’t sit on a chair but in it. These chairs were again status symbols and often carried ornate carved inscriptions and dates identifying the owners. However, by the restoration Period (1660-1665), European influences had been imported along with the restoration of the monarchy in the form of Charles the 2nd. These chairs were still major investments, but were of new exciting woods, walnut being the most popular. The designs were lighter and much more reminiscent of modern chairs (Figure 1A), but more ornately carved, with barley twist front legs inserted into a carved seat frame (Figure 1B) and barley twisted back legs that extended to form a long raking back terminated by finals  (Figure 1C) often of an acorn design. The seats were often of cane and cane or rushes and the backs of these chairs were very ornate with a central caned panel surrounded by pierced carvings often depicting floral scenes, sea beasts, cherubs and riders (Figure 3C). The cross stretchers in earlier chairs were purely functional, but by the Restoration period they had acquired a new function, that of ornate decoration.

One problem with these newly developed chairs was the long sweeping back legs extending up to form the long back. The angle of the back meant that they had a natural weakness at the joint between the back legs and the seat frame and the vast majority of remaining examples of the restoration chair have Georgian or earlier repairs, normally with a metal plate wrapped around this weak point (Figure 2). That these chairs were repaired, reflects their value. Their quality was remarkable and it is always a pleasure to find one in a good serviceable condition. They not only carry their history with a certain elegance, but have a real presence in a room or a large hall. Interestingly the style of the restoration chair was mimicked in the Victorian and Edwardian period in the form of the Jacobethan chairs (Figure 3). These much later chairs are very attractive and are easily distinguished from the originals in that the more modern versions are normally in oak, used more modern joints and have an arrangement of stretchers more resembling a modern chair.Charles II Restoration Chair 2a Edwardian Jacobethan chairs

The Influence of the Jacobethan Architectural Style on Furniture

The Jacobethan architectural style arose between 1830 and 1870 gaining popularity during the early to mid Victorian period. The style represented a combination of Gothic and Elizabethan, with the term Jacobethan first being coined by Sir John Betcheman. That combination varied, and might contain features more readily associated with classical design, or predominantly reflect the Gothic.

Aspects of Jacobethan architectural style unsurprisingly spread to Victorian furniture design. Developments in furniture design during the reign of Victoria spanned just over 63 years. Early Victorian pieces more closely resemble the previous Regency or William IV styles. However, by the mid Victorian period, furniture started to appear incorporating more curves and sometimes a vague hint of the gothic. This could include the subtle addition of turned knobs and some light carving as an embellishment to what would otherwise more closely resemble a William IV piece. Woods of choice were mahogany and rosewood, although oak and walnut remained popular. By the later Victorian period what can be considered as Jacobethan style furniture, such as heavily carved Gothic dark oak upholstered chairs (Figure 1) and sideboards, or large imposing mahogany furniture such as chiffoniers became popular. The vast majority of the Victorian furniture was made to a high standard and was thus designed to last.


Victorian Mahogany Worktable

Figure 2 A Victorian Mahogany Worktable. This item was for sale at Gloucester Antiques Centre but has now sold.

Much of the larger late Victorian furniture, although very striking, is oversized for the modern home and so can be picked up at very reasonable prices. However, smaller high quality Victorian worktables (Figure 2), side tables and Davenports command good prices approaching those of good earlier pieces.

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