Appendix 37: Notes on the "Art Chair" Theme


A chair is a stool with a back-rest, and a stool is a board elevated from the ground by supports.

This definition is by Dr Christopher Dresser, a nineteenth century British designer in his chapter on furniture in Principles of Decorative Design, published in 1873.

more notes game-changer, eclectic, gothic, machinery, arts and crafts dedicated to using indigenous and native materials

frank, russell, on history of chairs, iasabelle anscombe, and david cathers

the paste below is from isabelle, anscombe, 1991; gillian naylor, 1971; and others (cited): adapted from isabelle anscombe, arts and crafts style, 1991, pages 29, 54, 55, 65; gillian naylor, pages 15, 101, 109, 120, 156, 158, 164, 179, 182

By the end of the 1860s, the Gothic Revival -- in both architecture and design -- was in decline, with a gradual permutation setting up, out of which emerged a more original "idiom of greater elegance and coherence" Definitely gone was the nostalgic emotional content of medieval romance.

In the designs of Bruce James Talbert, for example,

the revealed construction,

the use of plain, unstained oak

the added enrichment of mouldings and inset panels of the Gothic style

were combined with the simplicity of strong horizontal and vertical forms and flat, naturalistic designs favoured by the new Anglo-Japanese taste of the early 1870s.

[the 1862 exhibition had a display from japan]


IN announcing the death of Mr. Bruce James Talbert, which melancholy event took place at his residence, Euston-square,on the 28th ult., our readers will realise with us that we have lost one of our best decorative designers, and many of them will feel that they have lost a kind and genial friend. Mr. Talbert, whose decease has taken place at the early age of 43, has made himself a prominent name and position as a designer of furniture.

Mr. Talbert commenced hia working life with a wood-carver in Dundee, and afterwards spent some time in an architect's office in that town. Later on he was engaged in the office of Mr. W. N. Tait, in Glasgow, from whence he transferred his services to Mr. Campbell, in Douglas. He was conspicuous while at Glasgow for his talent as a draughtsman, and he there made the acquaintance (an acquaintance which ripened into friendship when they met some years after in London) of some other young architects and artists who, like himself, have made a prominent figure in the Art world.

After a few years spent in Coventry as designer to the art-metal firm of Skidman & Co., he came to London, and settled down to the class of work by which he has made his name so well known and his influence so widely felt.

The Gothic School had no more enthusiastic and earnest worker than Mr. Talbert, and the publication in 1867 of his firat work on Gothic Forms applied to Furniture and Decoration for Domestic Purposes, brought him to the front rank as a designer of furniture, a position which he continued to hold, and hia influence in this direction extended to the end of his life. His name will be remembered in connection with our revival of design in furniture and domestic decoration, as much as that of any other of his generation. He devoted himself earnestly to improve our furniture, and bring art into our households, and his whole life was devoted to decorative art with a singleness and earnestness which are rnrely equalled. Some of Mr. Talbert's designs are to be found in past volumes of the Furniture Gazette.

As a draughtsman Mr. Talbert had few equals, and in this, as well as in bis designs, he had a style entirely his own. All bis work is characterised by vigour, but without coarseness, and by refinement without effeminacy. " Simple and true " were his own words, in " Gothic Forms," as to what design should be—a maxim which he has thoroughly carried out in his works.

Such as his work, such was the man; " Simple and true," manly, kind, and genial, always ready to do a good turn to some struggling artist; and withal having a keen sense of humour, fond of a joke, and quick to see the ridiculous side of any subject.

Mr. Talbert was fond of exercise, and it may interest some of our younger readers to know that, when engaged on his first book, "Gothic Forms," the morning was often taken up with a pull up the river as far as Richmond and back, and the afternoon and evening were devoted to his art pursuits. It would be an advantage if one could keep to such exercise, but unfortunately, as time goes on, art-work becomes too absorbing and too exacting, and the healthy recreation has to be abandoned: and his case was no exception to the rule.

Although we lament the loss to the world of Decorative Art which has been sustained by the decease of Mr. Talbert, the loss to the sister pursuit of architecture is no less great, for if he was strong in furniture and decoration, his pencil was equally facile in the matter of architectural design; but it is a noteworthy fact that he never had the opportunity to show his strength in this direction further than on paper, but those who have seen his design for the Manchester Town Hall—a fine example of

Source: [obit for bruce james talbert] The Furniture gazette, February 8, 1881, page 90

material from oxford art books database:

In May 1884 the St George's Art Society joined forces with The Fifteen, a discussion group founded a year or two before under the secretaryship of the successful freelance designer, Lewis F. Day. (The Fifteen also included designers such as Walter Crane and Henry Holiday and the architect J. D. Sedding, another of Street's pupils.) The new society was named the Art Workers' Guild, and is still in existence today. It established common aims, provided a meeting place for discussion and a platform for lectures on techniques and styles; Morris, Norman Shaw, Mackmurdo, Ashbee, Voysey and Lutyens were among its many distinguished members (it did not admit women until 1964); all, despite their individual differences in style, swore allegiance to the Arts and Crafts movement.

The new idiom of Arts and Crafts was strong and simple in form, rich and intricate in craftsmanship, with a fresh morality based on fitness for purpose. While leaving Gothic motifs behind, the style had absorbed the architectural principles of furniture construction championed by Pugin, as well as the return to basics via the study of ancient, traditional techniques that (along with Street and Morris) he pioneered; Pugin and Bodley's love of colour and bold effect also continued unabated. These elements were combined in a new, eclectic style that stressed simplicity and an honesty of construction based on first-hand understanding of the materials employed, while encouraging richness, colour and the use of such precious materials as silver, enamel, mother-of-pearl or iridescent glass.

