The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 4:-- Edward William Godwin and Bruce Talbert, and Christopher Dresser

[under construction 12-5-09; I work on this page eveeryday and hope that, soon, it will begin to have a more logical organization]

Impact on Furniture Design With Emergence of Vernacular/Organic Architecture, 1850s-1900s

Directory for Pages on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain

[under construction 11-10-09]

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 1:-- August Northmore Welby Pugin and Neo-Gothicism--

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 2:-- John Ruskin--

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 3:-- William Morris--

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 4:-- Edward William Godwin and Bruce Talbert, and Christopher Dresser--

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Part 5:-- Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo--

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, No 6:-- M Hugh Baillie-Scott,C F A Voysey, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

See examples of Furniture With Vernacular/Organic Architecture Designs in Isabelle Anscombe's Arts and Crafts Style

Anscombe's book is not available for viewing online, but, if you're interested on you can find a copy for a reasonable price

The "Overview" in the Iframe page below sketches out the highlights of the beginning of vernacular design in furniture. click here for a full-screen page

Click here for a list of books that a practicing architect-designer such as Godwin had at his disposal in London or other large center in Britain in the 19th century. Several titles on Chinese design are given below:

George Edwards and Matthias Darly . A new book of Chinese designs. [London], 1754.

George Edwards and Matthew Darly's New Book of Chinese Designs... (London, 1754) is notable for its delicately executed and somewhat mannered etchings, which influenced the shapes and ornamentation of mid-eighteenth-century English pottery. Read more here

William Halfpenny, New designs for Chinese temples, triumphal arches, garden seats, palings, &c. London, 1750.

HALFPENNY, WILLIAM, English 18th-century architectural designer, he described himself as "architect and carpenter." (He was also known as Michael Hoare; but whether his real name was William Halfpenny or Michael Hoare is uncertain.) His books, of which he published a score, deal almost entirely with domestic architecture, and especially with country houses in those Gothic and Chinese fashions which were so greatly in vogue in the middle of the 18th century. His most important publications, from the point of view of their effect upon taste, were New Designs for Chinese Temples, in four parts (1750-1752); Rural Architecture in the Gothic Taste (1752); Chinese and Gothic Architecture Properly Ornamented (1752); and Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste (1750-1752). These four books were produced in collaboration with John Halfpenny, who is said to have been his son. New Designs for Chinese Temples is a volume of some significance in the history of furniture, since, having been published some years before the books of Thomas Chippendale and Sir Thomas Chambers, it disproves the statement so often made that those designers introduced the Chinese taste into this country. Halfpenny states distinctly that "the Chinese manner" had been "already introduced here with success". The work of the Halfpennys was by no means all contemptible. It is sometimes distinctly graceful, but is marked by little originality.

Source: Article in 11th edition (1910) of Encyclopedia Britannica

Edward William Godwin

Godwin's Dates

During his short lifespan -- Godwin was born in 1833 and died in 1888 -- he contributed creatively to several different fields: -- architecture, furniture, wallpaper and fabric designs and a range of craft for the stage. Trained as an architect, he was also a designer, an interior decorator, a theatrical producer, and an influential writer/critic.

Godwin's Education and Training

Godwin's Impact on Design is Pivotal.

Along with Pugin, Ruskin, Morris, Godwin's impact on design (including his furniture) is pivotal. Godwin's impact -- it gives true meaning to the concept, Gestalt -- is significant especially we consider his role in the transition from Gothic Revival styles to "Queen Anne Revival" to Arts and Crafts, including the infusion of Japanese design themes into such things as furniture. (The au courant terminology of the day, Japonisme, a French term -- coined in 1872 --, which indicates the prevailing admiration in Europe for Japanese motifs in the decorative arts, came into use in Britain shortly afterward.) However, the shift -- from Gothic Revival to Queen Anne revival to the Arts and Crafts movement -- was halting and episodic, not smooth and deliberate.

Lately, Godwin's life and achievements are the focus of some deserved attention.Investigations of Godwin's reputation should include the accounts by Elizabeth Aslin and Jeremy Cooper and the two Godwin books by Susan Weber Soros. Even if it's somewhat dated, Dudley Harbron's brief 1947 biography is both a good read and a useful guide to Godwin. (For Harbron, see quoted passage and image of cover of his book below.)

