Collection

Aesthetic Side Table

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Furniture

Date: Circa 1800s

Designer: Attributed to E.W Godwin

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Liberty and Co

Manufacturers Location: London

Material: Rosewood

Dimensions: Height 63 cm x Length 74 cm

Abstract:

Aesthetic sidetable with brass handle

Provenance:

Purchased by eBay by Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None - good condition, except for two splits in the wood.

Why it's in the Collection:

Edward William Godwin played a key part in the development of the Aesthetic movement, and his oeuvre spans from Gothic-Revival municipal architecture, the Arts and Crafts Movement and ended at the beginning of a Modernism based on the simplicity and asymmetry of Japanese design.

He wanted his furniture to have, 'no mouldings, no ornamented metal work, no carving. Such effect as I wanted I endeavoured to gain, as in economical building, by the mere grouping of solid and void and by more or less broken outline.'

He shared a similar ideology to his friends, William Burges and Christopher Dresser (also an important figure in the Lawson Park collection), as he recognised an underlying relationship between the art of the Middle Ages, to which he was committed not only as a Ruskinian but as a keen archaeologist, and that of Japan.

Godwin's side table is an important piece in the collection, as it represents the work of an influential designer who was a precursor to a new and modern style, that would emerge from the combined influence of other styles, ages and different cultures.


About the Designer/Maker:

Edward William Godwin (1833 - 1886) was an evasive character among Victorian Architect/ Designers. He was a friend of Whistler, Oscar Wilde and William Burges, lover of actress Ellen Terry (and father of her illegitimate children). He had a reputation in Victorian society as being a rather flamboyant partygoer, one that grew over the years, due to the mention of his many exploits in memoirs written by his contemporaries.

Godwin was born in Bristol in 1833, to a lower-middle class family with evangelical Anglican leanings, and he spent much of his life trying to shake off these provincial beginnings. By the mid-1860s, he was well established in London, working as a Gothic Revivalist and was heavily influenced by the writings of Ruskin. From the late 1860s, he began designing furniture in the Anglo-Japanese style, whilst designing houses in Chelsea for his friends, Oscar WildeWhistler and Frank Miles.

He was actively concerned with furniture design, theatrical design, art criticism, dress reform, health and archaeology, and regarded all these pursuits to be linked together in a larger concept of 'Aestheticism'. Godwin reacted against the heavy, oppressive existing interior design, believing at one stage that he would rather go to a funeral than a dinner party in one of those conventional Early English, Jacobean dining rooms. The quote below expresses Godwin's typical sense of humour in spite of his frustration; why have such a heavy chair, when there is no need to throw it across the room at your insulter!

"Men do not drink deep or quarrel at table as of old; it is considered more polite to abuse a man behind his back, and should you publish your abuse, he no longer retaliates with a rapier, but with the law of the libel, so that a modern Jacobean chair is quite a purposeless construction"

Godwin actually redesigned the dining room to include chairs that are, "light enough for a child to carry, and strong enough for a child to clamber on"

He was also a prolific writer, offering witty and scathing comments on Victorian high society and culture - notably the 'Battle of Style' from the 1860s to the 1880s - while adding humourous cartoon sketches ridiculing the lesser ranks of the profession - with its annoying office life and clients.

In 1884, he ceremoniously opened the dress department in Liberty's in London, which he was Director of. 

His son was the well-known theatre designer, Edward Gordon Craig who carried on his father's legacy within the theatre.

About the Manufacturer:

Arthur Lasenby Liberty's vision was to revolutionize modern homeware and fashion. He first opened his department store extraordinaire, Liberty and Co. on May 15th 1875, selling ornaments, fabric and objets d'art from Japan and the Far East. It wasn't long before his architect friend Richard Norman Shaw, wrote to praise his efforts; "Yes, you have put your mark on our time... You found things, most of them beastly, and you leave them glorious in colour and full of interest."

He received a £2000 loan from his future father-in-law, which he used to lease half a shop at 218a Regent Street with only three staff. However, before long Arthur had repaid his loan and began to develop his Liberty empire.

In 1885, Liberty's acquired 142-144 Regent Street, which Liberty named Chesham House. It became known as the 'Eastern Baazar' and housed decorative furnishing objects. The shop became highly fashionable place to shop and spot infamous Pre-Raphaelite figures such as Elizabeth Siddal.

Liberty's was more like a public museum than an average department store. They imported a large range of high quality antiques, many of which the South Kensington Museum (now known as the V&A) purchased for their collection.

In 1927, the mock Tudor building prompted a change in the focus of antiques, featuring examples of Stuart, Jacobean and earlier oak furniture with some Georgian pieces. In recent decades it was the pioneering products of Liberty that appealed to the artistic tastes of the day that have become the antiques. The Arts & Crafts furniture, in solid oak, or mahogany inlaid with coloured woods and mother-of-pearl; the Cymric silver and Tudric pewter designed by Archibald Knox and others; the jewellery and buckles of Knox and Jessie M King; the Clutha glass and Cordofan candlesticks designed by Christopher Dresser; and the ceramics of William Moorcroft and CH Brannam that are eagerly sought by collectors and museums at home and abroad

Bibliography & Further information

Is Mr Ruskin Living Too Long?
 Selected Writings of E. W. Godwin on Victorian Architecture, Design and Culture,
Juliet Kinchin and Paul Stirton, 2005, ISBN 1873487126

'The Secular Furniture of E. W. Godwin', Susan Weber Soros, now a catalogue raisonne published by Yale University Press, 1998, ISBN 0300081596

Morris Society

Liberty and Co.