Although a short period of time in history, during Queen Anne’s reign two monumental events occurred sealing her significance in history. Firstly there was the ‘Acts of Union of 1707’ in which England and Scotland merged, forming the beginning of the United Kingdom. Secondly, there was the end of the War of Spanish Succession, and within the government there was the development of the two party system, with the Tories and Whigs competing for political power.
The Queen Anne era was dominated by stories of her personal struggles and strife, as a mother, her ailing health and the relationships she had with those around her. This included her closest confidant, Lady Sarah Churchill, who was deemed her political advisor and greatly guided Queen Anne during her reign as monarch.
European influences such as Baroque design moulded architecture and interiors during this period. Theatrical and dramatic, it was an exhibition of wealth, supremacy and status. Furniture design, however, was far more practical and simplistic in many ways as tables and chairs became smaller and lighter than ever before. This was to suit the social practices of this age, including the custom of drinking tea, a habit that Queen Anne became well known for. Chairs needed to be easily moved around, as well as comfortable for long periods of sitting down, so the structural wood was lighter and cushioned upholstery was added for comfort. There was the introduction of china cabinets and smaller pieces such as the secretary desk. These items were often raised on legs and included elaborate details such as marquetry, veneers and lacquer work. Within furniture making, walnut was the primary wood used, replacing oak from previous times.
A successor to Sir Christopher Wren, Hawksmoor was a crucial architect during this time with his work embodying the originality and theatrics of the Queen Anne era. Christ Church, Spitalfields is a platform for his style, with the huge tower and forceful presence. There is symmetry and proportion in the architectural details, the rectangular imagery and sharp lines that form the front columns.
A gift to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough (the husband of Lady Sarah Churchill) as a thank you for his victory in the Battle of Blenheim 1704, Blenheim Palace is remarkable and a grand building and interior. But its construction did not come without difficulty and struggles. Famed figure Sir John Vanbrugh was brought on to design this palace, even though his history was as a dramatist. An immense and monumental structure, with grand state rooms that were three storey’s high and theatrically vivid interiors. Following on with a Baroque influence, the palace showcased wealth, hierarchy and power. Iconic woodcarver Grinling Gibbons created elaborate designs within the palace, and there was innovative stone details added as well as magnificent furniture pieces. Elaborate decorations, art work and décor, it was a feat of impressive design and creativity.
However, Vanbrugh was not Lady Sarah Churchill’s first choice for architect and designer, and this threw the works into issues early on. This was then followed by the dissolution of Queen Anne and Sarah’s friendship in 1710, and subsequently the building works ceased. The palace had been funded by the Queen, but after their friendship collapsed, the Duke was forced to finish completion. Nicholas Hawksmoor was recruited and the project finally ended in 1722.
Despite the problems endured during the building of the palace, it is still considered an exquisite and remarkable feat of its time, demonstrating the fundamentals of interior design during the Queen Anne era.
THE QUEEN ANNE CHAIR
An iconic piece of furniture of the this time, the Queen Anne chair featured a curved back to support a person’s spine and an extra element of relaxation added with the drop-in cushion. Symbolic of the importance of comfort and luxury during this era, the curved and rounded shapes and ‘splat’ back are cleverly designed to feel far more comfortable than previous design styles. Another significant feature of the chair was the S curves of the legs and feet, specifically identified as the ‘cabriole’ legs. The cabriole leg was a key design feature of this era. Not only used on the Queen Anne chair, a curved and sinuous shape that was also utilised on chair legs, table legs and raised cabinets such as the ‘highboy’ and ‘lowboy’ examples here.