Soros' massive folio volumes -- one a "exhibtion catalog -- the other a reworking of Soros' doctoral dissertation -- are packed with both images and commentary, too large to do much more for a website than reproduce a few illustrations and some choice text. The box below contains a few paragraphs at the beginning of Soros' INTRODUCTION to E.W. Godwin: secular furniture and interior design Yale: Yale University Press, 1999:


edward william godwin portrait

While Godwin trained as an architect and established a reputation as a competent designer of buildings, ranging from the Gothic Revival Northampton Town Hall (built in 1861-64) to the 1878 proto-modern house/studio at Tite Street, London, of the painter, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), designing furniture became important in his life and internationally recognized as astonishing achievements. We could say that Godwin is the father of rectinlear furniture.

Nikolaus Pevsner, art historian and critic, writes that Godwin was

"more a designer than an architect," and in truth his Anglo-Japanese designs for furniture, particularly his ebonized sideboard of about 1867 (below) and his square coffee table of comparable date (CR 207)

are considered major monuments of nineteenth-century design.

Source: Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design London: Pelican, 1960, page 62.

However, later scholars fault Pevsner for being late to acknowledge Godwin's prescient introduction of Japanese motifs in 1860s British design. Pevsner's first edition of Pioneers was 1932, but it was not until the 1960 edition that Godwin is mentioned by Pevsner. Instead, two other scholars preceded Pevsner: Dudley Harbron, in 194? -- and later in his 1949 biography of Godwin

It is significant that the first Japanese prints known to have hung on an English wall were in the home of an architect and designer -- Edward Willim Godwin -- and not Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1862, Godwin furnished his Bristol house -- in the Georgian style -- was furnished by the architect himself in what at the time were considered eccentric by his Bristol neighbors. His walls -- painted in plain colors -- had Japanese prints on the walls, the floors enlivened by Persian rugs. Godwin's biographer says of him: "When he was able to please himself, his designs had a Japanese character. He had, from 1860 onward, devote as much time to the study of Japanese art and its principals [sic] as [previous to that date] . . . he had employed upon medieval research."11 Each of his subsequent homes was decorated in the Japanese taste, and successive wives and a daughter wore kimonos to harmonize with the setting. A drawing of an interior appeared on the title-page of Godwin's book of furniture designs publishedl by William Watt in 1877, which-complete with mistress in kimono-we assume to be a sketchl taken or derived from one of his own apartments....

Source: Clay Lancaster, "Oriental Contributions to Art Nouveau", The Art Bulletin 34, No. 4 December 1952, page 299

godwin coffee-table 1867

Over a quarter century, Godwin designed at least 400 pieces of furniture for private patrons, for public and ecclesiastical commis­sions, the commercial trade, or for his own use. This should not be a surprise. A significant part of his architectural practice included decoration and furniture design, whether as part of the overall architectural plan of a building or as an inde­pendent commission. Godwin himself disclosed in 1874 that a good percentage of his income was the design of furniture and related decorations. He declared, moreover, that he foresaw a time when

"in this branch alone the architectural student of the future will find more and more opportunity of employment."

Source: Edward William Godwin, "Lady Architects", Architect 2 June 12, 1874, page 335

As Soros notes, Godwin is not unique in this practice. Decades earlier, A. W. N. Pugin designed several hundred pieces of furniture for his clients.

Unlike Pugin, who remained wedded to the Gothic Revival and Jacobethan styles of furniture, Godwin was capable of working in all the historicist styles that popular taste demanded, includ­ing Gothic, Anglo-Egyptian, Anglo-Greek, Jacobean or Old English, Cottage, Queen Anne, and of course Anglo-Japanese, which he is credited with originating and popularizing. Unlike that of so many of his contemporaries, Godwin's work rarely falls into the category of historical reproduction or excessive eclecticism. No matter what style he worked in or what sources he borrowed from, he always came up with his own distinctive interpretation and original design solution:

"It is easy enough to make up furniture in direct imitation of any particular style. . . . What I have endeavored to secure in design, has rather been a modern treatment of certain well-known and admired styles."

