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ome of the most beautiful and important English furniture of the 18th century was produced during Queen Anne's reign. The daughter of James II and the sister of Mary, her predecessor to the throne, Queen Anne reigned from 1702 to 1714. The furniture of this period is refined and tasteful in its elegance and simplicity.

An antique English, handsome burl walnut chest on chest having a walnut veneered cornice with canted fluted corners and crossbanded and featherbanded drawers with ebonized decoration. Standing on bracket feet. Handles not original. Circa 1710.

A substantial proportion of the fine furniture made during the reign of Queen Anne was of walnut veneer. Walnut trees were harvested in the south of England, or imported from Europe, primarily France. Matching and contrasting veneers were very costly and in high demand for case and seat furniture. The highly figured walnut veneers come from the crotch and burrs of the tree. The burrs of a walnut tree are the large malformations made when an irritation or an injury forms a contorted and gnarly mass of dense woody tissue. Cabinetmakers took great care in prominently placing the highly figured veneer with the best colour. The highly figured veneers were used on the top and front of a case piece while the plainer, less expensive veneer was used on the sides where it was less noticeable. On most pieces from this period, veneer placement was the only decorative feature. Tops and fronts of tables or chests could be quarter veneered, crossbanded, and featherbanded. The result, especially if executed in matched colorful veneer, is truly a work of art. Over time, elements such as wear and care, dirt, wax, and sun all contribute to the piece's patina.

Antique English Queen Anne burl walnut toilet mirror with three crossbanded and
featherbanded drawers standing on bracket feet. Circa 1710.

Prior to the Queen Anne period, the furniture produced in England had a definite Dutch influence. This was due in part from trade with Holland, but mostly resulted from King William's 1689 arrival in England with his court to take over the reins of government. Continental craftsmen, taste, designs, and culture accompanied the King. As a result, marquetry, parquetry and oyster veneer were popular. The Dutch-influenced English furniture of the late 17th century was heavy and highly decorated compared to the style to emerge under Queen Anne’s reign.

During the Queen Anne period, walnut pieces became more refined and distinctly English in style. The better pieces had drawer linings of oak and very fine dovetailing. Quality was constantly being improved. Pieces from this period were restrained in ornamentation and pleasing in proportion; the age of marquetry was on the decline.

Superb antique English Queen Anne burl walnut kneehole desk with quarter veneered crossbanded top and drawer fronts with matched ends and original handles. Circa 1710.

Around the beginning of the period, the “cabriole” leg was introduced. Curved and of solid walnut, the knees of the cabriole leg can be plain or carved with a scallop shell, tassel, or more rarely, honeysuckle decoration. Legs can end in a graceful trifid, slipper or pad foot. Veneered vase shaped chair backs were curved for fluidity and comfort. Balloon seats with veneered aprons were introduced. The curved walnut moulding that was previously attached to the case moved onto the edge of the drawers. The walnut veneered bracket foot replaced the solid walnut “bun” foot of the previous period.

As a result, furniture made during the very short Queen Anne period, which is so adaptable to our modern ways of life, commands a premium in the marketplace. Yet, after viewing fine quality English Queen Anne walnut furniture, the viewer will understand why.

Malcolm Franklin, Inc. specializes in 17th and 18th century English furniture and accessories with an emphasis on early oak and walnut pieces. The gallery is located at 34 East Oak Street, Chicago, IL 60611; tel. 312.337.0202.

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