(Full publication on THE ARTS AND CRAFTS HOME WEBSITE)
There is a considerable variety in the furniture and styles of interior decoration produced by Liberty's between 1880 and 1910. On 13 March 1900, Arthur Lasenby Liberty gave a lecture on English Furniture to the Society of Arts. He began his talk with a brief historical survey in which he stated that our finest period of furniture began with the accession of James I, declined during the first half of the 19th century until the `Gothic revival brought us back to first principles of construction and directness of design'. He went on to stress the importance of comfort -- `Better a Windsor chair with comfort than a chaise a la Louis Quinze which makes one's back ache' - also stating that 'Utility, which means fitness, is in itself beauty if rightly understood'. Certainly, apart from some of the Oriental imports, most Liberty furniture was well made and soundly- constructed, but not all of it can he said to measure up to his other dictum of `no unnecessary decoration'.
'Anglo-Oriental' furniture by Liberty & Company
As Godwin had stated in 1876 (The Architect, 23 December), for the first year there was no 'decent furniture', but early in 1880 Liberty's decided to departmentalize their stock, furniture being sold in the `D' Department. The catalogue of oriental goods, Eastern Art Manufactures and Decorative Objects, published in 1881, included a section labeled 'Department D', with carved wooden pieces from China and Japan, together with cane chairs, stools and wastepaper baskets from North Africa. Apart from these imported foods, small items of bamboo furniture such as overmantels and shelves are described as 'Anglo-Oriental'. The catalogue also offered to have 'Special designs made to order drawings post free'. This Anglo-Oriental furniture was made by a French craftsman, Monsieur Ursin Fortier, originally - a basket maker, who had premises in Soho. Liberty's placed their first order with M. Fortier in 1881 and he continued to work exclusively for Liberty's throughout the 1880's, supplying a variety bamboo furniture including chairs and tables, cabinets and writing desks inset with panels of Japanese lacquer, leather paper or 'old fold' matting, and smaller items such as hanging shelves, easels and cakestands. In the 1890s the bamboo furniture was called 'Anglo-Indian' or `Chinese' and the rank widened to include chairs and settees upholstered in 'Djijim Kelims',
As well as being available in the Regent Street shop, some of the early Liberty furniture was shown in the galleries of the Royal School of Needlework in South Kensington. In 1883 The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher (vol. III, 1883, p. 182) included Liberty's among its list of' high class firms selling furniture, stating that:
'…some of the cane chairs, carved cabinets, screens and flower stands shown by this enterprising firm are marvels of art and cheapness. Messrs. Liberty are evidently educating their Oriental producers as to the wants of our market and the result