The successor to the Gothic revival was the cult of Japanese art which, until the early 1860s was virtually unknown in Europe. What began as a collecting fad in fashionable artistic circles it Paris and London evolved into a new taste in design and decoration, notably in England, where ii formed the basis of the so-called 'Aesthetic' Movement

Source: Frank Russell, Century of CHAIR DESIGN New York: Rizzoli, 1980, page 12

The architect and metalworker Henry Wilson, a master of the Art Workers' Guild, once described it as 'a club for artists', explaining that, 'as everybody knows, artists are unpractical cranks'. The pride that many of this first generation of Arts and Crafts designers took in being cranks —bohemian, anti-establishment, steeped in the lore of the studio or craft workshop —characterized the movement and the manner in which it presented itself for many years to come.

Arts and Crafts artefacts were honest, sturdy, and, by the standards of their day, decidedly eccentric, yet by the 1880s the style had established itself as the idiom of the liberal middle classes. A. H. Mackmurdo described his aim as being to make `beautiful things for the homes of simple and gentle folk', which was just how those folk wished to see themselves.


However, as M. H. Baillie Scott pointed out in The Studio in 1897:

The necessary restrictions imposed by a limited purse often prove to be the best safeguard against over-extravagance; and so to those who can appreciate the beauty of simplicity and restraint, necessity in this case may become a virtue indeed, and instead of trying to emulate the splendours of the palace, so often vulgar, so seldom comfortable and homely, we may accept gladly the limitations which suggest a more cottage-like home.'

Simplicity, restraint and the supposed values of cottage life were indeed almost passionately adopted as virtues by those who rejected the ostentation of wealth derived from industrial muscle and from an unjust economic system.

In 1888 a splinter group from the Art Workers' Guild founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which, until the First World War provided a showcase for both commercial and amateur designs. Walter Crane was its first president and Lewis F. Day its treasurer. Over five hundred objects selected by committee were shown at its first membership exhibition, held at the New Gallery, which had been set up in Regent Street by two former directors of the influential Grosvenor Gallery. To enhance the occasion, William Morris gave a demonstration of weaving to a selected audience and Isadora Duncan danced. From the start, the society's exhibitions included products from commercial firms, so long as both designer and executant were credited,

The model provided by both the Art Workers' Guild and the Exhibition Society was quickly copied elsewhere: in 1897 the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts was founded, followed by similar organizations in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Minneapolis.

For many, however, the new movement remained not simply a matter of style, but also a search for 'truth' and a solace for social ills. Thus A. H. Mackmurdo later wrote in his unpublished 'History of the Arts and Crafts Movement', it was important to `. . see this movement not as an aesthetic excursion; but as a mighty upheaval of man's spiritual nature.'

'Art' to them meant individuality and the search for 'truth', whether in painting, architecture or applied design—and truth, they felt, could be found both in the study of nature, and in the recreation of the spirit rather than the letter of mediaevalism. Direct imitation of the Gothic was meaningless—'unfair' as Morris out it `to the old and stupid for the present'.19

Nevertheless the design profession was becoming reasonably well established, with Alfred Stevens, Christopher Dresser, Owen Jones and Bruce Talbert laying the foundations for their reputation in the '70s and '8os, while many of the architects associated with the Gothic Revival worked as designers (William Burges is an obvious example) or employed assistants as had Pugin in the '3os and '4os. The motivation of Morris and his colleagues, however, was very different from that of their contemporaries and predecessors. Unlike Cole they were in no way concerned to reconcile art and industry; they had absorbed Ruskin and they had no wish to compromise with commercialism.

bio of bruce james talbert: (nothing yet on an "art" chair, but hoping that something will turn up in the books that i have requested, oct 2009

Bruce James Talbert, born in Dundee, Scotland in 1838, died in London January 28 1881.

A furniture designer Talbert first apprenticed as a wood-carver in Dundee, then for two years operated a carving business before joining the office of Charles Edward, a local architect. Around 1856 he moved to Glasgow, and worked in several architects' offices.

In 1862 he moved to Manchest, where for several years, he worked for a cabinetmaking firm, but left before the year was out for Coventry, working for an art manufacturer, Skidmore’s Art Manufactures. His reputation growing, in the mid-1860s, Talbert moved to London, where he designed award-winning furniture for the Holland & Sons’ exhibit at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867. (Anyone wishing to investigate more on the 1867 "exhibition" will find a wealth of material simply by searching with the Google search engine.)

"By 1868 he was designing furniture for Gillows of Lancaster, notably the ‘Pet’ sideboard (1873)", owned by the London-based Victoria and Albert Museum.

He returned to Dundee to set up a design practice, and in 1868 (though dated 1867) he published his first and most influential book, Gothic Forms Applied to Furniture, Metal Work and Decoration for Domestic Purposes.

"This work championed the structural honesty of the Reformed Gothic style, with its decorative vocabulary of carved chevrons, inlaid or pierced quatrefoil motifs and chamfered edges".

Talbert returned to London around 1869 and worked thereafter as a freelance commercial designer, assisted by a small number of pupils including Henry W. Batley ( fl 1872–1908). Best known as a furniture designer, Talbert also designed metalwork, cast iron, textiles, and wallpapers.

Source: Adapted from Rosamond Allwood, [biography of Bruce James Talbert, Oxford Art Online]

The Arts and Crafts movement, which encompassed the notion that honest crafts- It was Gustav Stickley more than anyone who married the aims of the British Arts and Crafts movement to the frontier style of the log-cabin and produced what was known in America as 'reform' or 'Mission' furniture.