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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Corner Cabinet

Photo: Graham Light LBIPP
ID Image from gallery 9/18/2013

Corner Cabinet

ca. 1875

E. W. Godwin

English, 1833-1886

As an architect, designer, antiquary, and theatrical producer, Edward William Godwin was one of the originators of the Aesthetic movement, active in Britain from the 1860s to 1880s. Its proponents, including James McNeill Whistler and Oscar Wilde, followed the dictum “art for art’s sake.” They believed that the arts should provide refined pleasure rather than convey socio-political morals, as touted by reformers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Godwin is credited with originating and popularizing an Anglo-Japanese aesthetic within the British design reform movement of the second half of the 19th century and his works are considered major icons of the period. Recognized as a forerunner of the Modern movement, his streamlined, functional designs influenced numerous artistic enterprises that followed, such as Peter Behrens and the Deutsche Werkbund, the Wiener Werkstätte, and the Bauhaus.

Godwin decried “fluff and dust,” opting instead to meld the clean, linear lines of Japanese furniture with the neoclassical style of the mid- to late-18th century. This is seen to perfection in the taut elegance of this cabinet, which also incorporates features such as a gleaming ebonized finish (to resemble lacquer), the “shōji” lintel, the Japanese-style painting on the decorative panels and the ringed brass handles.

Godwin designed at least three corner cabinets for the firm of Collinson & Lock in 1873, one of which was later exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878. No exact drawings of these cabinets are recorded. Comparison in form can be made between this cabinet and sketches of corner cabinets in his earlier Gothic revival style as seen in Godwin’s sketchbooks, which are now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In addition, his drawings for the “shōji” lintel, and flower design featured on this cabinet, the quality finish, the high-style metal fittings, the elevation of the bottom shelf, the thin proportions, and the arched side brackets are all typical of his collaboration with Collinson & Lock.
Ebonized mahogany with painted decoration, painted and gilded Japanese leather paper panels, brass handles and shoes, and mirror glass
88 1/2 × 40 × 27 in. (224.8 × 101.6 × 68.6cm)
Mary Lou and Frank E. Everett, Jr. Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund and the Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts in honor of Julie Emerson
Provenance: Private collection, Toronto, Canada, probably from 1970s (the cabinet bears a label from a well-known shipper/exporter active in the 1970s, so it is thought to have gone from the U.K. to Canada at that time); [Paul Reeves, London, by 2013]
Photo: Graham Light LBIPP
Not currently on view


Published ReferencesCf., Soros, Susan Weber. The Secular Furniture of E.W. Godwin. New Haven: Published for the Bard Graduate Center, New York, by Yale University Press, 1999, cat. no. 330, p. 206 (similar cabinet, also attributed to E.W. Godwin and Collinson & Lock).

Edwards, Clive. Collinson & Lock: Art Furnishers, Interior Decorators and Designers 1870-1900. Leicestershire: Matador Press, 2022; reproduced back cover.

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