Modern Gothic or Eastlake/Aesthetic or Both?

by John Werry on May 15, 2009

Bob Courtney Auctions is selling this 3-piece bedroom set on Ebay at the moment and the sale will be ending today.  The have listed it as an “Eastlake Aesthetic Movement” set and I’ve been mulling over this categorization and haven’t yet come to grips as to whether it falls cleanly into that genre or if it leans into the Modern Gothic vein.

You can clearly see the influence of Christopher Dresser’s “Principles of Victorian Design” in the simplified floral and plant motifs. Dresser’s work was published in 1873, a year after Eastlake’s “Hints on Household Taste”, which espoused the same design aesthetics.

I hesitate to toss this set soley in the Modern Gothic bucket because there aren’t any overt Gothic elements that I can see save for a few trefoils.  There are no in-your-face strap hinges or crockets.  You might, however see a “spooned-out” capital a la Talbert on the column of the wash stand.

I keep wavering back and forth between the two and maybe I just settle that it doesn’t fall cleanly on one side or the other and that furniture designs of the time were the result of the confluence of influences and are not always pure.

What do you think?

aesthetic bedroom suite1 Modern Gothic or Eastlake/Aesthetic or Both?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

ThePeacockRoom May 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I would classify this as “Aesthetic Movement”. I can’t see anything that relates to the “Modern (or Reformed) Gothic” style beyond the clubbed trefoils you noted.

“Eastlake” is a terminology that is so non-specific as to be nearly useless (which is probably why it prevails), IMO, since what “we” now consider “Eastlake style” has little or nothing to do with what Charles Locke Eastlake advocated or depicted in his book.

Is the ‘“spooned-out” capital a la Talbert’ you reference the low-relief intaglio carving (see http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/whatsit.jpg) or have I misunderstood, as I am wont to do?

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RareVictorian May 15, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Here is what I mean from the wash stand – http://www.rarevictorian.com/uploaded_images/columns.jpg. The photo is enlarged and the original’s detail isn’t so hot, but notice the corners having been rounded off. This is a similar design element employed by Allen & Brother and Daniel Pabst. Talbert’s designs shows a similar treatment, but with more complexity in the profile than this.

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ThePeacockRoom May 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Oh, you meant the tongued chamfers on the lower corners! “Spoon” made me think of carving, hence my confusion. Thanks for the clarification, and I’ll go back to shutting up now…

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david reed May 15, 2009 at 3:55 pm

FYI – regardless of categorization………feel strongly that maker is Berkey & Gay. We own a related dresser and found it in one of the original manufacturer’s catalogs. Nice workmanship and design for sure.

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1836 May 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Sorting out “Modern Gothic” or “Reformed Gothic” from Charles Locke Eastlake’s brand of “Eastlake” is more than a bit of a trick; they’re one and the same in many cases. See, for example, this piece of bedroom furniture from Eastlake’s “Hints on Household Taste”: http://books.google.com/books?id=O9MDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR27&dq=charles+eastlake&ei=hMENSoPCHY62zATlntXEAQ#PPA210,M1

Much easier to sort out Modern/Reformed Gothic from “purer” forms of Gothic Revival, or to note that what’s identified today as Eastlake usually has little to do with its namesake advocate and often is more likely Renaissance Revival or Neo-Grec or Aesthetic Movement of some amalgm of influences.

Modern/Reformed Gothic wasn’t always very gothic at all, at least not in the sense of trefoils, quatrefoils, pointed arches, carved stylized foliate designs, crocketing, crenellation, tracery elements, etc., rather it has chunkier forms and flatter, often simpler ornament and an emphasis on visible construction as expression of the way elements fit one to another.

I’d agree the bedroom suite is as much Aesthetic Movement as anything, particularly because of the form itself and the majority of the decorative details, the presence of burl veneer panels and of inlays, and the absence of chamfering and beaded board elements, etc. It does, though, have some English Eastlake/Modern Gothic bits to it, and even some “Muscular Gothic” in, say, its lustered columns at the bed corners, which could have been lifted from something seen in cast iron in the interior of a water pumping station.

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RareVictorian May 15, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Cheryl (TPR), no, please don’t shut up. I hope you always put in your 2 cents (which is worth at least a dollar, I think ;-)

Thanks, 1836. I agree there’s no confusing Gothic Revival from Reformed/Modern Gothic.

I wonder if this is a Philadelphia piece.

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zeke May 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm

There is a problem that most terms for Victorian furniture are ambiguous at best. It has come to pass that Eastlake and Aesthetic have been used so interchangeably that they have become almost synonymous. I personally refer to cheaper Aesthetic furniture as Eastlake and better Eastlake furniture as Aesthetic but that is my own personal definition and an inside joke with myself. Most furniture called Modern Gothic, in my estimation is Aesthetic or eastlake with Gothic elements, but it’s all so confusing and is there a definitive explanation as to what is what written anywhere? Did a furniture manufacturer follow strict guidelines as to whether a piece was strictly Eastlake, Aesthetic or Modern Gothic? I think not?

I would call this set Aesthetic leaning towards the reform movement, but what do I know? It looks Philly to me but it also looks like a high end Berkey and Gay set. Look at the bedroom sets in the back of the Berkey and Gay book and see so many similarities.

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Paul Tucker May 15, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Viva la confluence! Think outside the box! I guess there are two kinds of people – those that categorize and those that don’t.

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woodwright May 16, 2009 at 12:30 am

I was watching this set – I’ve always liked it from the first time I saw it (over 3 yrs. ago). It closed w/ no bids (had an opening bid of $10k – but don’t know what the reserve was).
This set was owned by Mark Stellinga (author of “Pool & Billiards Collectibles”) & Flyin Lion Antiques. Mark had attributed it to Berkey & Gay – odd that there is no mention of a maker in Courtney’s latest auction (maybe he wanted people to speculate it was by a bigger name maker than B&G – or though otherwise). Bob Courtney had it in his auction on May 17 2008 (almost a perfect year ago) – the same auction that sold the famed Brunswick trophy table from the cover of Stellinga’s billiards book. I made a post in the RV Forum (dated 4/17/08)- under auction watch which has this set pictured in the post. Here’s the link to it (if it works) http://victorianforum.com/index.php?topic=185.0 . It was lot #512 – Courtney’s archives shows many pics. of it. Opening bid of 15k – (est. 30 – 40k) – it had 8 bids, but I’m not sure what the high bid was. Live auctioneer came up but I couldn’t get a price off it.
It also was sold @ a Rich Penn auction 4/30/2006 – when Mark sold off much of his collection. It supposedly sold for 24k – here’s the link: http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/1850298 . The antiques business is quite a game isn’t it? woodwright

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Hardwood May 16, 2009 at 1:12 am

As a side note, Charles Eastlake first published “Hints on Household Tastes” in 1868. The first edition was mainly distributed in Britain and it wasn’t until the later 1872 edition that it was distributed within the United States. I’m fortunate to own an 1868 copy.

William P. Gainey

“Hardwood”
Flint, Mi

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james conrad May 16, 2009 at 5:08 am

Well, whatever one calls it, it’s a very good late victorian bedroom suite that failed to generate a single bid on Ebay.

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ThePeacockRoom May 16, 2009 at 8:56 am

In light of Hardwood’s comment, I suppose I would be remiss if I did not note that Dr. Dresser’ 1873 book was titled “Principles of Decorative Design”; “Principles of Victorian Design” is (IIRC) the c. 1995 Dover reprint title. Dresser published the first of his several books on design theory and ornament in 1862 (“The Art of Decorative Design”).

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