English Gothic Revival "Strawberry Hill" Painted Cabinet of Grand Scale, circa 1840
A stunning English Gothic Revival cabinet with the original painted finish and glass from England circa 1840. This is a superb and surprising example of the interest in the Gothic style that began in the 1830's and accelerated in popularity with the spread of the Industrial Revolution.
Please take a moment to gaze at the front of this cabinet and marvel at its resemblance to the entrance to Christ Church College at Oxford University called the Tom Tower designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). The top section of this exceptional cabinet follows the form to an almost exact degree.
The Gothic style of course originated with the grand cathedrals built across Europe beginning in the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries. These structures were notable for their astounding ability to transform what had been dark and dreary interiors into a sparkling and light filled space. During the eighteen hundreds the first designs for domestic interiors adorned with Gothic details began to appear and in Thomas Chippendale's amazing collection of designs published as the "The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director" (1754) there are drawings for furniture including the lines of the Gothic style. Perhaps the most influential admirer of the Gothic Revival style in England was Horace Walpole and his architectural and interior ode to the Gothic in his home known as "Strawberry Hill".
This structure was just two hours carriage ride west of London and was considered a country plaything and retreat by Walpole. He filled it, extended it and continued to add pieces to his collection all with a connection to the Gothic. It was by no means a pure evocation of the Gothic as he was after an atmospheric recreation.
During the nineteenth century the greatest champion of the Gothic was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin who most famous commission was the clock tower known as "Big Ben" and the Palace of Westminster after they had been destroyed by fire. As the most famous devotee of Gothic in nineteenth century England Pugin's influence cannot be underestimated.
These enormous structures fanned the flames of public interest in the Gothic period and a Revival soon began that encompassed all items for the home interior from wall coverings and fabric to individual pieces of furniture. This grand bookcase/display cabinet showcases the architectural elements that identify it as Gothic beginning with the peak at the top formed from the point where the two sides rise from the base and meet at the peak.
Please notice that these vertical elements are actually comprised of three columns bound together so they rise as one piece. As they reach the top the timber is shaped to make a curve that then splits to reach a peak at the top as well as reaching downward to make a point between the pair of doors. This four sided section that is recessed because of the volume of the triple columns is known as a "quatrefoil" after the original French term meaning "four leaf".
Please notice how this design with its four points relates stylistically to the points enclosing the recessed panels in the pair of cabinet doors in the base of the cabinet. Where the three sided columns meet at the top they are finished with a horizontal ledge that continues to the back of the piece in a perpendicular line. The sides of the upper section slope in a dramatic yet graceful manner that follows the same profile of the columnar outline and then become vertical as the sides of the cabinet straighten out to stand upon the base. The pair of cabinet doors in the upper section both have an arched top and are both set within the framing triple columns.
Please look closely at the top of each door to see the original pane of glass etched with an inverted trefoil. This area in each door is possible because the central vertical glazing bar diverges at the top of each door to form this distinctive shape. The doors are also divided with a horizontal glazing bar and the strong vertical and horizontal line provide a great deal of interesting contrast with the curved lines seen elsewhere in the cabinet. In addition, the split at the top in each vertical glazing bar makes a pair of true Gothic arches in each cabinet door that balance the centre peak in a most pleasing way. All of the glazing bars enclose the original antique glass with its customary rippled surface that gives such a distinctive reflection as the eye passes over its surface and reveals the adjustable shelves on the interior.
The symmetry of the carved embellishments of the glazing bars is quite noticeable and their three pointed design reinforces the trefoil seen in the etched glass as well as the point of the Gothic arches at the apex of each door. Behind each door there are three shelves that may be easily changed to accommodate a collection of books or objects in any combination desired.
The upper section has a beautifully elongated scale to it and this is enhanced by the low cabinet upon which it sits. The base is both wider and deeper than the top and this change in scale gives a sense of permanence and solidity to the overall appearance of the entire cabinet. The top edge of the base has a moulded edge that steps back as it frames the cabinet section and this is echoed by the plinth base upon which the entire cabinet stands with its curved bullnose profile to the moulding.
The pair of cabinet doors in the base are wider than they are tall and this horizontal configuration gives even more visual emphasis to the height of the upper cabinet. Each door is divided into two rectangular sections defined by a symmetrical moulding around the entire perimetre of the recessed interior panel that is a variation on the moulding seen on the upper doors. The change in profile from the flat sides and front of the lower section to the balanced movement of this moulding gives a visual weight that enhances the impression of the top cabinet. Both of these cabinet doors open to reveal an interior storage space.
This cabinet retains its original painted finish to the exterior and shows no sign of ever having a stained exterior. The warmth of the creamy white paint is a marvelous enhancement to the carved surface details and was meant to recreate the feeling of the grey and cream coloured stone used in the construction of Gothic structures.
This extraordinary cabinet was originally created for a luxurious country house in the county of Gloucestershire most famously known as being the location of Highgrove House, the home of Charles, the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
In the twenty-first century this cabinet retains its singular impact and the design of an entire room could easily be inspired by the choice of this cabinet as the focal point.
WIDTH: 63 in | HEIGHT: 113 in | DEPTH: 24 in
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