Queen Anne style furniture : A unique and popular style of antique furniture

Walnut and burr walnut veneer side chair attributed to Giles Grendey, London, c. 1740 (Art Institute of Chicago). Author: Daderot. CC0.

Queen Anne style furniture dates back to the early 1700s. It started to develop during the rule of King William III and continued its development during the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain (1702–1714), from whom it got its royal name, first applied around a century after it became fashionable. It remained popular when George I became King. In America, Queen Anne style started to gain popularity at the beginning of the 1720s and was particularly favored in Boston. The production of furniture in this Colonial (pre-Revolution) style lasted until the 1800s.

In England, the Queen Anne style was inspired by the Dutch style which was popular and fashionable due to the influence of Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary, when they became King and Queen of Great Britain in 1689. As the furniture of the gracious Dutch style was gaining more attention, English craftsman learned the foreign techniques, but also developed their own skills and created a distinctly English style. The craftsmen’s skills were improved with the translations of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture (1570). In that period, the room sizes were much smaller and the pieces of furniture weren’t as big as they used to be. Also, during this period Queen Anne introduced the custom of social tea drinking, so the production of small movable chairs and tables was necessary.

The period has been called “the age of walnut” because a lot of Queen Anne style pieces were primarily crafted from walnut, but cherry and maple were also used, as too were ash, cedar, pine, beech, and tulip. Mahogany was favored around 1750. It was usually imported from the Caribbean and often used in the port cities.

Queen Anne furniture in the Governor’s Council Chamber of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The chairs are attributed to William Savery. Author: Artico2. CC BY-SA 3.0.

This new style, sometimes described as Late Baroque or Early Georgian, was a mix of Baroque, Classical, and Asian influences. Queen Anne furniture is smaller, lighter, and more comfortable than the Dutch inspired William and Mary styling and its other predecessors. Its features are subtle decoration, delicacy, and curvilinear shapes.  Perhaps the most well-known characteristic of Queen Anne furniture is the Cabriole legs. They were designed as an imitation of an animal’s leg and were also very practical.

Walnut and burr walnut veneer side chair attributed to Giles Grendey, London, c. 1740 (Art Institute of Chicago). Author: Daderot. CC0.

The decorative elements in Queen Anne style furniture were often minimal. However, the notable exception to the rule was the use of japanning. This technique copied Asian lacquer-work and the colors used for the decorations were red, green, or gilt on a blue-green field. The materials used for the seats of the furniture were silk damask, wool, and printed cotton, sometimes leather, as well as needle- or crewelwork, decorated with pictorial designs. The Queen Anne Chair is very popular today, as it was back then. Another representative of this period is the Windsor chair.

Queen Anne dressing table with cabriole legs. Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1730-1750.

Queen Anne style furniture had a revival in 1860 when the Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw and many other British architects abandoned some characteristics of the Classical Revival styles popular at the time and developed a new, yet old style, that they called “Queen Anne.”

The revival of Queen Anne furnishings was influenced by the increasingly popular Aesthetic Movement and the design principles supported by the English painter, writer, and architect Charles Lock Eastlake. The furniture was made of walnut or oak wood with simple, straight lines and restrained decoration. Queen Anne Revival furniture is often described as a mixed confusion of styles that pre-date and post-date the 18th-century original.

High Chest with Scrolled Pediment and Shell Carving, Queen Anne style furniture. Author: Ashley Van Haeften. CC BY 2.0.

Since the colonial period, many reproductions have been manufactured in the Queen Anne style. Although some of them are true antiques now, when compared to the early Queen Anne style pieces, the finely crafted details are missing. Nowadays, the Queen Anne influence is still present in formal furniture design and manufacturing. The cabriole legs and pad feet are combined with other design elements for a remarkable, modern look with a touch of the traditional. Queen Anne furniture style was eventually overshadowed by the Chippendale style. Late Queen Anne and early Chippendale pieces share very similar characteristics, and the two styles are often hard to distinguish.