Originally published in E.W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer, edited by Susan Weber Soros. Published for The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. 93–113.

From the exhibition: E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer.

Godwin was well aware of the mechanisms by which critical reputations are constructed. As a prominent figure in the London art scene and above all as a journalist and obituarist, he was in a position to speed his contemporaries toward recognition or anonymity. The last articles he wrote were reflections on his close friend William Burges, who had died in 1881, and Godwin, preoccupied with his own delicate health, must have mused over how he himself would be remembered.1 “If a painter of easel pictures dies,” he once observed, “you can gather his life’s work together into one place, and at loan exhibitions from time to time, even centuries after his death, they can command new, diverse and large audiences.”2 By contrast he pointed to the difficulties of trying to summarize the varied achievements of a designer or architect. Their grander urban projects might attract acclaim, but what of the scattered, apparently inconsequential, and often anonymous examples of their creative energy, a power “that was satisfied in creating, and is nameless, or shamefully carries credit to another’s name”?3 Godwin would surely have sympathized with the organizers of his own retrospective exhibition and with all those researchers who in recent years have been faced with the problems of disentangling who did what and discerning the interrelationship between Godwin’s multifarious activities. The nature and extent of his creative collaborations with friends and family can never be unraveled conclusively, and his input is similarly difficult to extricate from the complex machinery of commerce, manufacture, and the media. Oscar Wilde perhaps came closest by describing him, in disembodied terms, as an “artistic spirit.”4

Godwin himself had a vested interest in campaigning on questions of authorship and copyright, just as museums, dealers, and collectors of his work do now. These are also questions that are at the heart of any discussion of Godwin in relation to Modernism, since traditionally any “canon” has relied upon isolating the individual designer, delimiting his oeuvre, and establishing links to the work of other great designers and artists. If Godwin is difficult to pin down, so too is any comprehensive definition of “Modernism,” a fluid, dynamic term that has developed throughout this century in a constant dialectic with contemporary culture and history. It has been used to cover many different, often conflicting types of practice and theory.5

Even so, since around 1960 Godwin has been assigned a place on the margins of the development of the Modern movement.6 After a probationary period in the wilderness of decadent Aestheticism, he became linked with evolutionary views of Modernism because some of his works appeared to embody the potential abstraction of visual language, a premonition of standardized, reproducible forms, and an identification with values of simplicity, health, economy, and utility. As a precursor, Godwin was posthumously enlisted in the grand search for “absolutes” and a generalized tendency toward nonrepresentational work, valid on its own terms, rather than tied to historically specific conditions and localized place. Godwin’s work is not widely known; usually only a tiny number of works are cited—specifically, his Anglo-Japanese furniture and the famous White House designed for Whistler in Chelsea. These free-floating icons are frequently presented as milestones in a journey toward twentieth-century design. Critical reputations were mediated through exhibitions and the marketplace, and it is this reading of Godwin as a pioneer that still lends itself to representation in museum displays and to the commodification of his furniture as “cult objects.”

Challenges to Modernist visual culture in recent decades, however, have also colored the perception of its history, fracturing any faith in a single-strand view of the past. “Modernism” is now seen to embrace a number of alternative traditions. A more flexible approach to the significance and contextualization of Godwin’s symbolist tendencies, for example, or his radicalized domesticity and creative involvement in the shifting formations of the London art world, can offer a more sympathetic, inclusive view of his role within Modernism. In his own time Godwin was both an avant-garde artist and critic, and an observer and designer of modern life. Examining him in this light suggests an approach to thinking about Godwin’s experience and his expression of what was modern in his time, rather than viewing him as some kind of historical expedient in a longer narrative.

From “Wicked Earl” to “Pioneer of Modern Design”

As recently as 1994, Godwin was singled out as the “unrivalled forefather” of the Modern movement.7 The first source in which one might expect to find validation for such a bold claim is Nikolaus Pevsner’s seminal text, Pioneers of Modern Design: From William Morris to Walter Gropius. Yet Godwin is notable by his absence from both the first 1936 edition (entitled Pioneers of the Modern Movement) and the second, expanded version of 1948 produced in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Only in the 1960 edition were an illustration of a design for Whistler’s White House and a couple of references to Godwin squeezed in. So in the Pevsnerian scheme of things, Godwin was never one of the major players like a Morris, Mackintosh, or Gropius. Why then the delayed acceptance into the official canon, and on what grounds was he ultimately included?

When Pevsner was formulating Pioneers in the 1930s, “the architecture of reason and functionalism was in full swing in many countries.”8 Judging by the inaccurate and lackluster entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, Godwin’s critical reputation was at an all-time low, with little of his work clearly identified or recorded.9 Although his influence resonated in architectural and theatrical circles for a time just after his premature death in 1886, Godwin’s name appears to have plummeted rapidly from the public gaze. By 1890, when Whistler caused a public fracas in defense of Godwin’s reputation, Godwin was so little known that the newspapers had difficulty explaining to their readers who he was, beyond referring to him as some deceased friend of the artist.10 After an initial lull, however, the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde, another of Godwin’s friends and a vocal supporter, effectively tied Godwin’s critical fortunes to the most decadent forms of Aestheticism, a linkage reinforced by his inclusion in the notorious Yellow Book published that same year.11 The backlash to the excesses of Aestheticism was not long coming in intellectual circles. The painter and critic Roger Fry, for example, was of a generation that had come of age amid its most commercialized manifestations. Writing in 1919, he shuddered at the memory of the 1880s, not so much on account of the sham Chippendale and the sham old oak, but “a still worse horror—a genuine modern style which as yet has no name, a period of black polished furniture with spidery lines.”12 He continued presciently, “We have at this moment no inkling of the kind of lies they (our successors) will invent about the eighties to amuse themselves.”

The colorful and complex nature of Godwin’s private life was always going to make objective evaluation of his work difficult. The whiff of scandal and Bohemia continued to seep out in anecdotal snippets among the memoirs and biographical studies of those Godwin had known. Generally, he makes a shadowy appearance as a brilliant and charming womanizer, nicknamed “the wicked Earl.”13 In this respect Godwin’s famous illegitimate son, the philandering and flamboyantly theatrical Edward Gordon Craig, was seen as carrying on a family tradition. But while to the up-and-coming generation of High Modernists of the1920s and 1930s, the decadence and elitism with which Godwin was associated were distasteful, a wider audience was thirsting for salacious detail.14 Godwin’s first biographer, George Dudley Harbron, predicted that “the psychological interest inherent in his person may lead to reconsideration of Godwin earlier than will the character of his work. The majority of readers are more curious about persons than concerned for the things they created.”15 Harbron’s book, The Conscious Stone: The Life of Edward William Godwin (1949), went some way toward setting the record straight and identifying the range of Godwin’s achievements, but it did not have the authority of a monograph such as Thomas Howarth’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, which was published around the same time. The colorful and cheerfully romantic design of Harbron’s dust jacket was eloquent.16 Meanwhile Godwin the proto-Modernist, the rational bringer of light, simplicity, and health, was on the verge of being disengaged well and truly from Godwin the Wicked Earl and the slimy gloom of latter-day Aestheticism.

Building on Harbron’s research, Pevsner’s 1952 article,” Art Furniture of the Eighteen-Seventies,” flushed one of Godwin’s sideboards from obscurity.17 The piece was included in a groundbreaking exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian decorative arts that was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1952. There, Godwin’s furniture and textiles appeared alongside the work of established design reformers such as William Morris, Bruce Talbert, and Christopher Dresser.18 At this point one could say Godwin’s public rehabilitation as a serious designer was under way. Among those stimulated by the exhibition was the Scandinavian scholar Alf Bøe, whose 1957 study of Victorian design theories was to make a case for tracing the origins of twentieth-century functionalism to Godwin and Christopher Dresser rather than to William Morris.19 The following year an article by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., an extremely influential figure in promoting European Modernist design in the 1950s through exhibitions and publications at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also picked up on Godwin as a significant figure in the nineteenth-century genesis of the International Style.20 And in 1960 Godwin finally made it into Pevsner’s Pioneers of Modern Design, the standard history of the period in the English-speaking world. By this time the ideological foundations of the Modern movement were already being brought into question, but the seductively simple thrust of the Pioneers argument was to survive reversion for many years to come.

Pevsner packaged Godwin to suit his evolutionary narrative, emphasizing certain aspects of Godwin’s contribution and suppressing or diminishing others. In his earlier article on art furniture, for example, Pevsner saw a premonition of 1890s Art Nouveau in the details of Godwin’s designs for Anglo-Japanese drawing-room furniture: “these precariously projecting shelves, these thin curved brackets, these spidery tapering legs.”21 We know from other contexts that he viewed Art Nouveau as a throwback, the work of “fantasts and freaks,” a “blind alley.”22 Pevsner article, however, went on to draw attention to the “functionalist side of Godwin” exemplified in a wardrobe’s simple outline and rectilinear units, which were “so rational that few would hesitate to date it in the early years of the twentieth century.”23 We may ask why Godwin’s furniture for more “masculine” contexts, such as the dining room and library, or for the less visible areas of the home (servants’ quarters and bedrooms), should be judged as more radical per se than his “feminine” side, the more curvilinear, delicate, and decorative idiom brought out by the drawing room? The latter was just one aspect of Godwin’s style which did not fit Pevsner’s pioneer polemic and the kind of macho-Modernist aesthetic it celebrated, but arguably it was these very ambiguities and tensions that made Godwin’s work so rich.24 The only reference Pevsner ever made to Godwin’s theater work was a passing mention of his interest in the staging of Greek plays.25 Godwin’s more voluminous Shakespearian scholarship and productions could have been related just as strongly to his furniture designs, but it suited Pevsner to dwell on the Greek ideal, which was closer to the aesthetic of the Modern movement.

