The Queen Anne furniture style, arose around 1689, few years before Anne’s succession of the throne, when the Prince of Orange became King of England. Although the style emerged in the late years of the 17th century, it was not named for Queen Anne until the late-19th century, during its revival.
Few years before, in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes caused many of the best French craftsmen to go into exile. Some of them took refuge in England, Germany, and the Low Countries, and brought with them their crafting skills related to the Louis XIV style. One of the most important artists, who left France was Daniel Marot. When William became King, he appointed Marot as chief architect and master of works. It was precisely Marot, who exerted the greatest influence in defining the Queen Anne style.
In the early 18th century, following the shift in European taste, from the monumental Baroque to a more intimate mode, Rococo, English cabinetmakers created their own interpretation of the style, which they named after England’s Queen Anne. The Queen Anne furniture style is also known as Late Baroque or Early Gregorian, while the Queen Anne era is known as ,,the age of the walnut’’, since walnut was almost exclusively used as wood of choice.
Deciding moment in the evolution of this furniture style, was Anne’s love for tea. During her reign (1702-1714) she introduced the custom of tea drinking and made it an important part of the modern social life. Small moveable furniture items such as tables, chairs, ottomans, small couches and chaise lounges were created for that purpose. The tilt-top tea table, became a center piece around which woman gathered for polite conversations and more often for scurrilous gossip. These new pieces did not resemble and complement the already existing furniture. Therefore, there was a growing demand for matching accessory pieces such as china cabinets, writing desks, bookcases, card tables, secretaries and bedroom furniture.
According to Edgar G. Mille the 18th century included the five great styles of English furniture, that is, the Queen Anne, the Chippendale, the Adam, the Hepplewhite and the Sheraton. It is for this reason termed the “Golden Age” of English cabinet making. Authors and experts, consider the Queen Anne style to be a part of the so-called Anglo-Dutch period, which includes styles inspired from the reigns of William and Mary (1689-1702), Queen Anne (1702-1714) and part of the reign of George I (1714-1727).
Features of Queen Anne Furniture
The Queen Anne style is considered to be a restrained English version of the Rococo. It is described as light, curved and dainty, with gracefully contoured outlines, classical proportions and restrained surface ornamentation, as a contrast to the heavy, masculine furniture with bold turnings, attenuated proportions and dynamic and extensively ornamented surfaces of the preceding styles. It is characterized by delicacy, curvilinear forms, simple contours, general rectangular structure, quiet dignity and neatness of workmanship. It’s style also shows an ultimate shift toward elegance and refinement. Marked by pure simplicity a furniture piece made in Queen Anne’s style was supposed to rely solely on the carefully designed curved lines and the color of the fine walnut veneers.
The Queen Anne style is known for its preference for medium dark woods and therefore replaced the earlier popular oak with walnut. Sometimes instead of walnut, furniture pieces were made from cherry, maple or mahogany. Secondary woods pieces include maple, pine, ash, cedar, beech and tulip. Because the walnut is not best suited for carving, more often than not, it was left undecorated. Generally, this furniture style was quite plain with little to no ornamentation. If present, the typical ornamentation motifs included scallop shells, scrolls, animals, mascarons, cartouches, swags of flowers, acanthus leaves, some classical designs and Oriental figures. Some pieces featured skillfully applied marquetry, inlay, veneering and lacquerwork.
Perhaps the most recognizable feature are the curved cabriole legs. They were borrowed from the French but adapted and modified, while heavily influenced by the William and Mary period. Double curved cabriole legs or S-shaped legs, with the upper part being convex and the lower part concave, gave more intimate appearance and were more practical, since they provided more balance and supported heavier pieces, without the use of stretchers. Being the most distinctive feature of Queen Anne furniture, the cabriole leg was elegantly applied to chairs, tables, desks, cabinets, and chests. Actually all pieces, even pedestal accent tables and bed frames, featured cabriole legs. Occasionally the cabriole had a shell ornament on its knee. The cabriole leg graciously culminated in a pad foot, spade foot or trifid foot.
Generally, the Queen Anne style is known for the prolific use of the cyma curve in design which also aids the structure, lack of stretchers and lower bracing, broken scroll pediments or bonnet tops for taller furniture pieces, wider more comfortable and spoon backed chairs, chairs with fiddle backs, yoke shaped top rails with down curving ends, refined and adapted curved aprons, C and S scrolls, replacing the teardrop pulls with elegant batwings and minimalistic ornamentations.
Common Furniture Items
The Queen Anne style is most apparent in chairs, though it is also easily discernible in many novel furniture forms. During Queen Anne era, chairs were merely over a century old. Though English people enjoyed their comfort for sitting and resting, the Queen Anne styling added to the overall comfort in the design. Made of sometimes plain and sometimes modestly decorated walnut, the chairs were broad-seated and with upholstered horse-shoe shaped, seats with rounded corners. Because of the growing concern for comfort, the seats were cushioned. The backs were high, curved to fit the back of the sitter and the outline formed a continuous curve. In the center of the back appeared a solid vase-shaped, fiddle-shaped or lyre-shaped splat. The top rail was usually yoke-shaped with down curving ends. The front legs were cabriole, while the back legs were curved or straight, but simple. The corner chairs in the Queen Anne style had rounded square seats neatly nesting in corners and behind desks.
Queen Anne style cabinets were decorated with marquetry in arabesque patterns, or with ‘’cobweb’’ or ‘’seaweed’’ panels. The cabinets folding-doors were beautifully inlaid with birds, insects and flowers in vases. The cornice often contained a long, single drawer, and the inside of the doors was ornamented with marquetry panels. Tea tables and card tables had tripod cabriole bases and had incorporated space-saving features such as the tilt top and hinged drop leaf.
After Queen Anne’s death the furniture was influenced by the ornate French contemporary styles. The design itself, did become more ornate, but the overall quality deteriorated. The ornamentation process took too much time and effort and little attention was paid on comfort and construction. Furniture made in the Queen Anne style is often difficult to date exactly since it sometimes blends elements from the earlier William and Mary and later Chippendale styles. Since the Colonial period, over the centuries, many reproductions in the Queen Anne style have been produced.
Although the Queen Anne reigning era was rather short lived (1702-1714), the Queen Anne furniture style has proudly stood the test of time and remained common and popular till this day. Even today the reign of Queen Anne is associated with a style which bears the stamp of English individuality.