Leonard Wyburd (1865 – 1958) was one of Britain’s foremost Arts & Crafts furniture designers, integral in developing Liberty’s Furnishing and Decoration studio. His early antique bookcases, cabinets and chairs were Moorish in design, but by the 1890s he had developed an avant-garde style which was to revolutionise Europe. Leonard Wyburd’s antique chests, cabinets and Victorian dining chairs are beautiful, enduring and highly sought after at auction.
The son of painter Francis John Wyburd, Leonard began working for Liberty in 1883, when the Aesthetic style was at its zenith. He established a furniture and design studio, initially importing Oriental and Middle Eastern furniture – both highly popular at the time. The artistry of Arabic furniture inspired him to develop his own Moorish-style designs, which he created for smoking rooms, drawing rooms and Liberty’s own Arab-inspired tearooms. Wyburd’s designs became highly fashionable, establishing Liberty as a leading Arts & Crafts furniture manufacturer.
Leonard Wyburd’s furniture was light and elegant, often inlaid with Mushrebiyeh-style latticework inspired by Egypt. His rush-seated chairs, Arabic cabinets, camphor tables, sandalwood chests and stained glass windows were incorporated into elaborate Anglo-Arabic room sets, which were portrayed in watercolours – some of which Wyburd did himself. Writers of the period noted how the furniture sought to utilise the treasures of the East for everyday life in a way that was affordable to the middle-class as well as the wealthy.
In the late 1890s, Wyburd had developed a new style to run alongside his Moorish designs. This novel, avant-garde approach blended European Art Nouveau, English Arts and Crafts and mediaeval concepts, creating what became known as “Le Stile Liberty” in Paris (where Liberty had by now opened a showroom). Solidly constructed from oak, and referencing English vernacular forms, Wyburd’s nouveau pieces had a profound effect on French, German, Austrian and English furniture design. He opened his own premises in 1905.
Embellished with carvings and copper panels, adorned with ironwork, painted with curious mottos; Wyburd’s antique cabinets and bookcases epitomise all that is best about Liberty design.