Bruce James Talbert was born in Dundee in1838, and was a prolific and influential furniture designer. Widely seen as one of the pioneers of the Aesthetic movement, he was a leader of the Reformed Gothic and Gothic Revival styles. His antique cabinets, chairs, tables and chests incorporated decorative carvings, chamfered edges and pierced and inlaid motifs, often with an ecclesiastical theme. Today, his elaborate Victorian dining chairs and wardrobes epitomise the “Art for art’s sake” ethos of the Victorian Aesthetes, and are widely sought at auction.
Talbert was initially employed as a woodcarver. This did not prove successful, and he left to work for the Dundee architect Charles Edward, designing the heraldic decorations for the newly built Kinnaird Hall. Shortly after this, he moved to Glasgow, then to Manchester where he worked as a cabinet maker. He then worked for Skidmore’s of Coventry; here he drew up designs for George Gilbert Scott’s Hereford Cathedral rood screen and Albert Memorial. In 1866 he moved to London, working on designs for the Paris Exhibition for Holland & Sons. This won him more commissions for ecclesiastical metalwork, as well as furniture for Gillows, and he wrote a book on Gothic design. However, his health suffered and he returned to Dundee.
Around 1870 he returned to London, working for Gillows, Cox & Co and the Coalbrookdale Iron Company as well as exhibiting at the Royal Academy. In 1873 he opened a shop in Gower Street with stained glass artist George Cook, later taking a house and studio in Euston Square with his wife. He published another book in 1876, but by now he was burdened with a prodigious number of commissions from Collinson & Lock , Marsh Jones & Cribb, Vaughan & Sons, Caleb Trapnell, Templetons Carpets and many others.
Talbert’s accolade was winning the Grand Prix at the 1878 Paris Exhibition, for his Jackson & Graham Juno Cabinet. Sadly, he was overcome by chronic overwork and alcoholism, dying at the age of just 43. However, his beautifully elaborate antique tables, chairs and sideboards can be found at auctions across Britain and Europe.