While Queen Anne herself is described as being quite homely, Queen Anne furniture is anything but. Light on its feet and its decoration, Queen Anne furniture has delicately curved cabriole legs, pad feet, and upholstered cushions, and gracefully restrained surface ornamentation.
Here we give Queen Anne furniture the royal treatment with a brief history of the style and its reigning characteristics.
Queen Anne furniture is also referred to as late Baroque or early Georgian and it blends several influences including Baroque, Classical, and Asian. The style first emerged in Britain during the reign of William III (1698-1702) and Queen Anne (1702-1714) but the name ‘Queen Anne,’ which was applied in retrospect more than a century late, is mainly used to describe the decorative style of furniture in America from the 1720s to 1760s.
The Queen Anne style coincided with the increased immigration of skilled British craftsmen to the colonies. In addition to importing English furniture to affect English taste, colonists also imported skilled joiners and cabinetmakers. Across the eastern seaboard, colonist craftsmen produced refined and perfected models of the most fashionable furniture in England.
Boston was the principal center of the furniture industry in the early 1700s and elements of the Queen Anne style were first seen in Boston-produced furniture—particularly chairs—by the 1720s. They were more delicate and less stiff in appearance than the furniture of preceding eras, and the S-curved chair back mimicked the shape of the spine and expressed a greater interest in comfort.
By the 1730s, Queen Anne-style chairs had a vase-shaped splat, yoke-shaped top rail, upholstered seat, and S-curved cabriole legs. Philadelphia craftsmen followed their Bostonian counterparts and produced Queen Anne-style seating with even more elaborately curved lines and an emphasis on negative space.
The curving cabriole leg is the most distinctive feature of Queen Anne furniture. Craftsmen elegantly applied it to chairs, tables, desks, cabinets, and chests, and more often that not it graciously culminated in a pad or trifid foot.
Queen Anne furniture has an emphasis on line and form. Case pieces can be seen with a broken-scroll pediment, while tables and desks have scalloped shell skirts. Surface decoration was kept to a minimum with carved or relief acanthus, scallop, shell, and scroll-shaped motifs to highlight curves.
Not all Queen Anne furniture was light on decoration, with some having japanned surfaces. Japanning was a Western technique developed to imitate Eastern lacquer work and it featured elaborate and imagined scenes of life in the Far East.
Furniture forms responded to the needs of modern life in the 18th century. Tea tables came to the fore, catering to the custom of social tea drinking, while tilt-top and hinged drop-leaf tables saved space, and smaller and lighter furniture could be more easily moved.
The roundabout chair—or corner chair—in the Queen Anne style also proved popular during the first half of the 18th century, with its rounded square seat neatly nesting in corners and behind desks.
Walnut was the wood of choice in both Britain and America. In England, it superseded the popularity of oak and, in the colonies, it was often stained to resemble imported Caribbean mahogany. Secondary woods included poplar, cherry, and maple.
Queen Anne furniture is elegant and graceful, designed with a greater concern for comfort. Take a look at the selection on The HighBoy for more Queen Anne furniture: