Sideboard (Edward William Godwin)

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Sideboard, 1867–1870, Edward William Godwin (1833–80) V&A Museum no. CIRC.38:1 to 5-1953

This sideboard was designed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86), who was one of the most important exponents of Victorian Japonisme, the appreciation and appropriation of Japanese artistic styles. Japan began trading with the West in the 1850s, and by the next decade imported Japanese prints (Ukiyo-e), ceramics and textiles were very fashionable in Britain. Godwin was influenced by interiors depicted in Japanese prints and by the studies he made of Japanese architecture, but he did not seek to imitate Japanese designs. Instead his Anglo-Japanese furniture aimed to combine the more general principles of simplicity and elegance he admired in the art of Japan with domestic needs of the Victorian home.

The sideboard is stylish and dramatic, but it is also quite appropriate for use in a dining room. It is functional with drawers, adjustable shelves, and a rack fitted to take a large dish between the cupboards. The construction and finish are practical and hygienic, with hard surfaces and simple decoration, and the raised bottom shelf gives access for cleaning the floor.

Godwin designed the first version of this sideboard in ebonised deal, a cheap wood, in 1867. He subsequently changed to ebonised mahogany, as he found deal to be unstable. At least ten versions of the original were made between 1867 and 1888, with differences in design, in decoration or in the number of legs. There are several surviving examples of this sideboard, made of ebonised deal, mahogany, or oak and pine. The original sideboard was designed by Godwin for the dining room of his London home in 1867.