Making fashionable furniture in England and France during the age of elegance

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Riall, Ernest (2012)

The primary aim of this thesis has been to describe the complex influences governing the production of fashionable furniture in C18th England and France in order to reassess the connection between material practices, the cultures in which they reside and the philosophical ideas from which they emerge. This has been achieved by detailing the factors influencing the design and production of late C18th furniture in England and France and developing a comparative model developed around the Harewood Library Table by Thomas Chippendale and The Wallace Collection F302 Secrétaire á abattant by Riesener, in order to isolate, identify and interpret differences between them. This innovative case study sits at the heart of this thesis and describes in detail how these pieces were designed and constructed and how they relate to the wider cultures from which they emerged. The result of this is apparent in a number of outcomes. Firstly, the thesis offers a definitive summary of the key characteristics of Chippendale’s and Riesener’s work which will better enable practitioners (conservators, curators, collectors, etc.) to identify pieces made by these makers, analyze their condition and help conserve these important pieces of furniture: furniture history currently is over‐dependent on much more subjective approaches to this process of identification. Secondly, the thesis examines different aspects of furniture making in England and France (literature on the workshops, information on economic conditions, evidence relating to tools and materials etc.) and integrates them in such a way as to provide an authoritative account of the complex processes involved in the commissioning of such fashionable furniture. The thesis not only helps us better understand furniture making in England and France at a structural level during this key period of transition but also provides an original and systematic approach to writing a history around such material cultures, demonstrating how important it is to the full(est) comprehension of history that such fashionable objects be understood. Where other frequently more privileged objects (written documents, paintings and sculptures etc.) have been seen to provide valuable historical insights, this thesis argues that fashionable furniture can now be seen to provide its own unique perspectives on the time and on the society in which it was created.
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