Edward William Godwin - Design Masters New York Monday, December 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Lancashire, UK

  • Exhibited

    ‘The Best of British, Design from the 19th and 20th Centuries, The Selling Exhibition’, Sotheby’s and Paul Reeves, London, March 14–20, 2008

  • Literature

    William Watt, Art Furniture from Designs by E.W. Godwin, London, 1877, pl. 6 for a drawing of a similar example
    Paul Reeves, ‘The Anglo-Japanese Buffet by E W Godwin, Variations on and Developments of a Design’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present, London, no. 18, 1994, 36-40 for similar examples and an essay
    Susan Weber Soros, ed., E.W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer, exh. cat., The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decoratives Arts, New York, 1999, pp. 239, 241 for similar examples
    Susan Weber Soros, The Secular Furniture of E.W. Godwin with Catalogue Raisonné, pp. 176-83 for similar examples
    'The Best Of British, Design From The 19th And 20th Centuries, The Selling Exhibition', Sotheby’s and Paul Reeves, London, 2008, illustrated pp. 46-49

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is one of ten known examples of the sideboard designed by Edward William Godwin in the Anglo-Japanese manner in the twenty following his move from Bristol to London in 1865. Seven of these examples—each with variations in construction, fittings, and decoration— are in the permanent collections of the following institutions: Bristol Museums and Art Gallery, Bristol; Die Neue Sammlung, Staatlisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Munich; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The National Trust, Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton; The Florida International University, Miami Beach; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Aside from the present lot, two other examples remain in private collections, including one with glazed doors in the upper cupboards and an eight-legged sideboard also bearing a William Watt stamp. This latter example was on extended loan to the Museum of Modern Art, New York from 1984 to 1995.

    Edward William Godwin was a 19th-century British architect, designer, teacher, critic, and theater producer—in short an ‘aesthetic polymath’,
    as author Lionel Lambourne has called him. Godwin’s progressive temperament was reflected in his willingness to embrace a wide range
    of influences including Japanese and Chinese culture, Shakespeare, Jacobean and earlier Gothic antecedents, and ancient Greece. Godwin’s
    significance rests in part on his ability to distill the achievements of his forebears into a succinct, refined aesthetic. This concentration of influence in service to a new style is characterized by the present lot, an early example of his ‘Anglo-Japanese’ sideboards, the known examples of which each bear variations on a central theme, as described by Godwin: “… such effect as I wanted gained by the mere grouping of solid and void and by more or less broken outline,” (Edward William Godwin, ‘MyChambers and
    what I did to them’, The Architect, vol. XVI, July 1, 1876, pp.4–5).

    Godwin’s contemporaries and associates reflected his own progressive temperament and his influence and willingness to embrace the aesthetics of Japanese culture. Godwin was a friend of the artist James McNeill Whistler, who in 1877 commissioned by him to build a house on Tite Street in Chelsea, London (the house was eventually demolished in 1968). One year later in 1878, again on the same street, Godwin was commissioned by another artist, Frank Miles, to build a house where Miles was to live with Oscar Wilde. Ten years prior to this commission, Godwin, then a widower, had met the famous English Shakespearean stage actress Ellen Terry. They were to have two children, daughter Edith Craig and son Edward Gordon Craig, both of whom were to become prolific and influential figures in the theatre world.

    The public were first able to view examples of Japanese art at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London. Godwin had an innate understanding of this style, which became known as the Anglo-Japanese style. This understanding is clearly demonstrated in these sideboards,
    such as the one on offer here. The words of one critic effectively sum up the universal opinion of these works: “ [Godwin] is now best remembered for his radical and inventive Anglo-Japanese designs for furniture and interior decoration; the buffet in question being generally acknowledged as his masterpiece” (Paul Reeves, ‘The Anglo-Japanese Buffet by E W Godwin, Variations on and Developments of a Design’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present, London, no. 18, 1994, p.36). Godwin executed the design to meet with his own personal criteria. As
    he himself explained: “When I came to the furniture I found that hardly anything could be bought ready made that was at all suitable to the requirements of the case. I therefore set to work and designed a lot of furniture, and with a desire for economy,” (‘My Chambers and what I did
    to them’, 1876, pp.4–5). Devoid of ponderous carving, Godwin created an elegant and economical design stripping all inessential detailing to create a purely functional and utilitarian piece of furniture. He continued: “The construction is as light as is consistent with the strength required, and effect is obtained more by play of light and shade than by costliness of ornament. There is abundance of room, and yet some to spare, for all the different articles that usually belong to a sideboard.” Godwin’s statement reads almost like Le Corbusier’s Modernist axiom: “Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light” (Frederick Etchells, ed., Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, London, 1927, p.29).

    The intellectual principle driving the design is eclectic yet not derivative and embraces physical function, allowing practical and social
    purpose to take precedence. Seeing this transition from Medieval and Victorian decoration to a more modern style in the pages of the William
    Watt catalogue (Art Furniture designed by Edward W. Godwin FSA and manufactured by William Watt, catalogue, 21 Grafton Street, Gower Street, London, 1877, n.p.), Herman Muthesius, who has written extensively on English design and architecture, states that Godwin’s work “does in fact show a great advance: lightness and elegance have replaced the heaviness of the earlier Gothic, foreshadowing the idea of the modern interpretation which was soon to follow. Godwin was wide open to the Japanese influence that was circulating at the time and even produced ‘Anglo Japanese’ furniture” (The English House, London, 1979, p.157). The illustrations in the Watt catalogue show multiple variations of the sideboard’s design, and, considering the number produced and the fitness of the design to its purpose, we can be certain that Godwin
    believed it to be a working success. The distinctive side wings and the surface-mounted hinges are not embellished but remain purely
    functional, and the ring-pull latched handles have pierced keyhole shaped back plates. Resolving the dichotomy of surface and structure,
    the sideboard houses cupboards, drawers, an internal drawer, display area and work surface, all of which manage to emphasize the rectilinear
    and linear, solids and voids. The functional arrangements form the language that makes up much of Modernist design and these values are what define the beauty of the object. As Clive Wainwright has written, “Most of the ideas which have contributed both to the formulation and the practical application of the principles of the Modern Movement in architecture and design have their origins in the nineteenth century” (‘The Legacy of the Nineteenth Century’, Modernism In Design, London, 1990, p.26).



Rare early sideboard

circa 1867
Ebonized wood, brass.
61 1/8 x 95 5/8 x 23 1/4 in (155.4 x 243 x 59 cm) fully extended
Produced by William Watt, UK. Back of lower cupboard with maker’s enameled metal label ‘WILLIAM WATT/FURNITURE WAREHOUSE/LONDON. W.C. GOWER ST’.

$500,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $482,500

Design Masters

11 December 2012
New York