I well remember the day I walked around the Victoria and Albert Museum in London back in 1972 and found to my surprise that I could identify the date of most of the furniture without reading the labels on the cards. It was a little bit like having the key to something you never thought you would be able to unlock. There is a sense of exhilaration in realizing that you have knowledge, albeit as limited as I knew it to be at that point in my career.
Among the most interesting furniture made in eighteenth century England was “transitional” furniture, furniture that bridged the style interregnum from one stylistic era to the next as, for example, from the rococo to the neoclassical. This furniture is not coveted when it is awkward or aesthetically challenged but those pieces are rare, because eighteenth century cabinetmakers were just that good in leaping from one style to the next.
It is almost always transitional furniture that stumps the neophyte enthusiast. Style books and museums prefer to feature examples of stylistic finesse, not the rare, hard-to-find transitional pieces. If there was ever a need for going to see furniture in shops, particularly high end antique establishments, it is for filling in this knowledge gap. It is far more intriguing to look at both the debasement of one style and the genesis of another all in one piece as it forces us to think. Isn’t that a good thing?