The following essay has been adapted from Simon Jarvis's introduction to the gothic section of the 1972 Royal Academy exhibition of the Handley-Read collection. Click on the images to obtain more information, and to enlarge them. [GPL]
A. W. N. Pugin (1812-1852), designer; John Hardman & Company, Birmingham Manufacturer. Left: Pair of Candlesticks, 1844-5. Right: Dish. 1848.
At some point in the early eighteenth century comes the dividing line between Gothic Survival and Revival; by 1800, thanks to the well publicized efforts of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill and William Beckford at Fonthill, as well as a host of less celebrated figures, dilettantes, architects, and antiquaries, the Gothic mode was well established. . ..Their productions, which, even at their most archaeological, tend to have a pasteboard quality. . . . The reasons why Gothic, alone of the Early Victorian styles developed into a fully-fledged success are complex, but one major factor was the influence of Pugin himself, both as a passionate propagandist, a designer of genius, and an archaeologist who could breathe life into the dry bones of antiquarian discoveries. These gifts are visible in his own candlesticks and in the splendid charger he designed for his friend, Henry Benson . . .
Left: William Burges (1827-1881), designer. Dressing table, probably 1867. Right: G. E. Street (1824-1881), designer; Holland & Sons, Manufacturer. lllustrated Bookcase. 1865.
Even before his death in 1852, however, the ecclesiological establishment had withdrawn its approval from Pugin's 14th-century style, and had gradually come to recommend a reversal to the pure forms of the 13th. For the Gothic furniture designer this raised difficult problems of archaeology, and [thw work of] S. S. Teulon, celebrated as a rogue architect, represents an early and extreme solution. By the time of the London 1862 Exhibition, however, a Gothic furniture style had evolved whose ingredients [included] painted decoration, stump columns, chamfering, and geometrical inlay. . . notable are those designed by William Burges (see plate), and the austere but commanding bookcase by G. E. Street (see plate). The . . . commercial version of this Gothic style was marked by striking geometrical inlay.
William Burges, designer. Left: Tulip Vase, 1874 . Josiah Mendelson and George Angell, Silversmiths, manufacturers, Decanter
Burges's decanters and his tulip-vases present to some extent a metallic and ceramic equivalent to the furniture style of 1862, but their real importance is as splendid examples of his personal mixture of imagination and archaeology at its most rich and enjoyable. . . .
The Gothic style of secular decoration was a minority taste, and around 1870 it began to fade out, except in the work of Burges and a few others (its moral authority in the ecclesiological field continued to hold sway for much longer). The Handley-Read collection, however, shows it to have been not only important as a forcing house for original ideas, which were of seminal importance to the Arts and Crafts Movement, but also that it produced works the enjoyment of which, although their merits have not so far been widely recognized, needs no dialectical justification.
Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Art: The Handley-Read Collection. Ed. Simon Jarvis. London: Royal Academy, 1972.
Originally created in 1999
Last modified 15 October 2023