Queen Anne of England 1665-1715.
It has always been a matter of wonder to observe the various changes in design which came along in parallel with the accession of a new monarch to the throne of England.
None is more thought provoking than the rise of Queen Anne to be Queen of England, and the dramatic and quite sudden change in styles from those of the late 17th century characterized by her predecessors, the flamboyant and extrovert King Charles II, and William & Mary.
Anne, born in 1665, suffered ill health all her life, even surviving small pox at an early age. All this most probably contributed to her twelve tragic miscarriages in later life. Added to this none of her five live children survived to become adults. Just imagine seventeen children with not one surviving to become adult!
After much political maneuvering she was married to Prince George of Denmark – rather ineffectual man -however the marriage was a loving one by the standards of the time.
On the death of King Charles II in 1685 Anne’s sister Mary came to the throne with her husband the Dutchman William of Orange. Neither were close to Anne and, as they were childless, the throne passed to Anne in 1702.
The reigns of both Charles II and William & Mary had been marked by a display of extreme opulence partly as a reaction to the austerity years of the interregnum of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans.
Curiously enough all this was amazingly and quickly left behind and there commenced in England an unsurpassed golden age of control and sophistication in furniture design. This age was only to last twelve short years but produced the most quintessentially English expression of taste. This sophistication and restraint was forfeited again at Queen Anne’s death with the Hanoverian Succession as it had been lost after Charles II and William & Mary.
Perhaps within months of Queen Anne’s coming to the throne, gone was the rich damask upholstery, carved surfaces, floral marquetry, silver mounts and ‘frippery’, in fact all the familiar trappings of ‘exhibitionism and wealth’.
In came self control. The early years of Anne’s reign coincided with the establishment of smaller more modest houses coupled to the introduction of more convenient and comfortable furnishings.
Walnut became almost exclusively used both in the solid and in veneering mainly, early on using a pine or fruitwood carcass (walnut veneers adhere particularly well to pine and softer woods), and later on oak carcasses. However, the intricate and flamboyant floral marquetry was abandoned with some small modest inlaid panels being retained. The first imports of mahogany from the West Indies were still some twenty years away when its use became all the rage.
Queen Anne period lacquer is also occasionally encountered (see the corner cupboard illustrated below). This fragile lacquer furniture was very prone to the ravages of time and it is extremely rare to find any remaining in original state after what is now some three hundred years!
Very careful attention was made to the choice of well figured walnut, which was always hand cut. Machine cut veneers arrived much later on. Back splats and frames of chairs were veneered as were larger surfaces such as cabinet doors, bureau falls and drawer fronts. Chair legs underwent a complete transformation from the previous periods to achieve the highest form of sophistication. Just ask any cabinet maker to copy a Queen Anne cabriole leg! Simplicity and yet perfection never again to be matched. The Victorians and Edwardians certainly tried their best, usually with results very wide of the mark.
In the early days stretchers continued to be used uniting legs but these gradually disappeared around 1710. Upholstery was usually executed in hand made, vegetable dyed needlework, often the results of a wife’s or a daughter’s industry. Gambling was all the rage and had been for some years so card and games tables were much in demand. Structural design favoured gentle curves in both uprights, seat rails and cabriole legs. Great restraint was exercised in the design and construction of larger pieces with flat surfaces such as cabinets, bureaux, scrutoires, tallboys, clock cases etc.
Of the many old time dealers I was fortunate enough to have known, all, almost without exception, place Queen Anne at the very top of the most desirable furniture for discerning collectors. Walnut being susceptible to worm and damp is by its very nature perishable, therefore Queen Anne walnut remains rare, and carries with it the cachet of demonstrating extreme good taste in any owner fortunate enough to have acquired pieces from this extraordinarily brief and sophisticated period.
Some examples of the reign of Queen Anne and the early years of the 18th Century are offered in the stock of Box House Antiques:
Examples inc a walnut chest on chest/ tallboy/ highboy in veneered walnut. Although slightly later than Queen Anne in date, it demonstrates restraint and a careful choice of figured and, over all these years, lovely faded walnut veneers.
Also a Queen Anne Period solid walnut stool demonstrating the lovely lines of the period, and a very rare Queen Anne period bureau.
Monarchs of England ANNE (1702-14). <http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon52.html>
Royal Household. “Anne.” The official website of the British monarchy. n.d. <http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page102.asp>