Source: Edward William Godwin, Art furniture from designs by E.W. Godwin and others: with hints and suggestions on domestic furniture and decoration London: B.T. Batsford, 1877

Godwin believed €” as did, for example, Pugin and William Burges (1827-1881) as well as William Kent, Robert Adam, and other architect-designers of the eighteenth century €” that every detail of the interior as well as the exterior should be under the control of the architect, and, as a follower of John Ruskin, the idea of a unified scheme of decoration was central to Godwin's approach. He expounded this unified approach to design in "The Sister Arts and Their Relation to Architecture," a lecture prepared for the Bristol Society of Architects in 1863. The central thesis was that the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture were no longer dependent on each other as they had been in the Middle Ages, and that until they were reunited under the control of a unifying spirit €” i.e., the architect €” they could not flourish. He warned architects that

"when each room and each article of furniture shall be found to be but resolutions of the same keynotes ... then may we hope to have an art of our own." See extensive note about this lecture on page 275 pf Soros4

Source: Susan Weber Soros, E.W. Godwin: secular furniture and interior design Yale: Yale University Press, 1999;

Godwin Influential in Shift in Tastes in Furniture Styles

Material below adapted from Jeremey Cooper's Chapter 5: "From 'Nankin' to Bedford Park"

At the Third General Conference of Architects in 1874, J. J. Stevenson argued for a middle way between the "very dull prose" of the Classic style and the "screeching, sensational poetry, or Daily Telegraphese" of the Gothic revival. Stevenson's paper is entitled: -- "ON THE RECENT REACTION OF TASTE IN ENGLISH ARCHITECTURE":

Whatever may be the opinion of those interested in architecture as to the wisdom of the reaction which is the subject of discussion in this Conference to-day, there is sufficient evidence of the fact that there has been recently in England a reaction of taste against Gothic architecture towards what is commonly called Queen Anne architecture, a name which, though inadequate and unsatisfactory, is sufficiently intelligible. ... read more here

Source: Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Furniture and Interiors New York: Abbeville Press, 1987.


Review of Scholarship on E W Godwin's Impact

In her "Preface", page 21 ff, of her Secular Furniture of E W Godwin, (1999), Susan Weber Soros reviews scholarship on E W Godwin:

Following his death in 1886, Godwin's reputation -- whether as architect or designer of furniture and other decorative arts -- declined. and by 1900 his achievements were acknowledged by but a handful of designers and critics. 27

By the beginning of the twentieth century the Aesthetic movement itself was associated with decadence and Godwin's furniture was seen by critics such as H. J. Jennings (in Our Homes and How to Beautify Them) as

"that excrescence of nineteenth century art . . . effeminate, invertebrate, sensuous and mawkish." (page 555).
In the 1920s, critics still criticized the style with which Godwin is associated:

"horror €” a genuine modern style which as yet has no name, a period of black polished furniture with spidery lines."

Source: Roger Fry

Although Fry inadvertently recognized its importance by viewing it as "a genuine modern style" and German architect and historian Hermann Muthesius recognized Godwin's importance as "foreshadowing the idea of the modern interpretation which was soon to follow," 30

from kenneth ames

Bordes, Marilynn Johnson. "Christian Herter and the Cult of Japan." In Aspects of the Arts and Crafts Move-ment in America, edited by Robert Judson Clark. Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, 34, no. 2 (1975): 20€”27. 5 illustrations.

Under Herter's leadership, the New York Herter Brothers firm became the most famous American decorating house of its day. Bordes notes that some of the company's most impor-tant works of the 187os and 1 88os were in the Japanese taste, often also revealing the influence of English designer E. W. Godwin. Herter's masterpiece is the wardrobe in the Met-ropolitan Museum of Art that was said to have been owned by Lillian Russell. No other object attains the same quality "of Japanese selectivity, sparseness, and restraint" (p. 23). One of Herter's finest Japanese interiors was created 1879

181 for William H. Vanderbilt's Fifth Avenue home. While later designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and the Greene brothers saw elimination and simplicity as the heart o Japanese art, for Herter it was a decorative vocabulary to be used for exercises in elaboration.

