Queen Anne furniture
This was a period when English designers were less influenced by foreign tastes
The reign of Queen Anne (1702-14) marked a period in English furniture design that was characterised by functionality, comfort and elegance. Queen Anne furniture is generally regarded today as the most popular of all English styles, although it derives more from the work of independent craftsmen than professional designers.
The style began as a simplification of its 17th century ancestry, the elaboration of which during the William and Mary period had betrayed continental, particularly Dutch, influences. With the growth of affluence in England, patrons of fine furniture no longer felt the need to copy foreign tastes and could commission pieces that suited their need for practicality.
This was an age during which many great houses were built in England, most notably Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. The furniture designed during this period reflected the architecture in that it was essentially English in style, unlike the high crested and pedimented pieces from the previous reign that seemed to imitate the pointed gables of Dutch houses. With Queen Anne furniture, the centre of gravity is lower and the pieces appear more stable and solid.
The woods used in Queen Anne furniture were more restricted than in the previous century, with imported rosewood and kingwood becoming unfashionable and the preference being for English elm and walnut. These also produced delicate and beautiful veneers that took over from the fashion for marquetry and parquetry. Unfortunately, elm has proved over the years to be highly susceptible to woodworm attack, and good quality elm furniture of this period is therefore uncommon today.
The lifestyles of wealthy people during Queen Anne’s reign are reflected in the types of furniture that they commissioned. Dressing-mirrors appeared that were pivoted between two uprights mounted on a stand including drawers and often a small writing flap, so that elegant ladies could write billet-doux while being attended to by their maids before going to a ball or reception.
For men, bachelors’ chests were made both for storage and to provide a folding table top. These were used when travelling, to make up for the unfurnished nature of rooms in inns and lodgings.
Card-tables were developed to suit the growing fashion for four-handed games such as quadrille and ombre. Many have survived due to their usefulness for whist and bridge.
The tallboy, a chest resting on top of a slightly broader chest, thus providing drawers from floor to near the ceiling, was developed to replace the earlier chest on a stand.
Queen Anne chairs achieved a degree of elegance not seen before, and specialised chair-makers concentrated on the specific skills needed to produce high-quality pieces. Curved backs gave extra comfort, and the use of mortice and tenon joints gave added strength that enabled stretchers between the legs to be dispensed with.
The cabriole leg, although not universal, is a distinctive innovation of this period. This is a double curve, both convex and concave, in the same member, which gives movement and a natural appearance to the legs of chairs, settees and tables. The form was capable of being developed into a number of variations, some more complex than others.
Britain was at war during much of Queen Anne’s reign, but peace came with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and with it a greater interest in ornamentation in furniture design. This came largely from French influence and produced, for example, foliage carving and highly stylised scallop shells. These trends continued after Queen Anne’s death in 1714 into the Georgian period, when other continental trends came into vogue with the Hanoverian succession.
Fine examples of Queen Anne furniture can be seen at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and country houses such as The Vyne in Hampshire and Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace.