When the Dutch William III and his wife Mary II overthrew King James II in the 1688 Glorious Revolution, their victory signaled not only the end to the tensions that existed between the British Crown and Parliament, but also the beginning of a new era of decorative arts. William’s Protestant beliefs opened the door for Dutch, Flemish and French craftsmen to settle in England. These gifted artisans began to work with local cabinetmakers to incorporate their techniques and decorative forms to create a distinctive style of furniture known as William and Mary.
Though the reign of William and Mary lasted only 13 years from 1689-1702, the furnishings created during this period are unlike any before or since. Characterized by the use of rare woods, dramatic veneers and inlays, and bold carved elements, William and Mary furnishings represented a more refined way of living, replacing cumbersome, over-the-top pieces of furniture from the previous decades.
A shining example is this stunning Oysterwood Chest. Thin slices of walnut and olive are precisely placed in a painstaking process to form a distinctive parquetry pattern that resembles oyster shells. The bun feet are also hallmarks of William and Mary-era furniture. As taste changed, it was not uncommon for square brackets to replace the original bun feet, making this chest even more desirable. Remarkable foliate inlay envelops this stunning Marquetry Bureau, effectively illustrating the bourgeoning taste of the period to blend form and function. When in use, this cabinet’s fitted interior and leather-lined writing surface make it an optimal workspace, while the exotic inlay and veneering make this furnishing a true work of art.
The reign of William and Mary was undoubtedly a turning point in the realms of politics and the arts. Their adoption of the English Bill of Rights ushered in an era of political freedoms that would even influence the American cause for independence, and their employment of talented artists from throughout the Continent introduced a new layer of refinement and elegance to the decorative arts. Today the furnishings from this period are extremely rare and highly collectible, and examples that demonstrate extreme care over the centuries are especially desirable.
See the rest of M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of antique furniture.