Godwin's reputation had been totally eclipsed by a new generation of designers and critics interested in modern design who frequently overlooked nineteenth-century precedents. Even Nikolaus Pevsner's first edition of Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius31 failed to include Godwin in its groundbreaking examination of the architecture and design of the nineteenth century. Godwin's work seems to have been ignored for most of the first half of the twen­tieth century, with the exception of three brief and somewhat inaccurate entries: Maurice Adams described Godwin as a genius but considered his career a failure;32 an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography listed Godwin's principal achieve­ments as his assistance to William Burges's design for the new law courts and to Robert Edis for the Parliament House in Berlin.33 The third mention, however, foreshadowed a dramatic change to Godwin's critical reputation. In his article "1874 and After" in Architectural Review in 1931, C. E A. Voysey, a prominent architect-designer of the Arts and Crafts movement, admitted that his work owed a great deal to earlier architect-designers such as "William Burgess [sic], E. W. Godwin, A. H. Mackmurdo, Bodley and others [who] regarded nothing in or outside a home as too small to deserve their careful consideration. So we find Burgess designing water-taps and hair brushes; Godwin and Mackmurdo furniture; Bodley, like Pugin, fabrics and wallpapers."34 In 1945 Dudley Harbron published the first scholarly essay on Godwin in Architectural Review, marking a turning point in Godwin studies. In this five-page article, Harbron summarized Godwin's achievements and illustrated them with a few line drawings taken from nineteenth-century architectural journals. Three years later, Nikolaus Pevsner praised Godwin's wallpaper designs in his article "Design and Industry through the Ages" for the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts.36 In 1949 Harbron published the first biography of Godwin,37 a small book sparsely illustrated (with merely seven photographs and six line drawings) and poorly refer­enced. Nevertheless, this biography raised critical interest and brought Godwin out of obscurity.

Godwin's work now came to the attention of a new generation of authors, critics, and museum curators. Articles published in Architectural Review began to uncover the spectacularly broad range of his work €” for example, H. Montgomery Hyde's article "Oscar Wilde and His Architect," based on a cache of letters between Oscar Wilde and Godwin he had discovered.38 In 1952, however, prompted by the first showing of Godwin's oeuvre in a museum context (the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition of "Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts" [VEDA]), Pevsner penned an article entitled "Art Furniture of the 1870's" in which Godwin was featured as one of the major designers of the period.39 The following April Pevsner again wrote about (and provided the first photograph of) Godwin's ebonized sideboard, 40 which became one of the most widely illustrated and dis­cussed pieces of nineteenth-century furniture €” and the first piece of Godwin fur­niture to be purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum.41

The exhibition of Godwin's furniture in the VEDA show reverberated through­out Scandinavia and even reached the shores of New York. A Scandinavian scholar wrote a theoretical study of Victorian design themes in which he identified Godwin and Christopher Dresser as major designers who helped formulate the functional modernism of the twentieth century, a view shared by Edgar Kauffman Jr., curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art.42 Godwin was also considered an important interpreter of Japanese forms and motifs instrumental to the development of Art Nouveau.43

During the late 1950s and early 196os Godwin began to be mentioned in early histories of Victorian furniture. Peter Floud was the first to include Godwin in a chapter on "Victorian Furniture" written for the Concise Encyclopedia of Antiques.44 To Floud, Godwin's Anglo-Japanese work was most memorable, particularly the sideboard on display at that time in the Victoria and Albert Museum (CR 304-b). Symonds and Whineray also recognized Godwin's Anglo-Japanese work in one of the first book-length studies devoted to nineteenth-century furniture,45 as did Charles Handley-Read, one of the earliest collectors of Godwin furniture.46 At the end of the 196os Hugh Honour devoted an entire chapter to Godwin in his Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers.47

While pioneering works on nineteenth-century furniture were recognizing Godwin's Anglo-Japanese furniture, a different group of critics with more modernist eyes were beginning to appreciate the abstract and functional nature of some of his designs. In the third edition of his Pioneers of Modern Design, published in 1960, Pevsner finally mentioned Godwin in one brief paragraph and illustrated a line drawing of Whistler's White House (Fig. 5).48 However brief the inclusion, Pevsner's endorsement of Godwin as a pioneer of modernism ensured that future generations would consider Godwin in their assessments of the Modern movement.

It was Elizabeth Aslin's work in the 1960s, however, that did the most to rehabili­tate Godwin's career, particularly in the decorative arts. In her book Nineteenth Century English Furniture (1962),49 Aslin devoted two pages to Godwin's achieve­ments and illustrated his classic coffee table (CR 207) and a chair for Dromore Castle (CR 113). In 1967, in her article "The Furniture Designs of E. W Godwin," 50 she drew on the Victoria and Albert Museum's recent acquisitions (from Godwin's second son) of Godwin's sketchbooks, diaries, ledgers and cash books, letters, and architectural plans to begin to identify the diverse range of his sources and his fur­niture production. In Aslin's Aesthetic Movement, published two years later,51 Godwin figured prominently as one of the earliest collectors and promoters of Asian artifacts. The rediscovery in the 1970s of nineteenth-century art and design led to a number of exhibitions in museums and commercial galleries that displayed Godwin's work and also included it in the accompanying catalogues. In 1972 the Diploma Galleries of the Royal Academy hosted an exhibition of "Victorian Decorative Art" that show­cased the spectacular collection of the late Charles Handley-Read and his wife, Lavinia. Four pieces of Godwin furniture were exhibited, although only the "Four Seasons Cabinet" (CR 344) was illustrated in the accompanying catalogue.52 In 1973, when Godwin's "Butterfly Cabinet" (CR 369) was purchased by the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow, it was still described by a prominent art critic as a "monstrous erection" and "a fairly awful example of High Victorian insensibility." 53

