Edward William Godwin was amongst a group of British designers during the Victorian era who sought inspiration from the newly discovered Japanese design style. This was helped by the Convention of Kanagawa which opened up Japan to the rest of the world in 1854. Japanese design was increasingly viewed with admiration and this led to art, architecture and above all, furniture, being created using the techniques and styles from Japan.
E.W. Godwin was one of the leading proponents of this new style and this can be seen best in his Japanese style sideboard in the picture above. it has since become one of the most recognisable and famous piece of 19th Century furniture and at the time of writing resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It’s interesting to note that Godwin designed these Anglo-Japanese furniture pieces for both himself and for a few contacts of his such as the Mahony family who owned Dromore Castle in County Kerry, Ireland.
In many ways, Godwin and his fellow group of designers were attempting to get away from the ornate historical styles that were prevalent during the middle of the 19th Century. A spirit of the East was born in their work which covered furniture and also wallpaper design which was progressive in nature and found admirers in the form of Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer, and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.
The sideboard above is highly geometric in form with plain ebonised surfaces which were to have great appeal to 20th Century Modernists. A lacquered wood finish adds to the starkness of the furniture piece and brings the structure of the sideboard to the fore. Japanese leather paper has been added which further compliments the sideboard’s Anglo-Japanese nature.
If you are interested in 19th Century design and how the opening up of Japan influenced designers in Europe, then a biography of Edward William Godwin is certainly a great place to learn more. One such book I recommend is: E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer.