Edward Godwin

An Influential Figure in British Furniture Making

In the work of the architect-designer Edward William Godwin (1833-86) we see the emergence of modern design. He was among the first to blend the western design repertoire with the spirit of Japanese art - first seen by a wide audience at the 1862 International Exhibition in London - and an important influence in both the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts movements.

A Productive Career

As with contemporary Christopher Dresser, Godwin worked for different manufacturers and in different mediums, turning his hand to architecture, interior design, furniture, textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, and the theatre.

The distinctive pared-down furniture, much of it with an ebonised finish, for which he coined the phrase ‘Anglo-Japanese’ was made principally by two firms. Collinson & Lock employed him from 1872 for about three years while he worked with William Watt from late 1860s and through the 70s. Much of Godwin’s output was retailed though Liberty & Co to an avant garde clientele that included Godwin’s close friends Oscar Wilde and James McNeil Whistler.

Many Aesthetic movement pieces are today catalogued ‘in the style of EW Godwin’ and available at affordable sums. A much smaller body of work (very little of it signed) can be firmly attributed to his pen. 

Godwin himself complained in the foreword to the 1877 William Watt trade catalogue Art Furniture that an ebonised side table, designed in 1867 and made by Watt in the late 1860s and 70s, had been regularly copied without authorisation. These lookalikes find a ready market today, albeit at around £100-150, the fraction of the price of a Watt/Godwin original (perhaps £2000). 

There is also a distinction to made between the designs Godwin produced - both earlier in his career and for more conservative clients - which are grounded in traditional Victorian design and the more desirable stark geometric forms for which he is most admired. 

Sworder’s specialist John Black made a spectacular barn find in 2015 - an ebonised coromandel and inlaid octagonal centre table to a well-known Godwin design and made by Collinson & Lock c.1875. It was consigned by a direct descendant of Andrew Muir (1817-99), a wealthy merchant who co-founded the Muir & Mirrielees department store in pre-revolutionary Moscow. 

John Black received a snapshot of just the underside of the table as it lay in storage. It was water damaged and not easily accessible - "I had to jump over two fences, shuffle past donkeys and then squeeze into a damp stable to see it," he said - but an exciting find with a great provenance. The winning bid was £31,000.

Sworders conduct three specialist auctions a year showcasing affordable and stylish ceramics, glass, metalwares, sculpture, pictures and furniture from the period 1860 to the present day.

The Decorative Art and Design sale caters for all budgets with estimates ranging from £100 to £100,000 and covers the key movements from Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau to Art Deco and Modern Design.

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