Several exhibitions during the 197os highlighted Godwin's work.54 In 1974 the British Council in Canada staged "High Victorian Design," the largest exhibition ever devoted to mid-nineteenth-century Victorian design. Surprisingly, Godwin was represented by a single item, a line drawing of Northampton Town Hall; his contributions to the decorative arts were totally overlooked.55 In 1976 the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery curated a show of furniture designed by Godwin and by Marcel Breuer, two designers with links to Bristol who were well represented in its permanent collections. This was the first exhibition of the full bequest of fourteen Godwin pieces the Gallery received in 1949 from Godwin's daughter, Edith Craig.56 After the exhibition, the pieces went back to the attic of The Georgian House (which belongs to the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery), where they remain today.

In 1978 Garland Publishers reprinted William Watt's Art Furniture catalogue, together with a catalogue for Messenger and Company, as one of the most important books of both the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts movements.57 Furthermore, London scholar-dealers such as Jeremy Cooper, Martin Levy of H. Blairman and Sons, Michael Whiteway of Haslam and Whiteway, and Andrew McIntosh Patrick of the Fine Art Society began to collect, study, and sell Godwin's work to collectors and museums, thus bringing it to an ever-broadening audience. The 1980s saw a few small exhibitions as well. "Architect-Designers: Pugin to Mackintosh" at the Fine Art Society presented Godwin as one of almost thirty nineteenth-century architect-designers responsible for "many of the best objects" of the period.58 In 1986, to mark the centennial of Godwin's death, Victoria and Albert Museum curator Lionel Lambourne mounted the first retrospective of Godwin's work based on the museum's collection. (Unfortunately, Godwin was not considered a sufficiently important designer to merit an accompanying catalogue.) Museums outside Great Britain took note of Godwin as well. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, had one of his sideboards on view (CR 304-c) and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris bought a hanging cabinet (CR 320-a).59

Another important development in Godwin studies occurred with the publication in 1986 of Elizabeth Aslin's E. W Godwin: Furniture anti Interior Decoration.60 Although this rather slim book relied heavily on the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and was mostly derived from her previous writings, it did illus­trate about eighty-five pieces, including examples of furniture, textiles, wallpaper, and stained glass. The following year Jeremy Cooper's Victorian and Edwardian Decor was published, a seminal study in which Godwin's work was placed in the context of the Aesthetic movement, discussed in the company of Norman Shaw, W E. Nesfield, Christopher Dresser, and Thomas Jeckyll, 61 and in which many pieces were published for the first time. In 1987 the first dissertation on Godwin was completed by Nancy Burch Wilkinson, who used the figure of Godwin as a "guide to Japonisme in England."62

By the close of the 198os more and more Godwin pieces were appearing on the art market and an increasing number of museums and collectors were beginning to acquire his work. Despite this recent interest, however, Godwin's multifaceted career remains largely unexamined. Perhaps this is due to the complexity of his career and the ephemeral quality of his later work in the theater, but it also reflects a general lack of interest in the Victorian period, which until the past twenty years was considered "the dark ages of art, an aesthetic no-go area whose vast multiple artifacts were either beneath contempt or merely objects of derision."63 Although many recent publications on nineteenth-century design including Joanna Banham, Sally MacDonald, and Julia Porter's Victorian Interior Design (1991) and Charlotte Gere and Michael Whiteway's Nineteenth Century Design (1993) identify Godwin as one of the period's major design reformers and reproduce ad nauseam Godwin's ebonized Anglo-Japanese sideboard and/or "Butterfly Cabinet," a thorough study of his accomplishments is still lacking over a century after his death.

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The Bedrooms

godwin wardrobe 1868

According to Susan Weber Soros, Godwin's sketchbooks contain designs for combination wardrobes/chest-of-drawers where, in turn, Godwin visualized sets, side-by-side, in pairs. Evidently in his own bedroom, Godwin used such a combination himself, which he described in The Architect in 1876:

My wardrobe was a compound design -- half chest of drawers and half hanging wardrobe -- and, like the trouser patterns of some years ago, required a pair to show the complete design.

Plate No 15 in the William Watt catalog, Art Furniture, shows (image on right) a bedroom furnished with a pair of matching wardrobes, that is, one the mirror image of the other, so that together they could stand side-by-side. godwin wardrobe in watt art furniture catalogue

A similar single wardrobe is in the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery. As Soros notes, for us today, "What is interesting about the relationship of the Godwin wardrobes to their Chinese prototypes is that Godwin decided to adopt their modular arrangement." The Godwin wardrobe has been fabricated in components that can easily be taken apart and reassembled. The pine example -- currently in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery comprises four separate elements:-- (1) chest of drawers, (2) hanging wardrobe, (3) topped with the molded cornice, and (4) bookcase with small drawers.

Source: Susan Weber Soros, "The Furniture of E. W. Godwin", in Susan Weber Soros, ed., E. W. Godwin Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer Yale: Yale University Press, 1999, page 236

From "My House in London", in the weekly The Architect a series composed of Parts 1-6, published between July 15, 1876 to August 19, 1876. The titles, respectively, are (1)[not title], July 15, 1876, 33-34; (2) "The Hall", July 22, 1876, pages 45-46; (3) "The Dining Room", July 29, 1876, 58-59; (4) "The Drawing Room" August 5, 1876, pages 72-73; (5) "The Bedrooms", August 12, 1876, 86; and (6) "Tops and Bottoms" August 19, 1876, pages 100-101


408. Gong and Stand Ca. 1875 Possibly made by William Watt Oak and iron frame; bronze gong; wood hammer 32-1/2in, x 17-3/4in x 17-1/8in. (82.6 x 45.1 x 43.5cm) Phillips, London, 13 October 1992, lot 255; H. Blairman and Sons, London; National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (WAG 1994.17) Literature: Gere and Whiteway 1993, p. 156, pl. 193; National Art-Collections Fund 1994, no. 4043; Soros [dissertation] 1999, no. 1, pp. 82, 235, fig. 3-15 godwinbuddhist gong875

Gongs are a part of Buddhist temple furniture in East Asia and this one is based on a drawing in one of Godwin's sketchbooks (Fig. 408.1). Its top rail or lintel based on the tori gates of Shinto shrines and the riveted brass edge covers at its top add to the unmistakable Japanese style of this piece. It is apparent that Godwin studied such architectural elements from contemporary photographs and books on Japanese architecture,6 and his article on Japanese wood construction in Building News (12 February 1875) contains illustrations of similar gates. The latticework toward the bottom of the stand is another of Godwin's adaptations of Japanese architectural elements €” taken from Japanese balustrades €” and can be found in his sketchbooks as well (Fig. 408.2). Despite these East Asian influences, Godwin's appreciation for medieval forms is revealed in the circular brackets supporting this stand that recur frequently in his Gothic-Revival pieces, such as the bookcases he designed for Dromore Castle (CR 311).

godwin buddhist gong rendering 1875

East Asian gongs were popular in England in the nineteenth century and Godwin was not the only designer in England to develop a western model: the printers Wyman and Sons illustrated two gongs with similar medieval framing both in their Cabinet Makers' Pattern Book (1877) and in a later supplement (i886), and the cabinetmakers Charles and Richard Light highlighted a series of gongs in their Cabinet Furniture: Designs and Catalogue 0/ Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture (1880).7


When I came to the furniture I found that hardly anything could be bought ready made that was at all suitable to the requirements of the case. I therefore set to work and designed a lot of furniture, and, with a desire for economy, directed it to be made of deal, and to be ebonised. There were no mouldings, no ornamental 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 a more or less broken outline. The scantling or substance of the framing and other parts of the furniture was reduced to as low a denomination as was compatible with soundness of construction. This seemed desirable for two reasons:--

firstly, for economy's sake in making, and,

secondly, for economy in cleaning.

For by making all the furniture -- the large pieces as well as the small -- as light as they could well practically be there was no particular effort required to move them either for the purposes of cleanliness or in the event of a change being desirable. Indeed, I found by experience that no man or extra servant was ever required, and that I could with ease, single handed, shift the whole of the furniture from one room into the next.