Similar judgments infuse the 1960 edition of Pioneers of Modern Design. Godwin is described as the inventor of some “fantastic decoration,” which is enough to link him immediately with the Art Nouveau designer Emile Gallé, who used “fantastic colours,” and with the “fantastical rantings” of Antoni Gaudí and Antonio Sant’Elia.26 This vein of unreal fantasy and “the suspiciously sophisticated and refined” qualities of Art Nouveau were contrasted with the sobriety and sanity of the Arts and Crafts movement.27 The praise for Whistler’s White House is undercut in the same way: it is described in positive terms as “original, challenging,” but its “witty” quality and the “highly capricious” fenestration reveal it as transitional.28 “Capricious” had echoes of the willful Gaudí, while wit and playfulness were for Pevsner the antithesis of the seriousness and discipline that were to characterize the Modern movement. The torch of progress is passed from the White House to Arthur H. Mackmurdo’s Enfield home of about 1883, the latter being identified as “much more orderly.”29 Pevsner goes on to describe the plain walls, lightness, and sparse furnishings of Godwin’s 1862 Bristol home and of the White House as projecting us into the early years of the twentieth century, “no longer in the days of Ruskin and Morris,”30 then immediately qualifies this by classing Whistler (and by implication Godwin) as antimodern, an Impressionist, “and therefore an object of passionate hatred to those who worked for a new outlook on life and art.”31 For Pevsner Impressionism was identified with “superficiality and concern with personal rather than communal interests,” and it signified a “refusal to distinguish the changing and the lasting, the absolute and accidental.”32 It represented art for art’s sake versus a renewed faith in the social purpose of art.33

The paradox inherent in any linear history written backward from the present was neatly summed up by a bemused correspondent in the Building News of 1872: “We hardly know whether E. W. G. is centuries before or centuries behind his time.”34 As soon as we try to extend Pevsner’s trajectory of progress forward from the 1930s, breaking the time lock in which the orthodox history of the Modern movement seems sealed, his value judgments are suddenly inverted. Far from leading to a cul-de-sac, many of the qualities he relegated there—wit, eclecticism, rejection of universal values—have come back into their own. Like the other pioneers, Godwin is presented as grappling with a range of conflicts or contradictions, between historicism and the challenge of new materials and mass production; between retrogressive decorative impulses and tectonic values of form and structure; between “useless” and socially useful design. These polarized dualities are seen to pull Godwin in opposing directions, whereas a fuller picture of his theory and practice suggests that, for him, such qualities were part of a continuum and not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Pevsner did not single-handedly invent the critical tradition within which he located Godwin but was picking up selectively on debates that had been elaborated within design reform circles since the mid-nineteenth century—debates in which Godwin himself had participated. The themes of economy, utility, and simplicity recur frequently in Godwin’s writing. But an institutionalized hierarchy of artistic genres existed in the late nineteenth century, which meant that even in Godwin’s lifetime his radical contribution to “sub” genres such as theater and dress was rarely discussed, despite his attempts to raise the visibility of such art forms. Similarly, although the Modern movement purported to promote the unity of the arts, it was theorized by critics and early historians of its development, including Pevsner, around the paradigm of architecture, which has undoubtedly skewed our sense of Godwin as a Modernist.

While retaining an emphasis on practicality and usefulness, Godwin had joined the steady drift away from the moral overtones of the Gothic Revival and its “stern recognition of truthfulness in design.”35 The Arts and Crafts movement of the 1880s and 1890s, however, continued to develop a rhetoric that emphasized a socially moral dimension to Godwin’s equation of health, rationality, and economy. This overriding sense of moral purpose, which held such an appeal for Pevsner, had come through strongly in the analysis of one of Godwin’s sideboards in 1892 by Aymer Vallance, who argued that it offered a form of rectilinear resistance to the “swollen monstrosities [which seem] sadly significant of the decadence of these latter days of ours.”36 Vallance further suggested that the “aggressive affectation of any past style” encouraged the outbreak of dirt and disorder, injurious to art and bodily health alike.37

Although Godwin never had a large architectural practice and his few pupils were a fairly undistinguished lot, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that scholars such as Pevsner and Bøe were right to connect aspects of Godwin’s work with the next generation of architect-designers, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, George Walton, Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, and Charles Ashbee. Godwin’s lectures, papers, and published articles had an impact on the younger members of the profession, as did the competitions he set and judged in the British Architect Art Club from 1879 to 1884.38 C. F. A. Voysey, for example, while distancing himself from Morris, saw Godwin as one of the architect-designers who had set his generation free from a formulaic and inappropriate use of past styles.39 Godwin’s Art Furniture catalogue for William Watt was being studied at the Glasgow School of Art, courtesy of the South Kensington loan scheme, at a time when Mackintosh and Walton were enrolled as young students.40 When designing studio houses in Chelsea, both Ashbee and later Mackintosh looked inevitably to Godwin’s example.41

It was the architect and critic Hermann Muthesius who provided an important link between this generation of British architect-designers and the quest for a modern industrial design culture in early twentieth-century Germany. Like Pevsner, Muthesius formed a partial view of Godwin that was driven by a clear political and ideological agenda and colored by a reaction against more expressionist tendencies in Jugendstil (the German form of Art Nouveau). Above all it was Godwin’s furniture designs in the Watt catalogue that struck Muthesius as “responsive to rational progress,” showing “a great advance” in their lightness and elegance, and foreshadowing “the idea of the modern interpretation which was soon to follow.”42

Godwin was a designer in the modern sense of the word, arguing that design resided in the drawing and concept rather than the craft with which an object was executed, and he worked within the parameters of industrial production. In 1886 the British Architect had described his Anglo-Japanese designs as “more suited to a proper use of wood in design than any other modern furniture we have seen.”43 The potential for the reproduction of his wallpaper and furniture designs had been confirmed by their proliferation internationally, from American to Europe and Australia. As far as Muthesius could see, the type of “English” furniture he had come across in German and French shops well into the 1890s was so like the designs in the Watt catalogue that they were possibly copied from Godwin.

In 1914 Muthesius was to argue vehemently for the adoption of standardized forms compatible with mass production. But Godwin himself almost certainly would have taken the position of Henri van de Velde, Muthesius’s opponents in the Deutsche Werkbund, who had argued that a style imposed from above would stultify the creativity of the individual artist. Godwin believed in a functional, structural approach to design and the concept of fitness for purpose, but he was equally an unflagging advocate of individualism. He had witnessed how the strict rules and orthodoxy of the Gothic Revival had enslaved architects; any “new style” had to be a servant.44 Style could never be fixed or universal. It was always to be refracted through the individual’s perceptions and the particular context of the times. This emphasis on individual expressivity could be construed as prefiguring Modernist art, but was antithetical to theories of Modernism in design. Godwin deliberately set out to avoid monotonous regularity, and his individualism was expressed in ways that contemporary critics often praised as being picturesque or quaint designs.45 For Muthesius and Pevsner, however, such tendencies were viewed as outbreaks of willful disorder. It also does not sound as though Godwin would have been happy with a soulless machine aesthetic, despite his apparent acceptance of mechanized production as a fact of life which an artist could learn to exploit. “There is a charm about the old we all more or less feel—a charm never, or very, very rarely, found in modern,” he wrote; this was not simply a question of age, but the presence of “natural feeling and artistic spirit as opposed to the essentially unartistic, mechanical modern spirit.”46 As far as Godwin was concerned, a young artist could never know too much of history.47 Nevertheless Muthesius’s feeling that English Arts and Crafts design was “excessively primitive” chimed with the urban sophistication of Godwin, who disliked what he called the “Farmyard School” in all its manifestations; “modern life is artificial enough without the addition of that worst of artiftcialities—the assumption of a rural simplicity.”48 Godwin wished nothing to do with “cottage interiors, farm-yards, agricultural labourers and the like.”49 Nothing struck him as more pretentious than pretending to live in the country when in a city.50

In the changing intellectual climate of the 1960s, the values of the Modern movement were brought into question, and there was a corresponding rise of interest in Victorian studies. The strains on progressivist views of developments in the nineteenth century were signaled by scholars such as Elizabeth Aslin who openly challenged any view of the Aesthetic movement that presupposed the superiority of twentieth-century work.51 In the 1970s Godwin came into his own as a “Pioneer of a Free Manner,” the title of an essay in a collection attempting to revalue the “wayward integrity” of Edwardian architecture outside of the mainstream of development toward the interwar Modern movement.52 These essays highlighted the complex and confused nature of tendencies in the late nineteenth century and posited a range of progressive options rather than Pevsner’s single-strand interpretation. Godwin’s architecture was shown to connect in Britain not only to the Arts and Crafts, but also to an Edwardian Free Style, characterized by eclecticism, and the “rogue architecture” of the neo-Baroque Grand Manner.53 This multiple legacy was exemplified by the architecture of James MacLaren, a talented admirer of Godwin.54

In the history of fine and decorative arts, Symbolism and Art Nouveau, so vilified by Pevsner, began to receive more attention as part of an alternative tradition within the Modern movement, to which Godwin related more convincingly than pure functionalism. In this context Godwin was a particularly strong role model for Glasgow Style designers, such as Walton and Mackintosh, whose Aesthetic and Symbolist qualities have come to the fore in recent studies.55 Godwin’s influence resonated in the ethereal, poetic, and theatrical qualities of the interiors they created, their delicate use of color, and the slender attenuated forms of the ebonized furniture they designed. Godwin urged students, when asked what style they followed, to reply, “It is my own,”56 just as Mackintosh was to exhort his fellow art-workers to “go alone.”57

Avant-Garde Artist and Critic

It is as an “artist” in the broadest sense of the word that Godwin is to be considered. His contribution to Modernism is generally discussed in relation to his architecture and furniture, but arguably he interacted with the world of avant-garde art in a more sustained and sophisticated way than any other designer or architect at that time. In other words his Modernism was not only revealed in the design of products, but in his whole mindset, the way he lived, and his public image, as mediated through the press. On moving to London from Bristol, he reinvented himself—one of his great achievements—as a kind of free-ranging “artistic spirit” whose role was incidentally that of architect, designer, theater director, critic, and teacher.

Part of this stance as “brilliant, if somewhat eccentric” was to provide a polemical critique of conventional attitudes and organizations from within the Bohemian margins of the art world, both through his journalism and his practice.58 His “distinct personality” dominated “the little world of art.”59 A regular habitué of the club, theater, gallery, and studio circuit, Godwin collaborated with a number of artists, including his wife Beatrice, and wrote about their work in ways that also broadened debates within the related spheres of architecture and design. As a designer he created an innovative range of environments in which artists lived, worked, exhibited, and sold their works. In particular he worked in tandem with Whistler, with whose reputation his own became enmeshed. He was to prove one of the most perceptive and consistently supportive commentators on Whistler’s work, which in turn reinforced his own cachet as an artist fighting Philistine incomprehension and reactionary constraint. All this was very different from the self-presentation of a fellow designer such as Christopher Dresser, doctor of philosophy and “workman,” or that of a fashionable academician such as the architect Richard Norman Shaw, although these were individuals to whom Godwin was close stylistically.60

Godwin deliberately played upon the Romantic myth of the artist as a loner, an outsider rising above mundane concerns and endowed with spiritual insight beyond that of the common herd, a concept that was to feed directly into canonical Modernism. When he chose to, Godwin could talk as convincingly as the next architect about a building’s sewage system, how it related to a local context and historical conditions, its construction and cost, and so on, but by stressing its art he signaled resistance to the quantification of architecture as a mere product of function, or as a purely material commodity. Godwin’s rather superior and aloof manner reflected his view of himself as an aristocrat of the art world, rather than “on a dead level with mere craftsmen.”61 An art vocation became a means of flouting the strictures of social class and respectable behavior to which both he and Whistler would have had to conform had they succumbed to early pressure to become engineers. Their first duty was to their art rather than any political ideology or external code of morality and religion. In Godwin’s home the ritual smoke of a perfumed censer curled around the ideal form of Venus de Milo, not a religious icon. He frequently resorted to language that implied idealism and aspiration to a transcendental realm of thought, feeling, and pure emotion.62 The stated aim of his art was to choreograph and beautify modern living in ways that cultivated the senses: “If there is any respect left among us for the human body, it must surely be among the very highest utilities to minister to its keenest sensibilities.”63 Like Whistler he often resorted to musical analogies to express compositional and atmospheric qualities.64 In a letter to a client in 1873 he wrote, “I look upon all my work as Art Work. A building is to me as a picture to a painter or a poem to a poet.”65 Such a statement invites evaluation of his work in the abstract, formalist terms of Modernist art criticism.

While he despised pretentious “twaddle about art,”66 quick-witted, barbed, and intense conversation was a hallmark of the cultured Bohemian. Art was a way of being, a form of sociability, sitting around in smoke-filled clubs, Turkish baths, backstage in theaters, or in the studios of friends at all times of day and night. The sexual radicalism, the drinking, smoking, and drug-taking within Godwin’s circle, were a modern type of behavior familiar to us now, but certainly beyond the pale for respectable society in the late nineteenth century. True artists were above conventionally defined moral codes and social responsibilities. The irregular timekeeping, the lack of visible productivity, and the apparent self-indulgence were a form of coded resistance to the Protestant work ethic at the heart of capitalism and to the commodification of time and art. Godwin’s s lifestyle was an artwork in itself, which, to be genuine, had to be on some level the “natural” and authentic expression of his individual artistic spirit. In this competitive environment it was the accreditation of “artist” that empowered Godwin to distance himself from the anonymous jobbing designer whose work was “daily rolled out between the two heavy cylinders of his brain with as much intelligence and delight as go to the production of sheet iron or milled lead.”67 As an “original,” Godwin had to demonstrate constantly his capacity to distinguish true from false, real from sham, whether manifested in paintings, theater props, oriental ceramics, antique furniture, dress, or manners.68 In the plurality of contexts in which he could work and act, and in the diversity of “authorities” which he could draw into his style, the only connecting force was the stamp of his individual “signature.”

This preoccupation with authenticity was seen by Georg Simmel, a Berlin academic at the turn of the century, as a hallmark of modernity. Simmel saw the deepest problems of modern life as deriving from “the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces.”69 It was a constant struggle for an independent artist to maintain his visibility within the regulatory systems of capitalism. The London art market was booming, and in the fluid conditions of the late nineteenth century, various groups were jockeying for position within an increasingly codified hierarchy of skills and professions, threatening to limit the artist to ever more one-sided accomplishment. Godwin actively resisted such compartmentalization, canvasing to extend the interest of architects to related areas such as interiors, furnitures, and garden design, and to theater or exhibition work. “Hitherto we have rarely allowed ourselves to step beyond the limits of one art, but for the future we hope to take a wider range,” he wrote in the British Architect; “we shall embrace in our survey the broader ground of painting and sculpture, taking note the while of that art which involves all others, namely the art of the stage…. To reconcile the decorative and constructive, to work for greater harmony and unity in the surroundings of modern life will be one of our aims.”70

One can see this mission statement as part of a broader trend within Modernism to reunify cultural production. There were precedents for the involvement of architects in interior and furniture design, but less so for the type of ambitious intervention Godwin envisaged in the world of the theater. Inevitably, there was a backlash from those whose patch he was colonizing: “let us take off our hats to Godwin, the renowned; Godwin, the architect and archaeologist; Godwin the manager and stage manager; Godwin the scene painter and inventor of the Pastoral Player; Godwin the Great Man Milliner!” jibed a disgruntled theater manager.71 From a furniture manufacturer came searing criticism of those “singular beings with hobbies … architects who do not practice architecture, but devote themselves to furniture, pottery, landscape, sewerage, etc, etc.,” which was followed by a demolition of designs by Godwin and his assistant, George Freeth Roper.72

Godwin was a successful and tireless advocate for the supremacy of the artist as innovator and arbiter of style. Like Whistler he took a combative stance in relation to the Establishment in its various forms and to the Philistines in general. In many ways the controversy sparked by the White House and the debates engendered by the famous Whistler versus Ruskin trial of the same year were similar, and the two were linked in public perceptions. Both incidents now appear as a symbolic watershed in the break with High Victorian values and the emergence of modern attitudes to art and design. Godwin’s particular bogey was the Metropolitan Board of Works with whom he had a series of run-ins on matters of environmental health and architectural conservation as well as over his own designs for Tite Street.73 The board pronounced the first austere White House elevation “like a dead house.”74 Nor could they tolerate the still more radical design for Frank Miles’s house across the road. In Godwin’s view the latter was the best thing he had ever done, but it did not comply with the stultified perception that architecture should consist of “cornices and parapets, and all the detail involved in a complete study of the Building Act.”75 Godwin was indignant. “Who were they who sat in judgement on the designs of those who had worked and laboured at their art for years?” he protested. “What judgement could successful farriers and cheesemongers of yesterday give, who had never drawn a line, and never seen a drawing until they were elected on this ill-constituted board?”76

Godwin considered his architecture, like all other expressions of his creative power, a distillation of constant unseen thought and observation filtered through his individually honed sensibility. In this respect the gauntness of the proposed Tite Street elevations which caused the brouhaha, was the product of a lifetime’s brainwork, just as were Whistler’s Nocturnes.77 The time-consuming exercise of “the highest mental power”78 often resulted in a deceptively simple outcome which could not be assessed simply in terms of the materials and physical labor involved, nor according to the scale of the project. As Godwin pointed out in the Art Furniture catalogue, even something as small as a coffee table did not come about by any “happy go lucky process.” He recognized that “art” had become a marketable commodity and indeed worked with a range of art manufacturers, but he did not wish to sell out to them completely. At times he clearly resented operating in a world ruled by money, in which there was not time for quiet thought and in which art and architecture could apparently be bought by the square yard.79

Through the press Godwin battled to preserve the autonomy of the artist from interference by the patron or owner. In the cause célèbre of the Peacock Room in 1876, Godwin supported Whistler’s art over the needs of shipping magnate F. R. Leyland, the client, just as Whistler supported Godwin over the visual vandalism of the White House, first by the Metropolitan Board of Works and then by the critic Harry Quilter who bought the property in 1879.80 Godwin and Whistler shared an almost obsessive desire to control the context in which their art was displayed, and they collaborated on the installation of each other’s work, as at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. But such control was temporary. New tenants, such as Quilter, might alter Godwin’s design, and, once an exhibition was over, whether of paintings by Whistler or furniture by Godwin, the decorative ensemble of the installation, an artwork in itself, was consigned to oblivion by “the restlessness of modern fashion, forever changing.”81 Godwin described how once Whistler’s “notes, harmonies, nocturnes” had departed to their several purchasers from the exhibition at Messrs Dowdeswell in Bond Street, the gallery scheme, also designed by Whistler, would be swept away. “That these exquisitely lovely arrangements of colour should live as memories only,” he wrote, “gives to the very nomenclature our painter has a opted a touch of pathos. The room in Piccadilly and the rooms at the Fine Art Society have gone, as Whistlerian compositions, quite as effectually as the vibrations of the last quartette.”82

The moveable artworks, cut loose from their creators and functioning within a larger world, who risked vandalism. On one hand, Godwin willingly engaged with modernized forms of mass production and distribution, while on the other, he fought a losing battle for control of the authorship and meaning of his reproducible designs. As an archaeologist he realized the importance of syntactical interrelationships in the study of material culture, and as a skilled collector he was practiced in recontextualizing existing objects into the new envelopes of atmosphere and meaning. He was all too aware, therefore, of how the context in which his furniture and wallpapers were seen and used could affect their meaning. He once remarked on the phenomenon of an actress being ridiculed on stage for her Aesthetic costume but passing unnoticed in the same style of dress out on the street.83

