The Victoria and Albert Museum is running an exhibition until July 17th tracing the history of the Aesthetic movement. A short but exciting chapter in the history of Arts & Crafts furniture, one of its proponents was William Morris, who with his contemporaries had an untenable link with Cumbria.
From the antique dining tables of Hutton-in-the-forest to the stained glass windows of Lanercost Priory, William Morris and his associates are part of the fabric of Cumbria. Victorian dining chairs by E.W Godwin, and fabrics and tapestries from the Morris studios, are just two of the treats awaiting visitors making the trek into London, but how do his fabrics equate to the Mediaeval fantasies of artists like Rossetti?
In fact, William Morris’ style crossed a unique divide between flamboyant aestheticism and Arts & Crafts simplicity. He was first and foremost a textile designer, but had an immense impact on furniture design. Lancashire at the time was, like much of the North East, an industrial quagmire, with factories churning out mass-produced furniture of inferior quality. He yearned for a return to the days of honest mediaeval craftsmanship, which ordinary Victorian people could enjoy in their homes. Although this was an unsustainable viewpoint (his furniture was so costly to produce that only the rich could afford it) his Mediaeval-inspired designs and need to escape from an Industrialised Britain was parallel to what the Aesthetic artists were trying to achieve with their mythological paintings.
If you are looking for Aesthetic furniture in Cumbria, Victorian dining chairs upholstered in Morris fabric, and ebonised antique desks decorated with floral inlays are both symbolic of the style, and can be found at many Preston antique dealers.
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