All the furniture for the dining-room I designed specially, but I found deal to be a mistake) and had very soon to get rid of it, and have a new lot made of mahogany, also ebonised and decorated with a few gold lines in the panels. Since then my buffet, coffee table, and chair with cane back and seat, have been freely made, nor can I see wherein I can, to any very great extent, improve them as examples of cheap furniture. For the drawing-room I picked up two spindle-leg tables, got four Japanese cane armchairs from Baker Street, two porcelain seats, some tall vases on the floor, and, as I cannot live without music, I spoilt a really light and pretty effect by introducing that conventional lump of pretentious ugliness a modern piano. Some time after I found it not such a difficult matter to alter the ordinary piano case in such a manner as to render it so far from displeasing that it should at least not be out of harmony with its surroundings.

My bookcases I never much liked; bookcases never are satisfactory. The cabinets, on the other hand, were nearly as effective as the buffet; they, however, were rather expensive, and as far as I know have never been repeated. I believe, nevertheless, the design was founded, as all designs for inexpensive furniture should be, on utility, and that it only required a little attention to have rendered it generally acceptable. It was a three-storeyed structure : the lowermost storey was devoted to a nest of drawers or trays for drawings, photographs, seals, &c., enclosed by folding ; the upper floor had two shelves for books, enclosed also by doors; and the intermediate division was mostly of glass for the display of curios. Practically the enclosing doors were often in the way, and although the four square panels in each, filled with figures and other decoration in gold outline, were vastly superior to any combination of drawers, yet there is no doubt that from the utilitarian or modern point of view it was a nuisance to go through the process of unlocking one door, unbolting a second, and pulling out a tray every time one wanted to refer to a drawing. I can see now how capable of improvement it was, and how easily it might yet be done at a considerable reduction in cost.

Source: Edward William Godwin, "The Dining Room" The Architect: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Art, Civil Engineering and Building 16 1876 pages 58-59


cross-section for four-sided post

... He began by discussing the several suggested reasons why the change had come about that had superseded the Gothic revival. These were that the pre-Raphaelites had initiated it; that the novels of Thackeray, Kingsley and Dickens had led to an interest in the Georges; or that the Gothic revival had worked itself out. Stevenson dismissed them all as Aunt Sallies, and claimed that the style had been selected by the School Board architects because they had discovered "that Queen Anne and the Early Georges ... form the nucleus of a modern style", and continued:

"The style in all its forms has the mark of truthfulness; it is the outcome of modern wants picturesquely expressed."

His paper was the outstanding event of the Conference. It was the public debut of a new movement, the leaders of which were nicknamed the Annites....

Source: Dudley Harbron, The Conscious Stone: The Life of Edward William Godwin London: Latimer House, 1949, pages 99-100

By the mid-1870s the middle way Stevenson recommended had already been branded "Queen Anne Revival". According to Jeremy Cooper (page 115), as a distinct style, the Queen Anne Revival style was interpreted in "its most persuasive expression" in Bedford Park, a garden suburb in London. Bedford Park was originally conceived in 1875 by Jonathan Carr, with Edward William Godwin as the chief architect, but later -- from 1877 -- with Richard Norman Shaw in charge.

Edward William Godwin -- while he was an admirer of the Gothic style, he became the most influential designer of Anglo-Japanese furniture -- began his architectural career under the wing of William Burges, another influential architect in this era of rapid transition in architecture and furniture design.

As Architect, Godwin Claims Right to Design Furniture

In his own person and practice Edward William Godwin tried to unite all the arts; he disliked the title architect as too limited. He preferred the wider term artist, as all-embracing and yet selective.

The Morris firm were actuated by similar ideas. Godwin differed from William Morris and Philip Webb in that his furniture design was less archaic even when based on mediaeval types. His private preferences were entirely at variance, as was obvious at once to any visitor to his house in Portland Square. There Edward could be heard to exclaim that he " did not wish to eat his dinner in a chair suited to Edward the Confessor ". Morris, on the other hand, was apeing King Arthur's domestic arrangements. Both of them had yet far to go. To those who only knew Northampton it was not apparent that they differed. True the entire building with its sculpture, metalwork, furniture and decoration had emanated from his brain and was almost as related to the past as anything by William Morris. In that building the manner had been forced upon him by the pressure of time, but even so he had given the fittings a personal interpretation. The Gothic revivalists could not yet accuse him of public heresy€”though they must have found his furniture questionable, but then, life had moved on since the fourteenth century.

