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Art Through Time: A Global View

Domestic Life Art: Table

» Philip Speakman Webb (British, 1831–1915)(designer)


Artist / Origin: Philip Speakman Webb (British, 1831–1915)(designer)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1865
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Oak
Medium: Other
Dimensions: H: 29 in. (73.7 cm.), W: 23 ½ in. (59.8 cm.), L: 65 in. (165 cm.)
Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Credit: Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London/Art Resource, NY

Beginning in the 1830s, design reform was an issue of serious concern in England, where it was linked to physical, economic, and moral well-being.

Various reform movements cropped up over the course of the nineteenth century. Among these was the Arts and Crafts movement, led by William Morris. Although not given its name until the 1880s, the Arts and Crafts movement was underway by mid-century. A reaction against superfluous, “false” design, industrialization, and machine manufacturing, its adherents called for a return to high-quality, handmade goods in styles recalling England’s medieval and Celtic past.

In 1861, Morris and several colleagues, including architect and designer Philip Webb, established the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. with the goal of creating affordable furnishings hand-crafted by artisans. Although the pieces were made by artist-craftspeople often in rural England, the designs were largely the creations of Morris, Webb, and their circle.

This table, designed by Webb, has characteristics typical of Arts and Crafts movement furniture. A simple piece made of out of natural, rather than synthetic, material, the table is not only utilitarian, but also unique. Its design meets Morris’s criteria that ornamentation should reference something beyond itself. The pattern running around the table’s apron suggests the crenellation of medieval castles, referencing a historical moment that members of the movement so admired.

Additional Resources

Kaplan, Wendy. Leading the Simple Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain 1880–1910. Miami: Florida International University, 1999.

Latham, David. Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Marsh, Jan. William Morris & Red House: A Collaboration Between Architect and Owner. Swindon: National Trust Books, 2005.

Miele, Chris. From William Morris: Building Conservation and the Arts and Crafts Cult of Authenticity, 1877–1939. London: The Paul Mellon Centre, 2005.

Parry, Linda. William Morris: Art and Kelmscott. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1996.

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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