WE ASKED CURATORS OF LEADING TWENTIETH-CENTURY AND CONTEMPORARY DESIGN COLLECTIONS TO DISCUSS ONE OBJECT THAT THEY FEEL IS PARTICULARLY NOTEWORTHY. HERE IS A GALLERY OF THEIR CHOICES.
THIS TABLE WAS DESIGNED about 1872 by the pre-eminent architect and aesthetic movement designer Edward William Godwin, an early adopter of Japonism. Godwin was part of a circle of British architects, artists, and writers, among them James McNeil Whistler and Oscar Wilde, who promoted Japonism in the arts in the latter part of the nineteenth-century. The table’s asymmetrical shelves, fretwork stretchers, and proportions are characteristic of Japanese design, though the folding top owes its heritage to historical English models as well as to Godwin’s own earlier furniture designs. It was probably made by Collinson and Lock, one of the renowned English cabinetmaking firms of the late nineteenth century and a frequent Godwin collaborator. The table is often illustrated in discussions of Anglo- Japonism and the aesthetic period, alongside a drawing for it in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. That familiarity mistakenly gives the impression that the model was common. However, only seven, including the museum’s, are known today in public and private collections. Godwin produced the table in mahogany, walnut, and ebonized versions, some of which feature other decorative features such as brass fittings or boxwood inlay.
Sara and Bill Morgan Curator of
Decorative Arts, Craft, and Design
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston