If one were asked to sum up in a few words the scope and purposes of Mr. Voysey's work, one might say that it consists mainly in the application of serenely sane, practical and rational ideas to home making.
The modern house, as represented by the average villa, is, from the rational and practical point of view, a tissue of absurdities. Its plan represents an attempt to realise, on a contracted scale, the ideal mansion. It is adorned with all kinds of so- called artistic furnishings; and, as a whole, it is insanitary and comfortless.
To those who have become inured to such houses it is not strange that a rationally designed dwelling should appear bizarre, affected and eccentric; and though in other arts — in that of literature for example — the merits of direct and simple statement are understood, in architecture we do not recognise the existence of art at all, unless all the obsolete and meaningless features of the past are added, as an outward screen, to a building in which they bear no structural significance.
Carlyle, in writing of the forms in which religious belief has expressed itself, states once for all the fundamental truth in this matter: "All substances clothe themselves in forms; but there are suitable true forms, and there are untrue, unsuitable. As the briefest definition one might say: Forms which grow round a substance, if we rightly understand that, will correspond to the real nature and purport of it, will be true, good; forms which are consciously put round a substance, bad. I invite you to reflect on this. It distinguishes true from false in ceremonial form; earnest solemnity from empty pageant in all human things."
The architects of the Renaissance initiated this bad method of consciously putting forms round the substance of their buildings: and this "shirtfront architecture" — as Mr. Voysey has called it — being originally practised by men of great genius, has proved a fatal precedent for our times. And so our Palaces of Peace and other public buildings are duly encased with all the superficial features which are held to constitute the Fine Art of Architecture, as opposed to mere vulgar building. To the rational mind all these fine buildings are mere confectionery, for every architectural form owes whatever grace or beauty it may possess to practical functions performed. In this respect the building is a creation, which may be justly compared to those of hature. The forms of the eye or the hand, the flower or the leaf, all are the outcome of certain definite function. Ahd so it must be with true architecture; and the inevitable and logical course for the modern architect is to get back to essential facts of structure, and leave the forms to develop naturally from that.
It is this which Mr. Voysey has done. His work is true. One may imagine that he has resolved that it shall at least be that, leaving the rest on the knees of the gods. To such resolves the gods are gracious, for the best qualities of a building are those w^hich are unconsciously obtained. When we build better, it is generally better than we know, and whatever beauty may be achieved is the unhoped-for reward of our labours.
The essential characteristic of Mr. Voysey's work is its absolute sincerity. The outward aspect of his buildmgs is comely because all is well with them within. So they seem to smile pleasantly upon us, instead of grinning through conventional masks replete with all the usual superficial features. And this beauty which is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," is a beauty of which we never tire, and which is above all the changing whims of fashion. Our modern public buildings, which are designed merely to impress the vulgar with histrionic and meaningless architectural features, fail even to achieve this unworthy aim; for nothing interests the modern man-in-thestreet so little as our modern buildings.
It is unfortunate that the best of photographs do not convey the subtle essence of a good building — the soul of the work which seems to breathe from the walls, and make the structure almost a living thing. To feel the charm of one of Mr. Voysey's houses you must visit the actual building, and you will always find it better than you had hoped. Every detail bears the mark of careful thought; everywhere there is the evidence of that selfsacrificing labour which is plainly expended — not for money, or even for fame, but merely for the love of the work for its own sake. Little is known by the general public probably of the methods by which an architect achieves his ends. To many it is a simple matter involving little personal care. The scheme originally hatched in the hotel smokingroom, or the club, is further developed by the office staff, while much is left to the builder. From such methods Mr. Voysey's work is far removed indeed! To look through a set of drawings for a house prepared by him, is to recognise, in every sheet, how all possibilities of error are eliminated by the most careful and conscientious forethought. The scheme is worked out on paper so fully and completely that it explains itself.
Only a real devotion to the work will inspire such indefatigable labour: and this is largely the cause of Mr. Voysey's success.
M. H. Baillie Scott.
Baillie-Scott, M. H. “On the Characteristics of Mr. C. F. A. Voysey's Architecture.” The Studio 42 (October 1907): 19-24.
“[E. J. Horniman's ‘Garden Corner’ designed by C. F. A. Voysey.]” The Studio 42 (October 1907): 24-25.
Last modified 26 December 2010