He was supremely confident in his own capacity. If a man was an artist there was no limit to his creative powers. Already he had claimed the right to design furniture and to decorate the walls and floors as the province of the architect, as well as to design costumes and make them; to act and to criticise acting, costume and scenery; to lead and direct all these activities in the present, and to theorise and talk about the same in the past. Although many people ascribed this versatility to eccentricity they were obliged to admit that he was extremely capable. Moreover, when called upon to define in what direction, other than that of superior ability, he was peculiar, they were at a loss. His conversation was unaffected. His voice clear, handwriting cursive and most pleasant€”gave not the least indication of anything but a sure sense of form and arrangement. The phrasing of his writings revealed a logical, accurate thinker. He was most equable under trying conditions. Business Bristol decided that the artist was a practical man -- though he did read Shakespeare and sew costumes. It was recognised that he was getting on in the world, and that he was bringing Bristol into some prominence in architecture.

Source: Dudley Harbron, The Conscious Stone: The Life of Edward William Godwin London: Latimer House, 1949, pages 39-40

Town Hall in Northampton

edward william godwin chairs 1861

Secured in 1861, Godwin's first major commission was the Town Hall in Northampton. It is a building considered strongly influenced by Italian Gothic. However, says Jeremy Cooper, in the furniture at Northampton -- the drawings date back to January 1865 -- Godwin wanted to simplify the structure to essential elements and limit decoration to a minimum; "though Gothic in form, the chairs and tables for the Council Chamber are almost childishly simple in design and must, at the time, have been exceedingly difficult to accept."

Dromore Castle

cross-section for four-sided post

Godwin's first private commission -- Dromore Castle in County Limerick, Ireland -- the owner, a young Lord Limerick, allowed sufficient freedom to apply "his ideas on interior design to their radical conclusion --as along as it was 'in a Gothic shell'."

Godwin began work on Dromore Castle in 1866. The drawings for the Dromore furniture were executed between 1867 and 1869. Some furniture designs -- Ex:"The Eagle Chair" -- developed from the Northampton designs of 1865, but except for drawings (Cooper, No 322), actual examples are not available.

Other examples that survived illustrate dramatically Godwin's talents as a designer. As Cooper notes, the precise stylistic origins of Godwin's inspirations €” and, as well as Japanese, these include Greek, Egyptian and Jacobean design €” the results demsonstrate Godwin's sensitive touch -- in part inluenced by an appreciation of Asian culture -- that domestic design should

'be as light as is consistent with strength [and] in these high-pressure nervous times that the common objects of everyday life should be quiet, simple and unobtrusive in their beauty'."

Miscellaneous Furniture

label for source code godwin sideboard 1867 godwin bookcase and wardrobe 1867 godwin wardrobe ca-1875

godwin wardrobe ca-1875

Sources: Hermann Muthesius, The English House, in 3 vols, ed with intro by Dennis Sharp; trans by Janet Seligman and Stewart Spencer London: Frances Lincoln, 1905-1906; reprinted, 2007; Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of modern design from William Morris to Walter Gropius New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1949; Dudley Harbron, The Conscious Stone: The Life of Edward William Godwin London: Latimer House, 1949; Gillian Naylor, The arts and crafts movement: a study of its sources, ideals, and influence on design theory Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971; ; Isabelle Anscombe and Charlotte Gere, Arts & crafts in Britain and America€Ž New York: Rizzoli, 1978; Mary Greensted, Gimson and the Barnsleys: "wonderful furniture of a commonplace kind" New York: Van Nostrand, 1980; Lionel Lambourne, Utopian craftsmen: the arts and crafts movement from the Cotswolds to Chicago Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1980 ; Eileen Boris , Art and labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the craftsman ideal in America€Ž Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986 Isabelle Anscomb, Arts and Crafts Style, London: Phaidon, 1991; Mary Greensted, The arts and crafts movement in the Cotswolds Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1993; Kitty Turgeon and Robert Rust, The Arts and Crafts Home€Ž New York: Michael Friedman, 1998 ; Susan Weber Soros and Catherine Arbuthnott, Edward William Godwin,: aesthetic movement architect and designerYale: Yale University Press, 1999; Susan Weber Soros, E.W. Godwin: secular furniture and interior design Yale: Yale University Press, 1999; Wendy Hitchmough, The Arts & Crafts lifestyle and design€Ž New York: Watson-Guptil, 2000; David Cathers, Gustav Stickley, NY: Phaidon, 2003; Frances Collard, " Negotiating Taste, 1860-1890", Journal of Design History 6 No. 1 2003 pages 35-48.