Publishing protests against caricatures and distortions was one way of trying to assert the rights of the individual artist; another was to make sure that the original designs were visibly credited through the media. To an extent Godwin could see imitation as a form of flattery, but not when the integrity of his original design was travestied in the process. In Godwin’s view the “art” of such a design resided not in the workmanship and materials so much as the synthesis of lines, proportions, and color in the composition. He protested to his readers in 1877 that bootleg copies of his coffee table met him almost everywhere he went—“in private houses, in show rooms, in pictures, and in books, very prominently in the frontispiece of Miss Garrett’s ‘Suggestions for House Decoration.’”84 Despite this public reprimand, however, a year later he was having to take Mrs. Lucy Orrinsmith and her friends to task for not having the grace to acknowledge him as the source of their “original ideas” and illustrations.85 Meanwhile, in the United States, Clarence Cook was using Godwin furniture designs unattributed to illustrate a series of articles for Scribner’s Monthly, subsequently reprinted in book form in 1878 as The House Beautiful.86

If the Bohemian image emphasized Godwin’s personal artistic freedom, like Whistler he was still dependent on the various institutions of the art world and made a living by working in conjunction with the galleries and journals, as well as with dealers, retailers, and manufacturers. On closer inspection it becomes clear that he was involved both socially and professionally with many of those he criticized in the press. Although self-ostracized from conventional middle-class society, Godwin was able to deal with an increasingly large and anonymous public through his journalism and through working for a range of commercial firms. He was liberated from having to deal with individual clients or committees face to face and could communicate on a surprisingly intimate level with those who would sooner shake hands with a snake if they met him in person.87 Through his columns and articles his readers accompanied him around the city and beyond, eavesdropping on his sparring matches with colleagues and the authorities, sharing his private musings, and, most extraordinary of all, in a series of articles on his office and home, being led from attic to basement into spaces to which even the most intimate friend would not normally gain access.88 These were not interiors discussed in the abstract, nor were they described as the home of an unnamed “friend” or public figure. The articles opened the recesses of Godwin’s home to the public gaze, challenging conventional notions of public-private and the self- contained privacy of the domestic ideal.

From the point of view of the firms for whom he worked, such as William Watt, Jeffrey and Company, and Liberty’s, the exposure was ideal. They benefitted vicariously from Godwin’s journalistic exploits and the glamour of his bohemian lifestyle (a source of gossip among the artistically informed, even if not discussed openly in the press). At the same time they were not identified so closely with him that they had to take moral responsibility for his actions. A touch of risqué artiness made for good publicity. Critics were by no means all complimentary, for example, about Godwin and Whistler’s “Harmony in Yellow and Gold,” also known as the Butterfly Suite, at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878, but as Lewis Day pointed out, regardless of whether the famed cabinet that was the centerpiece of this suite was worth doing, “it cannot fail to be talked about.”89 By maintaining his critical distance in the press, however, Godwin avoided appearing to be a mere puppet of commercial concerns such as Liberty’s or Watt’s.

The authority and wit with which Godwin wrote made him visible at the time and gave him considerable power to publicize his work. Arguably it was his influence as a theater critic for various publications that gave him the opportunities to innovate in that sphere. In the appropriate magazine, a successful media launch targeted a huge potential audience. It was through skimming back issues of the Building News that Jonathan Carr discovered Godwin, whom he hired as architect for his famous Bedford Park development.90 The high profile of Godwin’s Anglo-Japanese furniture, both in his own time and in the construction of his posthumous reputation, owed much to the long shelf-life of William Watt’s Art Furniture catalogue, first published in 1877 and reprinted within a year. Prints of individual plates, which had appeared in the architectural press, copies of the actual catalogue, and the examples of various furnishings it had spawned were all widely available and easily recognizable. Following the death of Watt in 1885, Watt’s “representatives” gave some of the designs further airing in the Building News.91 For aspiring young designers the catalogue was further validated as a model for study through inclusion in the loan scheme to British Schools of Art and Design operated from South Kensington.92 While the publications of the British design reformers Charles Locke Eastlake and Bruce Talbert seem to have had a greater circulation in the United States than the Watt catalogue, Godwin’s printed designs were clearly known to an American audience.93 Subsequently it was the Watt catalogue that drew the attention of both Muthesius and Pevsner to Godwin, and in 1978 it was reprinted as one of “the 48 most important books of the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts Movements.”94

Godwin’s critical reputation and the wider diffusion of his work were closely bound to his use of the burgeoning art press.95 This in itself was characteristic of his modernity. At a fundamental level the rise of the media was altering social relationships between designers, manufacturers, retailers, and clients. Inevitably, Modernism was mediated through the printed word, the engraver’s line, and the photographer’s art, and the leading individuals or groups within the contemporary visual arts were all to recognize the importance of such vehicles in representing and promoting their work.

Godwin had not been alone in combining the roles of critic and practitioner A.W. N. Pugin, Owen Jones, William Morris, Christopher Dresser, and Bruce Talbert all heightened their visibility by committing their views and designs to print. But Godwin’s range as a critic was arguably wider, his use of the press and printed media more sophisticated. As a teacher he responded to letters and designs substituted by young architects in a way more like a modern correspondence course than the traditional face-to-face instruction of an assistant in the office.96 As a critic he created an image that was avant-garde and controversial, which pandoxically ended up strengthening his symbiotic relationship with those he attacked.

Observer and Designer of Modern Life

At least one commentator judged that Godwin’s career was derailed by the move to London in 1865 with its fatal distractions.97 But arguably it was precisely through his engagement with the great metropolis and the ways in which his sensibility, lifestyle, and practice were transformed that Godwin qualifies as a true “modern.” From the comparative stability of his practice as a provincial, Reformed-Gothic architect, married to a vicar’s daughter and living in the most respectable part of Bristol, Godwin’s life, after his move to the big city, increasingly embraced movement and change, the dynamism characteristic of modernity.

To survey the twenty years or so Godwin spent in London gives a sense of the experimental and continually reflexive way in which he explored different approaches to working and living, all the time refining his ideas about his art, its role, and its audience. Ultimately it was the theater that seemed the most challenging and effective outlet for his creative energy. While he evidently revelled in the intensified psychic and sensory stimulation and in the new freedoms and the social and economic opportunities that the buoyant metropolis afforded, he also had to negotiate its less palatable side: the desensitization, filth, and chaos of the urban environment; the emphasis on novelty and the apparently relentless proliferation of trashy fashions; the commodification of time and art.

It was the end of an era of fixed places. London was an international center, which immediately connected Godwin with new audiences and developments elsewhere. Furniture, wallpapers, and textiles made to his design migrated around Britain and to Europe, Australia, America; his designs were featured in international exhibitions and on the printed page. Even in Bristol, one of Britain’s larger ports, Godwin had developed the habit of frequenting the docks observing the arrival of exotic imports, but in London, he had access to a still greater range of commodities, old and new, which fueled his collecting instinct and his curiosity about the material culture of different periods and places. Godwin described the spectacle of crowds gathering at Liberty’s, for example, to watch the unpacking of the latest chests from the Orient.98 The metropolis gave him the freedom to move and engage with experience at will. Cloaked in the anonymity it afforded, he became a tour guide to his readers: “I shall ask you to go to the theatre and the circus, to attend ecclesiastical functions, to go into all sorts of studios, to accompany me to sanitary exhibitions, to workshops and to picture galleries. Today we will go to the Grosvenor Gallery.”99 His roving eye introduced them to objects and ideas from Ireland to Liverpool, from Rye to Japan to Yarmouth, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Lisieux, Paris, Northampton, and Vienna. He also traveled within Britain and Ireland to supervise architectural commissions and to the Continent for work and pleasure—holidaying in Normandy, installing and reviewing exhibitions in Vienna and Paris, researching Shakespeare ‘s Hamlet in Copenhagen. While exhorting architectural students to travel and to think internationally, however, he resisted the expansion of information and sources without knowledge and had a healthy respect for cultural differences; “let us spare the nations of the earth the infliction of our architectural fads and our archaeological art.”100 Increasingly Godwin’s style represented a dialectical interplay between the local and the global, drawing from a diversity of options, and destabilizing the notions of moral certitude and national identity which had been implicit in the Gothic Revival of his early career. Such a liberally cosmopolitan approach was rooted in Britain’s economic supremacy, and it contrasted with the jingoistic emphasis on “Englishness” which was soon to reappear as that imperial influence came under threat.

Artistically, financially, and emotionally, Godwin embarked on a life of risk-taking in London. This culture of risk was part of the capitalist dynamic of the markets and structures within which he worked. His diaries and office ledgers document his constant juggling of finances, his court appearances, and his battles with demanding clients. Godwin had sufficient faith in himself to gamble his material possessions and professional reputation on a series of speculative ventures. When Ellen Terry eloped with him, it was presumably a gamble to break the deadlock over her divorce, and although it failed in that sense, it was a breakthrough in terms of the liberating collaboration which resulted. Godwin’s subsequent career is littered with projects abandoned at various stages of completion. Such failures were important, however, both in his own creative development and in preparing the way for others. Participating in the Art Furniture Company, speculating on a development of studio flats, sinking money into a play, and planning a national theater, all show him to be exploring his potentialities in a proactive way.

Godwin’s emotional life was also subject to fluctuation and experimentation. Modern living engendered new forms of social relations, new manners. Above all, he emphasized the need to avoid the “sham” in both his art and his love life. In 1875, for example, he described a new style blending Gothic and classic as “a union that should be more than a barren love-in-a-cottage sort of sentimentality.”101 One may connect this imagery to his personal life, to the breakdown at the time of his rural idyll in Harpenden with Ellen Terry. Terry, whom he called “Mother” in his diaries, was replaced by Beatrice Phillips, who was referred to as “Wife,” and a succession of shorter-term liaisons from which he was constantly disengaging himself.102 Friendships blew similarly hot and cold, and many could not stay the pace.103 Nevertheless all the key relationships seemed to thrive when given a certain distance, and were bound by mutual respect rather than any conventional notion of morality and social responsibilities. His professional involvement with Ellen Terry continued after their affair had ended, and his open marriage with Beatrice Phillips seems to have extended to include his friend Whistler.

While Ellen Terry and Beatrice Godwin were shabbily treated in many ways, they had considerable social and artistic independence, compared to most middle-class women at the time. Their behavior was at odds with the conventional definition of the private interior space of the middle-class home as feminine territory, the antithesis of the public, external world of work peopled by men. Many of Godwin’s public haunts were open to them—the shops, the galleries, the studios, and the theater—though not the clubs. Once back on the stage, Ellen Terry was frequently absent on tour, while Godwin often worked at home. Although Beatrice may have been left behind on many occasions, she herself was frequently absent from the home as Godwin would quite often note in his diary, writing, for example, “Home. Wife out. No light on. Nothing, so out again.”104

At a fundamental level Godwin confirmed his attack on social norms by redesigning domestic spaces and home furnishings and challenging the conventional gendering of responsibilities in matters of design. Women were perfectly capable of becoming architects,105 and men could participate in the arrangement of the home or particular interiors, rather than leaving them solely to women.106 In designing to reflect such shifts, Godwin inverted the conventional coding whereby dark and heavy signified masculine, and light, refined, and delicate was feminine: “Men do not drink deep nor quarrel at table as of old …. Seeing that all this is so, that the feasts we now have are unencumbered except with fairy-like articles, that our manners are either so brightly effervescent or so steadily sober as to render us almost unconscious of support; the style of furniture in our dining-rooms should also be light.”107 Indeed Godwin’s whole style seems to celebrate lightness, delicacy, charm, and refinement.108

Godwin’s studio houses, including the White House, served as vehicles for opening up the dust-infested gloom of the domestic interior, and for combining the production and consumption of art into a single environment. In this sense they challenged the conventional categorization of public and private, home and work. What most artists needed was light. In fact Carlo Pellegrini (the cartoonist “Ape” of Vanity Fair) told Godwin “I wish to have nothing but light—walls and roof and everything.”109 Godwin’s designs for conservatories further blurred the boundaries between inside and out. The preface to Artistic Conservatories (1880) proclaimed that “art seems about to be released from her prison, within the four walls of the house” and further pronounced that “the window has had more to do than any other feature, in bringing about the downfall of the Gothic style for domestic purposes.”110 For Godwin the transformed domestic environment was not to become a retreat into medieval fantasy or claustrophobic, neurotic introspection. He was highly critical of the morbidly hypersensitive for whom “the mildest baby food causes absolute pain …. Some of our modern houses already look weird as if with foreboding of ghosts and haunted chambers.”111 This appears to be where Godwin parts company with the introversion of the next generation of more morbid Art Nouveau artists and designers. Rather than sealing the urban house off from external reality, Godwin wanted the light and air to flood in, which he rationalized as being both labor-saving and hygienic.112 Having watched his first wife die and having suffered from a delicate constitution himself, he considered matters of hygiene to be of special importance. His emphasis on the perpetual motion of light, air, and people, and the increasing transparency and spatial penetration of his architecture through widows and conservatories were to become symptomatic of Modernism. Writing in the 1930s, the cultural theorist Walter Benjamin observed the effect of transparency in the new architecture of glass and steel, which for Benjamin marked the turning point of an epoch.113

Godwin’s lifestyle was certainly full of discontinuities and instability. As the rent checks bounced and the bailiffs arrived, he moved from one office or home to another, continuing the process of constantly re-creating his environment. Even when not hounded by economic necessity, he would constantly fiddle with the composition of his home in the light of his shifting perceptions. But in a world of such unsettled habits, moving from one place to another, there was a need for stability, and Godwin set out to shape the environment of the home into “quiet, simple, unobtrusive” beauty as a way of dealing with “these high-pressure, nervous times.”114 His asymmetric compositions stilled all contradictions in a harmonious but often fragile balance of elements caught or “frozen” in transition. The practicalities of modern living meant traveling light, avoiding an accumulation of possessions. As it was for Walter Benjamin, Godwin’s modern house was the enemy of secrets and possessions. This was expressed in the paring down of room contents and the lightweight design of the furniture. Godwin described how the scantling of his sideboard had been reduced to a minimum in order to facilitate cleaning it and moving it when change was required. In fact the first version was so delicate that it fell to pieces. The light tones of his favored colorings and the teetering fragility of his Anglo-Japanese furniture hinted at the disintegration and dematerialization of experience, the shape-shifting of forms. The most radical of Godwin’s sideboard designs was arguably the one which had no existence independent of the interior: the novel arrangement of serving from a shelf around the walls in Oscar Wilde’s dining room. Such minimal arrangements created space in which the inhabitants, “the actors,” could freely move.115 Far from being pure exercises in abstraction, formal compositions of color, line, and form, his buildings were “only a background for figures.”116

In particular his designs for clothing and the theater incorporated movement as a dimension of the composition. His costume designs only “worked” with a moving body and the dynamic this set up with the surroundings. Godwin’s furniture and dress designs were for clothing modern life, not moldering skeletons. In this sense, day-to-day living was like a theatrical performance, one that could most easily be created and controlled within the artist’s own home. This resonates with the way in which Adolf Loos was to talk about “staging” experience in 1898: “the artist, the architect, first senses the effect he intends to realize …. He senses the effect that he wishes to exert upon the spectator.”117 Ellen Terry was still very much on-stage when Mrs. Bancroft came to call.118 But in real life extraneous, jarring components had a habit of intruding on this aesthetic creation.

It was through working as an art director-producer in the theater that Godwin could most effectively implement and control his vision. From the notion of composing a pictorial sequence of almost static tableaux framed by the stage, his theatrical productions began to explore the use of movement and changing light to choreograph the script. It was the whole performance—the combination of text, scenery and costumes, acting and direction—that constituted his art object, an object which could never be reconstituted exactly, an object which was only completed overtime before disintegrating forever. It could neither be framed and hung in a gallery nor used and admired in the home. An evanescent theatrical performance did not add to the clutter and complexity of the physical world but could continue to resonate unseen in the imaginations of the audience. For Godwin it was the theater that could most effectively demonstrate “the modern spirit of Renaissance” and meet the need for spectacle in modern life, which could no longer be satisfied by palatial building.119

In this reading of Godwin, the ephemeral qualities, the willful, “fantastic” elements from which the theorists of the Modern movement wished to distance themselves, are seen to encapsulate his modernity. At the same time it is Godwin’s work in the theater that most clearly demonstrates the ideological gulf between him and the puritan, iconoclastic, socialist flavor of interwar Modernism. It was the area of design in which his archaeological approach was most visible and taken to radical extremes. The likes of Walter Gropius and Pevsner would surely also have looked back on the colossal expenditure of £2,675 for a nine-night production of The Faithfull Shepherdesse, a mere evanescent play for an elite audience, as supremely profligate.120 Such extravagance undermined the view of Godwin as preoccupied with “economy” and “utility.” The Modernist aesthetic prioritized the fixed and monumental, devaluing the ephemeral and eclectic, the contingent, decorative, and “feminine.” Yet once all these devalued aspects are taken out of the art historical closet and inform our evaluation of Godwin’s strengths, surely his status as a Pevsnerian pioneer begins to collapse.

Cult Objects

When wondering what “lies” future generations would invent about the “genuine modern style” with which Godwin was associated, Roger Fry added as an afterthought that “when the time comes the legend will have taken shape, and that, from that moment on, the objects of the time will have the property of emanation.”121 Certainly the idea of Godwin as a pioneer of modern design seems fairly resistant to the challenges and reworkings of Modernism in general, which have come from within the disciplines of design, art, and architectural history. In a strange way the Pevsnerian emphasis on functional design and the achievements of a small group of pioneers has been mapped neatly onto a resurgence of interest in “design classics” and the cult of “designer” values in general since the 1980s. The orthodox construction of Godwin as a Modernist designer picks up on the rhetoric of design as an autonomous activity and the designer as somehow divorced from the contexts of commerce and social usage, emphasizing the aesthetic qualities of almost fetishistic products. Architect-designed furniture, whether new, reproduction, or old, commands increasingly high prices, echoing the way “art” manufacturers used the names of famous architects and artists to glamorize their products over a century ago.

In recent decades public interest in Godwin, though scant, has been driven largely by a network of London dealers specializing in nineteenth-century design. Their enthusiasm and researches have surfaced in a series of small exhibitions and publications, occasionally in collaboration with museum curators and academics. Symptomatic of this development was the acquisition by the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow of the famous Butterfly Cabinet designed for William Watt’s display at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878. It resurfaced dramatically on the market in 1973, breaking the record price for a piece of nineteenth-century furniture when sold at Christie’s for £8,400 ($21,000), despite being denounced in Country Life as a “deplorable cabinet … a fairly awful example of High Victorian insensibility … a tedious object.”122 Godwin’s work is now represented in a growing number of museum collections internationally. Inevitably, however, both museums and dealers are drawn to the tangible, surviving aspects of Godwin’s output, which have retained a commodity value. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover, let alone sell or display, one of his interiors or a theatrical performance.

Some pieces of Godwin furniture translate more readily to a museum context than others. As is evident from the photograph of Watt’s exhibit at the Paris exhibition, Godwin took extreme care over the presentation of his designs. The display demonstrated how the proportions, decoration, color, and texture of the overmantel would all tie into the larger conception of a room, with the top of the structure pinned in beneath the ceiling cornice. The way in which the panel decoration carried through onto the wall was described as “ingenious and suggestive.”123 Finishing touches to this “Harmony in Yellow and Gold” were provided by accents of color and texture in the oriental china, courtesy of Liberty’s. Being a fixed, dominating feature and, therefore, part of the internal architecture, Godwin’s fireplace served as a deliberate dramatic foil to the plainer, lighter furniture in the foreground. To an extent all museum objects are decontextualized, and the cabinet in its new setting in Glasgow now appears to be marooned against high, plain, off-white walls. In this instance Godwin and Whistler’s “poem” has undoubtedly been destroyed.

