Musée d'Orsay: Edward William Godwin Armchair

Edward William Godwin

Edward William Godwin (1833-1886)
Circa 1880
Mahogany (?) varnished black, fabric
H. 79; W. 39.5; D.53.5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


Fauteuil [Armchair]

The Aesthetic Movement, which attracted the English upper classes in the years 1870-1880, did not produce a uniform style. Rather it promoted the creation of an elegant environment where eclectic elements mixed happily with archaeological and exotic models. Just like the painter, Whistler, and the writer, Oscar Wilde, Godwin was one of the initiators of this movement, in reaction to the strong rationalist influence of the Gothic Revival.

Godwin's furniture design makes an unusual contrast with the more rustic creations favoured by the Arts and Crafts movement, and is distinguished by its sobriety and its refinement of "Anglo-Japanese" style. But Japan was not the only source of inspiration for Godwin. From 1880, in his sketchbooks, he increasingly noted chair designs used in ancient Egypt or ancient Greece, and used them to create a small series of furniture pieces which he himself called "Greek furniture". Yielding to archaeological temptation, he accentuated the outlines and covered the black wood with an incised decoration. However in the models of several later chairs, of freer design, he achieved a beautiful synthesis of Japonism and the Neo-grec style. This elegant armchair, from a rare design, belongs to this later period which marked the end of his work as a designer.

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