Design in Practice: the Queen Anne Lowboy

1930.2275, 40774
Photo courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery

Previously, in Design in Practice, I posted about visually comparing the elements (and the whole) of William & Mary lowboys (or dressing tables, if you prefer) in order to illustrate how each part needs to be properly proportioned and combined with other properly proportioned parts in order to have a harmonious whole (read it here). Today, I’d like look at some of the design/stylistic changes that took place in the movement from William & Mary to Queen Anne.

There’s a lot that happened as styles moved from one to the other. And although lowboys of both periods have lots of similarities, there are some dramatic differences.

The first major shift you’ll notice is the move from turned to cabriole legs. As the Queen Anne style came into fashion, the furniture got curvier. Chair backs took on new curves as well as legs and other furniture elements (but that’s a subject for another post). But it didn’t happen instantly.

The legs in the opening photo of this post have Spanish feet – an element primarily associated with the William & Mary period. You’ll find Spanish or brush feet on chairs up and down the eastern seaboard, but it was the introduction of the cabriole leg that allowed greater use of the feet on other types of furniture, such as the dressing table. And as the Queen Anne period developed, Spanish feet faded from use being replaced by pad, spade, slipper and trifid feet.

Photo courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery

Another thing you’ll notice is the lack of suggestion of the middle two legs. On William & Mary highboys you’ll often find six legs on the base. Dressing tables tended to lose the center legs but kept the suggestion with two finial drops where the legs usually resided. In the fully developed Queen Anne, even the hint was gone.

As you can see from the first two photos in this post, cabriole leg curves varied greatly from piece to piece. I’ve spoken in the past about Hogarth’s “Analysis of Beauty” (read about it here), and the two example shown here exemplify legs at the extremes of his scale. The padfoot lowboy is much closer in sweep to a number 1 or 2 on Mr. Hogarth’s scale (now, you have to go read the other post, don’t you?), while the Spanish foot lowboy is 4 or 5. The difference in curvaceousness is not a reflection of a shift in time (one being later than the other), but rather a difference in regional variation.

The pad foot is from Putnam, Connecticut and the Spanish foot is from the Delaware Valley (the area surrounding Philadelphia that includes southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware, southern New Jersey and northern Maryland). But that doesn’t mean all cabriole legs from Connecticut are straighter than those from other regions – Connecticut is/was a pretty strange place for furniture (again, a subject for another post).

One last area where changes were made to the dressing table design is the drawer configuration. Instead of having only a series of small drawers, the Queen Anne style dressing tables moved to a long single drawer over two or three small, lower drawers. This configuration carried through the Chippendale period, but that too is a subject for another post.

— Chuck Bender


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