Edward William Godwin (1833–1886), an architect, designer and theatrical producer, was also a writer and critic identified with the British design reform movement of the 1860s forward. He was a designer for many of London’s furniture and applied-arts manufacturers, working in a number of historical styles from the ancient world to the Gothic, Jacobean and the vernacular. He had begun to study Japanese art in the 1850s, immersing himself in the collections of Japanese objects that were flooding into Britain and being celebrated at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
His development of an Anglo-Japanese style for furniture, objects and interior design reflected this rising interest in Japanese art and
design that from the 1860s informed the design attitudes and theories
of the Aesthetic Movement. His architectural work included the design of studio houses, along with furniture and interior design for artists, including a house for James McNeill Whistler in 1878.
Godwin’s originality is seen in this Anglo-Japanese style tea table with asymmetrical folding shelves. Its overall scale and structure, and intended use, reflect the neoclassical Sheraton style of the eighteenth century. Its detailing and organisation of structural design elements, however, show the influence of Japanese tea‑room aesthetics and reveal his understanding of the semiotics of such objects in Japanese and English homes—both of which are sites for the formal consumption of tea and the elegant display of its tableware, implements and furnishings. It shows his concerns for simplicity and cleanliness in design, with few extraneous decorative features. Like his contemporary Christopher Dresser and designers that would follow him at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Godwin’s work shows a commitment to utility and functionality.
This table is from a group Godwin designed between 1872 and 1874 for the London manufacturer Collinson and Lock. This firm was noted for its high-quality goods, ‘art furniture’ and refined catalogue of objects in the Japanese style.
Robert Bell AM Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 69, autumn 2012