The numerous variations of the famous Anglo-Japanese sideboard fare better in a museum context, and in some ways it is not easy to sense what has been omitted. The basic design has a self-contained strength and identity, a sculptural quality, which has eased its transformation into a “design classic.” Displayed and photographed against white or plain walls and frequently stripped of vessels, the pieces can be more readily viewed as pure distillations of Godwin’s thought. The controlled, taut geometry and its planar appeal are through the eye and mind rather than the hand. Yet from the illustration in Watt’s catalogue, or the 1892 photograph taken in the dining room of the critic Wilfred Meynell, one can see that Godwin evidently intended the severe rectilinearity of the furniture to be offset by and linked to the wall divisions. Like its vernacular antecedent, the humble cottage dresser, the sideboard was essentially a display item, a background for vessels, without which it was incomplete.124 But in museums the famous sideboards are cut loose from the moorings of use, and the net effect is to highlight the structural, rational aspects of the design just as the polemic of Muthesius and Pevsner had done.

Godwin’s ebonized sideboard accorded particularly well with the hi-tech Braun and Porsche aesthetic of the1980s. It fitted all the defining characteristics of a “cult object”: “businesslike, professional, serious, masculine even.”125 Such an object was mass produced, or at least its shape and finish suggested that it was produced by machine, giving the impression of at least the existence of limitless numbers of identical objects, and “hinting at an ideal universal form that is independent of its creator.”126

In 1984 a version of the sideboard went on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the design assumed such a cachet that the same year it even entered crime fiction as the subject (and title) of John Malcolm’s “second Tim Simpson adventure.”127 Standing in front of the Godwin sideboard in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Malcolm’s hero, an art investment advisor, explains to his client, “There are quite a few museums, not to mention a few collectors who are after one of these. It’s not, as you can see, the workmanship or the craftsmanship particularly that you’re buying, it’s the design. No actually it’s Art. This piece qualifies as a work of art rather than a piece of furniture, mainly because it’s a milestone in the history of design. You can see that it’s not far from this, made in the eighteen sixties or seventies, to the Modern Movement. A chunk of design history. Much the same applies to Mackintosh furniture….”128 He further proclaims its rarity “good for investment.”129

Here we see a nexus between an orthodox, but dated, view of Modernism, museum collecting, and commercial interests, all apparently intent on hyping Godwin’s pioneer status. But at the same time reservations about this escalation were being expressed by some real dealers and curators. The entry on Godwin in the Penguin Dictionary of Design and Designers (1984) concluded that his importance as a design reformer “has probably been exaggerated in recent years.”130 The author of this entry was Simon Jervis, the Victoria and Albert Museum curator responsible at the time for the Godwin sideboard that is featured in Malcolm’s novel.

Nevertheless, in museum collections around the world, Godwin is indeed set to enter the twenty-first century more firmly ensconced than ever as a proto-Modernist on account of his furniture. In 1994 the sideboard series was described as “perhaps the most influential furniture design executed in Britain during the nineteenth century” and “the earliest Modern Movement icon.”131 Die Neue Sammlung in Munich will enshrine their version of the Godwin sideboard in a building for the new millenium opening in the year 2000, which will show the roots of European decorative art in the twentieth century. The museum catalogue describes Godwin’s furniture as “the forebear of furniture art of the 20th century.”132 There is even a proposal to move Godwin into hyperreality, into a Platonic realm of Pioneer icons, with a reconstruction of the White House, not where it once stood, but on the University of Glasgow campus, opposite the re-created home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.133 Just as museums decontextualize objects, so such a project would lose the references in scale, texture, and materials that Godwin was making to the artisanal housing and local character of Chelsea.

Following on from Philip Webb’s Red House of 1859–60, which was built for William Morris and considered avant-garde in its day, the White House does indeed seem to usher in the whiteness and lightness of Modernism. It seems a short step from Godwin’s concept forward to the white houses of Mackintosh, Baillie Scott, and Voysey, and from there to the white cubes of the Modernists and le Corbusier’s paean in 1925: “If the house is all white, the outline of things stands out from it without any possibility of mistake; their volumes show clearly; their colour is distinct. The white of whitewash is absolute, everything stands out from it and is recorded absolutely, black on white; it is honest and dependable …. Whitewash is extremely moral.”134

To package Godwin in this way with hindsight is seductively simple. On the most basic and compelling level, our eyes tell us that there has to be a connection between the unpretentious formal purity of the White House or of a Godwin sideboard and the design classics that follow. His designs and words still seem to “speak” to us across the years, in a language with which we are familiar, but the story we are reading is only partial and diminishes Godwin’s innovations and contribution overall. His participation in the stirrings of Modernism was genuine, but both more subtle and far-reaching than we have generally been led to believe.

© Bard Graduate Center, Juliet Kinchin.

Note: Most published sources are cited below in shortened form (author’s last name, abbreviated title, date of publication); full references will be found in the bibliography. Frequently cited archives are abbreviated below; for a key to the abbreviations, also see the bibliography.

1.Godwin, “Home of an English Architect,” part 1 (June 1886); 170–73; part 2 (October 1886); 301–305. See also Godwin, “Friends in Council No. 15: William Burges” (29 April 1881): 213–15.

2.Godwin, “Painter and A Sculptor” (15 January 1876): 30.


4.Oscar Wilde, “The Truth of Masks,” in Richard Ellmann, ed., The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982): 418.

5.The critical history of Modernism itself is reflected in the way different facets of Godwin’s art have been emphasized or suppressed over the years. Although Modernism has been manifested in all the arts, it has been theorized differently in each sphere of artistic activity. The so-called Modern movement in architecture and design, for example, had a different ideological slant to that of Modernist or avant-garde art, which creates additional problems in trying to assess the contribution of a figure as multitalented as Godwin. Any attempt to mesh Godwin and Modernism neatly together will always be provisional.

6.It was in 1960 that Godwin was first included in Pevsner’s Pioneers of Modern Design.

7.Reeves, “Anglo-Japanese Buffet by E.W. Godwin” (1994): 36–37.

8.Pevsner, Pioneers (1960): 17.

9.See Oxford University Press, Concise Dictionary of National Biography (1939): 505. Godwin’s principle achievements seemed to be that he had “assisted” Burges and Edis, had “restored” Dromore and Castle Ashby, and had designed some unspecified theatrical costumes and scenery; the only publications cited were Temple Bar Illustrated (1877) and an “adaptation” of The Faithful Shepherdesse (1885).

[I0] Whistler struck Augustus Moore, editor of the Hawk, a newspaper, with his cane during the intermission at a Drury Lane theater premier. Moore had published an exposé of a swindle accusing Godwin of having extracted money under false pretences for a bogus charity to fund his Greek Theatre. This incident put Godwin on a par with Manet, the other friend on whose behalf Whistler got violent.

11.Beerbohm, “1880,” Yellow Book (1895), cited in Harbron, Conscious Stone (1945): xiii. This shortlived literary and art periodical was closely associated with the “Aesthetes” and “Decadents” of the 1890s, notably Aubrey Beardsley, who was one of the editors.

12.Fry, “Ottoman and the Whatnot” (June 1919): 529.

13.Jopling, Twenty Years (1925): 289. This appellation probably refers to Godwin’s lifelong interest in the Saxon figure of Godwin Earl of Wessex. His first child, Edith, was called after the earl’s daughter, Eadgyth. Dudley Harbron notes that Godwin’s interest in Saxon architecture “was not unmixed with an interest in the life of Godwin, Earl of Wessex” (Harbron, Conscious Stone [1945]: 57).

14.“High” Modernism in this instance refers to the development of full-blooded Modern-movement thinking in the late 1920s and 1930s, as opposed to the “early” or “proto” Modernism of the period immediately before and during the First World War.

15.Harbron, “Edward Godwin” (1945): 49.

16.The key components of Godwin’s life are succinctly evoked and prioritized on the Harbron bookjacket. The figure of Godwin in the foreground directs his own and the readers’ gaze toward Whistler’s White House (mysteriously transposed among trees and blue skies). Isolated, enveloped in narcissistic communion with his masterwork, Godwin studiously ignores the miniaturized, lurid maw of a classical theater off to the right, and Ellen Terry’s portrait tumbling out of the vignette amid a bunch of roses, a scroll of wallpaper, and his drawing tools.

[I7] Pevsner, “Art Furniture of the Eighteen-Seventies” (January 1952): 43–50. The sideboard was illustrated three months later (Pevsner, “Furniture: A Godwin Sideboard” [April 1925]: 273); it was subsequently purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

18.See Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts (1952). Shirley Bury, one of the V&A curators, recalls finding one of the sideboards in use as a rabbit hutch. Another of the exhibition curators, Elizabeth Aslin, subsequently secured the “Monkey Cabinet” as a purchase from the estate of Godwin’s son, Edward, but it was many years before the museum was prepared to register the ten tea chests of designs and documentation which were also deposited.

19.Bøe connected the functionalist aspect of Godwin’s Anglo-Japanese furniture to

“a great number of pieces produced by still later people like Mackmurdo, C. F. A. Voysey, C. R. Ashbee, and others—not to mention the houses built by the later Scottish architect C.R. Mackintosh. They carry on the tradition from Whistler’s White House built for him in Chelsea in 1887 by E. W. Godwin” (Bøe, From Gothic Revival to Functional Form [1957]: 148).

20.Kaufmann, “Edward Godwin and Christopher Dresser” (October 1958): 162–65. An edition of Alf Bøe’s book had been published in New York the previous year. Subsequently, Godwin’s position in the canon was legitimized by the long-term loan of a sideboard to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from March 1984 to November 1992, and in1996 the museum acquired a rosewood, octagonal table designed by Godwin.

21.Pevsner, “Art Furniture of the Eighteen-Seventies” (January 1952): 47.

22.“There was no question that Wright, Garnier, Loos, Behrens, Gropius were the initiators of the style of the century and that Gaudí and Sant’Elia were freaks and their inventions fantastical rantings. Now we are surrounded once again by freaks and fantasts” (Pevsner, Pioneers [1960]:17);”the blind alley of Art Nouveau” (ibid., p. 89).

23.Pevsner, “Art Furniture of the Eighteen-Seventies” (January 1952): 47.

24.In the move away from historical revivalism, eclecticism became a sign of weakness. Godwin’s direct contemporary, Colonel Robert William Edis, is presented in Pevsner’s 1952 article as lacking a strong character; he had “no mission,” and there was “no system” behind his influential book The Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses. Godwin’s Art Furniture catalogue for William Watt, on the other hand, is described as “all very much in the same style, and Godwin calls it on one page Anglo-Japanese.” In fact, Godwin used the terms “Old English” or “Jacobean” just as many times in the catalogue which also included Gothic church furnishings (plate 19) and a “Queen Anne” cabinet (plate 12). In omitting to mention that Edis was both a friend and collaborator Pevsner teased the two still farther apart. They had collaborated on a competition design for the Berlin Houses of Parliament. Edis appears in Godwin’s diaries as a dining companion (for example, 1 and 2 February 1879), and Edis featured a Godwin chair in the frontispiece to The Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses (1881).

25.Pevsner, “Art Furniture of the Eighteen-Seventies” (1952): 47.

26.Pevsner, Pioneers (1960): 17, 102.

27.Ibid., p. 110.

28.Ibid., p. 64.

29.Ibid., p. 156. This view was echoed by Dennis Farr in 1973 who described the White House as “almost proto Art-Nouveau in its willful asymmetry” (Farr, English Art [1978]: 141).

30.Pevsner, Pioneers (1960): 151.


32.Ibid., pp. 151–52.


34.Quoted in Harbron, Conscious Stone (1949): 80.

35.Messenger and Company, Artistic Conservatories (1880): 5.

36.Vallance, “Furnishing and Decoration of the House,” part 4 (1892): 113.


38.See Service, “James MacLaren and the Godwin Legacy” (August 1973): 111–18. 39. Voysey, “Report of dinner” (November 1927): 53.

40.Register of loans from South Kensington [Victoria and Albert Museum], 1886, in the Glasgow School of Art Archives. The catalogue was loaned from 23 September to 11 November, 1886.

41.Ashbee’s Chelsea houses (1893–1912) were concentrated in a stretch of Cheyne Walk more or less around the corner from Tite Street. The witty, “pictorial” composition of the elevations, the austere interiors, and the compact planning were particularly close to Godwin’s. Mackintosh lived in Chelsea in the early 1920s, during which time he designed a studio complex in Glebe Place. His designs from the same period for an Artist’s Town House and a theater for Margaret Morris also seem to make reference to Godwin.

42.H. Muthesius, English House (1904–5; reprint 1979): I57.

43.Obituary, “Edward W. Godwin,” British Architect (15 October 1886): 347.

44.Messenger and Company, Artistic Conservatories (1880): 6.

45.See, for example, American Architect and Building News 20 (30 October1886): 202.

46.Godwin, “Some Notes of a Month in Normandy,” part 2 (11 September 1874): 308.

47.Godwin, “Frozen Music” (5 February 1876) : 76.

48.Godwin, “Notes on the Costume in the Pictures at the Royal Academy”(29 May 1875): 314.

49.Godwin, “In the Studios of Some ‘Outsiders’,” part 1 (11 March 1876): 156. Ironically, Godwin designed a series of “cottage furniture” for Collinson and Lock and for William Watt (see chap. 8 in this volume.)

50.Godwin, “Curiosities of Architecture” (17 July 1875): 31.

51.Aslin, Aesthetic Movement (1969): 13. Nevertheless the book’s concluding sentence still identified the Aesthetic movement as part of a transition from the eclectic historicism of the early nineteenth century to the disciplined and purposeful style of the Modern movement.

52.Service, ed., Edwardian Architecture (1975).

53.“Rogue architects” was a term coined by the architect and historian H. S. Goodhart Rendell. See Nikolaus Pevsner, “Conclusion: Goodhart-Rendell’s Roll-Call,” in ibid., pp. 472–84.

54.Service, “James MacLaren and the Godwin Legacy” (August 1973): 111–18.

55.See, for example, David Brett, C. R. Mackintosh: The Poetics of Workmanship (London: Reaktion Books, 1992); Timothy Neat, Part Seen, Part Imagined: Meaning and Symbolism in the Work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1994); Karen Moon, George Walton (Wendlebury:White Cockade Publishing, 1992).

56.Godwin, “On Some Buildings I Have Designed” (29 November1878): 211.

57.Charles Rennie Mackintosh, “G. Seemliness” (1902), in Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Architectural Papers, ed. Pamela Robertson (Wendlebury, Oxon: White Cockade/Hunterian Art Gallery, 1990): 222–23. Godwin’s career certainly appeared to confirm Mackintosh’s view that “The Architect must become an art worker, and be content to forgo the questionable distinction & pleasure of being respected as the head (and perhaps the founder) of a large and successful buisness [sic].”

58.[Obituary], Art Journal (November 1886): 352; [obituary], Building News (October 1886): 589.

59.(Obituary], “The Week” Architect (15 October 1886): 217.

60.See Halén, Christopher Dresser (1990). Shaw used Godwin furniture in his home at Ellerdale Road in Hampstead, London.

61.(Obituary], “Edward W. Godwin” British Architect (22 October 1886): 348.

62.Godwin, “Frozen Music” (5 February 1876): 76–77. Perfection was impossible, “it is only in the endeavour to reach this ideal—in the act of moving ever and ever onwards—that a living Art is possible” (Godwin,“‘Daily News’ Versus Art” [20 November 1875]: 282).

63.Godwin, “‘Daily News’Versus Art” (20 November 1875): 282.

64.Godwin, “Frozen Music” (5 February 1876): 76–77.

65.V&A AAD, 4/23–1988: 16–7, quoted in Aslin, E. W. Godwin (1986): 8.

66.Godwin,“‘Daily News’Versus Art” (20 November 1875): 281.

67.Godwin, “Present Aspect of Decorative Painting” (11 September 1875): 140.

68.The worst offences in Godwin’s eyes were the artificially imitative behavior of fashion victims, “spurious make-believes” in the theater (Godwin, “Theatrical Jottings,” part 2 [18 June 1875]: 684); “unnatural and stagey” dress, or the medievalist paintings of Frank Dicksee who had “outstaged the stage” (Godwin, “Notes on the Costume” [29 May 1875]: 314); or “stagey posing” in architecture (Godwin, “Curiosities of Architecture” [17 July 1875]: 30).

69.G. Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1902), reprinted in Art in Theory, 1900–1990, ed. C. Harrison and P. Wood (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992): 131.

70.Godwin, “To Our Readers” (4 January 1878): 1.

71.Coleman, “Fool’s Revenge” (7 August 1886): 12.

72.“Architects and Furniture” (7 January 1874): 72–73. The letter continued “the proudest boast of their producers seems to reside in the fact that they are intensely ‘geometrical’ … Its candid angular lines stare grimly out at you, shouting ‘We are SIMPLE, We are STONEY, We are STRONG! … We are Architectural! … bow down and worship us!”’ A familiar tactic in the trade papers was to criticize Godwin’s designs according to his printed pronouncements on issues such as practical convenience, economy, or truth to construction and materials. Roper was an architect and designer who worked for Gillow and Company among others in the 1870s. His work is often confused with that of Godwin (see “Our Lithographic Illustrations,” Building News 26 [9 January 1874]: 49, which shows a buffet by Roper).

73.“Nothing could be more unfortunate for the Metropolitan Board of Works than the destruction of Temple Bar …. Everyone interested in making modern London a city worthy to be ranked with the modern cities of Europe looks frowningly, and even the Daily News has opened fire on what it calls a group of mere nominees—nominees whose immense power has been neglected or misused” ([Godwin], Notes on Current Events [11 January 1878]: 20).

74.“Architectural Association: The Designing of Studios” (8 March 1879):146.


76.“Societies: London Architectural Association” (7 March 1879): 106.

77.In the Whistler v. Ruskin trial, when asked if the labor of two days, taken to paint The Falling Rocket, justified a price of 200 guineas, Whistler responded, “I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime” (James M. Whistler, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies [London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1890]: 5).

78.[Obituary], American Architect (30 October 1886): 202. As early as 1863 Godwin had been complaining about the “absence of thought in all the so-called decorations of the present day”; the scramble to get rich meant that designers had no time to think, and their clients or audience no time to understand. (Godwin, Handbook of Floral Decoration [1865]: 11).

79.See, for example, Godwin, “Present Aspect of Decorative Painting”(11 September 1875): 140–41.

80.Whistler took up the cudgels once more when he returned from Venice, living “next door to himself” in Tite Street. In a letter drafted to the Pall Mall Gazette, Quilter was accused of “living in the White House of his betters—degrading it and defacing it, and leaving the mark of his abomination upon it. Thus is the Great ever linked to the little …. So are the clowns remembered with their masters”(Whistler Collection, Glasgow, GUL P14).

81.Godwin, “To Art Students, Letter No. 9” (11 July 1884): 13.


83.Godwin, “Theatrical Notes” (29 July 1881): 379.

84.Letter to William Watt dated 1 January 1877, printed in Watt, Art Furniture (1877): iii.

85.[Godwin], “We learn from an American newspaper …” (8 February1878): 64. At issue was a book: Lucy Orrinsmith, The Drawing-Room, its Decorations and Furniture (London: Batsford, 1877).

[86]The Godwin furniture was displayed in the New York showrooms of Daniel Cottier who started by importing Godwin furniture but subsequently had copies made in New York because the imports were arriving damaged.

87.Maud Holt tried to persuade her fiancé, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, not to join Godwin’s Costume Society in 1882, describing Godwin as “such a man as she would no more shake hands with than with a snake”(quoted in Max Beerbohm Tree, comp., Herbert Beerbohm Tree, some memories of him … [London: Hutchinson, 1920]: 19). For the full text of the letter from Maud Holt to Tree, see Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree: His Life and Laughter (London: Columbus Books, 1988): 37–38.

88.Godwin, “My Chambers and What I Did to Them,” part 1 (1 July 1876): 4–5; part 2 (8 July 1876): 18–19; idem, “My House ‘in’ London,” part 1 (I5 July 1876): 33–34; part 2 (22 July 1876): 45–46; part 3 (29 July 1876): 58–59; part 4 (5 August 1876): 72–73; part 5 (12 August 1876): 86; part 6 (19 August 1876): 100–101; idem, “From the House-Top” (26 August 1876): II2–I3.

89.Day, “Notes on English Decorative Art in Paris,” part 3 (12 July 1878): 16.

90.In an 1877 letter to the editor of the Building News (“Bedford Park Estate” [2 February 1877]: 134), Carr described how he selected Godwin on the basis of designs for a parsonage which had been published in that magazine in 1874 (“A Parsonage” [6 March 1874]: 256, 263, 266–67).When Godwin ‘s preparatory designs for the Bedford Park development were published in the December 1876 and January 1877 issues of the Building News they were instantly criticized by William Woodward in the magazine as was the single design of his successors, Coe and Robinson. Media attention of this kind could be a double edged sword; it appears that the adverse criticism caused Carr to drop Godwin from the project in favor of Norman Shaw.

91.“Working Drawings of Inexpensive Furniture” (18 December 1885):1011 and illus. 1008–9; these designs were “executed by the representatives of the late Mr. Wm. Watt.” Similarly the design for a cabinet shown in the Building News was described as having been made formerly by the late Mr. William Watt and now by his “representatives” at his old address in Grafton Street (“Cabinet for Objects de Virtu” [5 March 1886]: 376 and illus. 390). The “art cabinet” illustrated in the following issue was described as now made by “Messrs. Watt. And Co.” (“An Art Cabinet” [19 March 1886J: 456 and illus. 471).

92.By the time Fra Newbery moved to Glasgow to take up the post of headmaster in the Glasgow School of Art in 1885, he had already developed an admiration for both Whistler and Godwin while in London, and in 1886 he requested the loan of the Watt catalogue for his students. The loan reinforced already strong connections with Aesthetic circles in London and was still in the school at the time of Godwin’s death which perhaps drew attention to the designs.

93.“Most of our readers know the quaint and pretty devices he produced so easily” (American Architect 20 [30 October 1886]: 202. See also American Architect 21 (18 November 1876): 372.

94.See Watt, Art Furniture (1877; reprinted 1878).

95.He published his first book at the age of seventeen and throughout his career was a “clear writer and thinker on many Art subjects, and most archaeological questions” ([obituary], “Art Notes and Reviews,” Art Journal [November 1886]: 352). Ruskin’s copious writings had established the idea of a mass audience for art, inspiring a generation of critics, among them Godwin. This adds another facet to the discussion of Ruskin as a formative influence, which is well documented in respect of Godwin’s early architectural career and self-evident in his Town Hall designs. See M. W. Brooks, John Ruskin and Victorian Architecture (1987): 178–212.

96.George Freeth Roper (1872), letter to R. W. Edis, V&A AAD, 4/402–1998: “l think, however, a true Architect works for the advancement of his art, and when he publishes his designs he does so with the knowledge and hope that they may have influence on future work from other hands—I know Mr Godwin works in this spirit, from the [illegible] he always shows to teach you something.”

97.“His removal to London did not help him as an artist. Here he found too many distractions” ([obituary], “The Week,” The Architect [15 October 1886]: 217). Similarly William White commented in the Building News (23 April 1875), p. 472: “the most accomplished living architect in England is expending his tried powers over the trappings of a play.”

98.Godwin, “Afternoon Strolls. A Japanese Warehouse” (23 December 1876). His significant role in the early stages of the nineteenth-century rediscovery of Japan and the development of a so-called Anglo-Japanese style is well documented elsewhere: see for example, Watanabe, High Victorian Japonisme (1991); N.B. Wilkinson, “Edward William Godwin and Japonisme” (1987): and chap. 3 in this volume. One writer remarked of wallpapers Godwin designed for Jeffrey & Co. that “Mr. Godwin has gone beyond most people’s notions of the boundaries of civilisation and has added Japan” (“Wallpapers” [October 1872]: 291).

99.Godwin, “To Art Students, Letter No. 1” (2 May 1884): 215.

100.Godwin, “Scraps for Students,” part 3 (6 May 1876): 285.

101.Godwin, “The Ex-Classic Style Called ‘Queen Anne’” (16 April 1875): 442.

102.“Mother,” “wife,” and “Mrs. Godwin” were the terms he used most commonly in his diaries. See, for example, the diary entry for 12 November 1873, V&A AAD 4/1–1980: “Edy and Mother to St Albans to see Japanese conjurors”; and, by contract, see also the entry for 2 September 1877, V&A AAD, 4/3–1980, “To Whistler with Wife,” as well as chap. 1 in this volume. For brief liaisons, see Harbron, “Edward Godwin” (1945): 48. Harbron quotes the late T.P. O’Conner, who said, “He was a singularly attractive man to the ladies, and had many adventures.”

103.“His temperament was hardly calculated to attract close friendship, but he was extremely pleasant and genial company” (Obituary, “Edward W. Godwin” British Architect [15 October 1886]: 348).

104.Diary entry dated 14 October 1881, V&A AAD, 4/6–1980.

105.See, for example, Godwin, “Industrial Education Bureau” (6 June 1874): 5; idem, “Mr. E. W. Godwin on Lady Architects,” (12 June 1874): 378; idem, “Lady Architects,” (13 June 1874): 335.

106.Godwin, “My Chambers,” part 1 (1 July 1876): 45. Godwin pointed out that usually “the wife takes the drawing-room as a matter of course under her especial protection, leaving the dining-room possibly, and the hall certainly, in charge of her lord.

107.Godwin, “My House ‘In’ London,” part 3 (29 July 1876): 58.

108.His main criticism of Burges was that his designs were “too masculine” and solid. Godwin, “Friends in Council: No.15 William Burges” (29 April 1881): 214.

109.“Societies: London Architectural Association” (7 March 1879): 106.

110.Messenger and Company, Artistic Conservatories (1880): 5–6.

111.Godwin, “Correspondence: The Walker Exhibition” (22 January 1876): 58.

112.Watt, Art Furniture (1877): iv. The introduction emphasized the need for good light and plenty of fresh air in house design: “the open air is like the open sea. The sea is always fresh because it is in perpetual motion.” See also chap. 1 in this volume.

113.Walter Benjamin, “Die Wiederkehr des Flaneurs,” in Gesammelte Schriften, eds. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhauser (1972): vol. 3, p.168.

114.Godwin, “Furniture” (15 June 1872): 1–2, quoted in Aslin, E.W. Godwin (1986): 7.

115.Godwin, “My House ‘In’ London,” part 4 (5 August 1876): 73. Godwin wrote, “I have thus plenty of free walking space.”

116.[Obituary], “The Week,” The Architect (15 October 1886): 2I7

117.See Beatriz Colomina, “The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism,” in Sexuality and Space ed. B. Colomina (1992): 73–128.

118.Terry was clearly aware of the impact her dress an home environment made on visitors, and recalled how the formidable Mrs. Bancroft “came into a room which had been almost stripped of furniture. The floor was covered with Japanese matting, and at one end was a cast of the Venus de Milo, almost the same colossal size as the original. Mrs. Bancroft’s wonderful grey eyes examined it curiously. The room, the statue, and I myself must all have seemed very strange to her. I wore a dress of some deep yellow wollen material which my little daughter used to call the ‘frog dress’ ….” (Terry, Story of My Life [1908]: 101).

119.Godwin, “Theatrical Jottings,” part 2 (18 June 1875): 868; idem, “Scraps for Students,” part 3 (6 May 1876): 284.

120.Accounts of the Pastoral Players, 1884–85, V&A TA, Godwin collection, box 4.

121.Fry, “Ottoman and the Whatnot” (June 1919): 529.

122.Davis, “Talking about Salerooms” (November 1973): 1543.

123.Day, “Notes on English Decorative Art in Paris,” part 3)12 July 1878): 15–16.

124.Crisp, “Art as applied to furniture” (6 January 1865): 7.

125.Sudjic, Cult Objects (1985): 16.


127.John Malcolm is the pseudonym of John Andrews (born 1936), himself an antique dealer and author of The Prince Guide to Antique Furniture (1979) and The Victorian and Edwardian Furniture Price Guide and Reason for Values (1992), both published by the Antique Collector’s Club, Woodbridge, England.

128.Malcolm, Godwin Sideboard (1984): 16.


130.Jervis, Penguin Dictionary of Design and Designers (1984): 204.

131.Reeves, “Anglo-Japanese Buffet by E. W. Godwin” (1994): 36–37.

132.The catalogue further calls it “ … fundamentally different from the contemporary historicizing furniture in its basic severe forms, in its combination of simplicity and aesthetic refinement” (Neue Sammlung, Century of Design [1996]: 44).

133.It would house the university’s Centre for Whistler Studies.

134.Le Corbusier, The Decorative Art of Today (1925), reprint, trans. J. Dunnett (London: The Architectural Press, 1987): 191–92.