It would be difficult to make a case for the English 18th century chair as any singular paradigm for the development of style, but that it was continually reflective of contemporary taste there is no question.
With England’s wresting of exclusive trade with the Far East from the Dutch, significantly more, and significantly cheaper, export type items made their way into the English market. The increased prevalence of Chinese screens, bits of small furniture, and lacquer ware made orientalia an affordable vogue by the middle of the 18th century. This mid-18th century mahogany lattice back chair, though of a vaguely oriental appearance, is thoroughly in the mainstream of English fashion, derived from a published design of Thomas Chippendale. Parenthetically, I have to admit to my gentle readers that, when we acquired this chair a number of years ago, it was with particular excitement. It is with the passing of time and our experience in the business that we have seen enough examples of these chairs, including innumerable late 19th century Chippendale revival pieces, to know that this is and was an extremely popular model. At the time, the chair made such an impression on us that we reproduced the Chippendale design in our trade card, a design we maintain to this day.
If we can frame stylistic trends in terms of a dialectic, as the reaction from the rococo begat the neo-classical, so the reaction from far eastern exoticism begat Gothicism. Simplistic, but not entirely inaccurate, n’est-ce pas? So in the very teeth of exoticism, chairs began to reflect a truly endemic national style. It’s interesting to consider that the high style Gothic tracery of the back splat and the linen-fold carving to the legs are all rendered upon exotic mahogany timber. How, I wonder, would Horace Walpole and his Committee of Taste rationalize this? That said, it is pretty generally accepted that that efflorescence of Georgian Gothicism, Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, is very much more a confection than it is any focused attempt at recapturing England’s medieval past.
Given Walpole’s extradinary breadth of both wealth, intellect and personal experience, it is unreasonable to assume all these wouldn’t significantly inform his aesthetic. And, of course, that England was paramount in its worldwide political, economic, and military hegemony, it is not then surprising to find pervasive internationalism in high style, certainly amongst that which found particuar appeal for the quality. One reads occasionally of manifestations of le gôut anglaise in Paris, but no one can possibly maintain that Paris was not the preeminent centre of fashion, with London a nearly slavish mimic. Though constructed with the utmost skill by John Linnell, it would be futile to claim that this pair of George III giltwood armchairs were anything other than French inspired.