QUEEN ANNE wasn't much of a queen, but her name has been the eponym for some of the prettiest architecture England has had. While she lived, Wren did it honor, and long afterward, between 1860 and 1900, it was commemorated again in an efflorescence of building freely styled "Queen Anne," though it incorporated bits of Queen Elizabeth and Francois I with lashings of Scotch, Flemish, and Dutch. The style was abandoned and forgotten around the time Queen Victoria died, but Mark Girouard has vividly resurrected it in this wonderful book.
"Queen Anne" cheerfully turned its back on Gothic Revival architecture, whose dogmas, irresistible for 40 years, had turned the Victorian world to stone, as those of the Bauhaus made ours concrete and glass. Where Gothic Revival was dark, doctrinaire, committed to serious matters - the church, the law, government - "Queen Anne" was inconsequential, gay, domestic, middle-class.
Red brick was its fabric, sometimes ornamented with panels of carved sunflowers; white-painted sashes with small panes supplanted expanses of plate glass. The symmetry of the original was ignored: tall ribbed chimneys, wooden cupolas, and gables galore sprouted out of steep roofs where they pleased; fan lights, bull's eyes, curved bays like 18th-century shop fronts, oriels, and cozy wooden balconies burst out all over with merry unpredictability.It was an architecture of optimism, of play, without a philosophy or a theory to its name.
Indoors, the purples and crimsons, the massive furniture, the gilt and velvet of mid-century gave way to Morris wallpapers, displays of blue-and-white china, peacock feather fans, Japanese prints, spindly chairs and tables, art tiles, and a palette of grayish blues and blueish greens. (See another fascinating new book, The Opulent Eye: Late Victorian and Edwardian Taste in Interior Design, by Nicholas Cooper [Watson-Guptill], for a sense of this shift.)
In gardens, bedded-out parterres were dismissed for a profusion of "old-fashioned" flowers: sunflowers, lilies, hollyhocks, nasturitiums, with roses smothering trellises; while to the nursery world "Queen Anne" brought the delicious picture books of Caldecott, Crane, and Greenaway.There, right in the middle of Victoria's reign, everything "Victorian" was challenged by the children of those who had erected massive neo-Gothic monuments to commerce. From now on they would have sweetness and light, beauty and mind.
The revolution, if something so empty of theory can be called one, began with Rossetti and Morris, Burne-Jones and Philip Webb, who undertook as a firm to design and manufacture the complete aesthetic dwelling - glass, wallpaper, tiles, furniture, the works - suggesting some ideal rustic past. A rising generating of architects - the most gifted were Shaw, Nesfield, Webb, Stevenson, Scott, Champneys, and Godwin - translated sweetness and light into brick.
A style so capricious and spontaneious was inadequately grave for important public uses, but it made charming country houses for well-to-do, well-meaning people. A house called Joldwynds by Webb prompted someone to say "it looked as if human people might live in it." Making its way into town, "Queen Anne" engulfed Chelsea in red brick and set the style for houses, flats, shops, even offices, like Shaw's "brilliant but dangerous" New Zealand Chambers whose facade billowed and glittered with massed oriel windows, letting in floods of light after all that Gothic gloom.
In Cambridge's Newnham College, by Champneys, one of the first for women, the style reached a fever pitch of charm. The pink-and-white buildings with their curly Flemish gables, copper-domed turrets, and innumerable sparkling bay and oriel windows must have cast a spell on the inhabitants. The principal would silently kiss her girls as they passed by, and George Eliot, on a visit, informed a lovely student (later the Greek scholar Jane Harrison) that her Morris wallpaper made a beautiful background for her face.
The new architecture began to appear in town halls, schools and colleges, hospitals, libraries, and low-income housing - where high ideals called for "coffee taverns" instead of the pubs and gin palaces the residents might have preferred. Wholesale reform seemed infinitely possible and alluring in the '70s; Utopia beckoned.
One ideal community was Bedford Park, the first garden suburb - "an apparition of a little red town made up of the quaintest Queen Anne houses" ("quaint" and "old-fashioned" were highest praise in the vocabulary of sweetness and light). Artistic and literary types came to live in houses, set in gardens under old trees, with names like Pleasaunce, Elm Dene, and Ye Denne. There was a church, cooperative store, clubhouse, art school, and of course a coffee tavern. They practised what they preached.
As manifested in Chelsea's Tite Street, "Queen Anne" would have shocked Bedford Park. There real artists commissioned daring houses and settled down to art, alcohol, seduction, and litigation, Whistler and Wilde among them. Oscar made do with renting a commercial builder's "Queen Anne," but Whistler ordered himself a house that flabbergasted the Board of Works. It was too superbly plain; only the addition of sculptured panels and facy window surrounds finally got it by. It architect, Godwin, drew an even more stunning plan, 50 years ahead of its time, for one of Wilde's rich friends. As in the Whistler case, elaborate modifications were demanded by the board that made something merely handsome out of what had been radically elegant and powerful.
In its rosy twilight the style dwindled into summer hotels and houses, decked with balconies, that looked out to sea through myriad windows flung open to receive sunshine and bracing breezes. Nowhere was "Queen Anne" more at home than here, where life was dedicated to pleasure and self-improvement. But by the American seaside it underwent a real sea change into something far grander and bolder than any of its charming English expressions. Vast shingle houses, confident on their massive rock foundations, gaze down long lawns and over cliffs above the ocean, friendly giants built to accomodate packs of guests and servants, demonstrating once more that climate is history, and sociology too. Far in the U.S. cold winters and hot summers called for central heating and cross-ventilation; unlike England, where doors are kept closed, they were left open in American houses, and people mingled - children, servants, men, women. The social system allowed it; the climate required it.These make-believe pioneer dwellings among rocks and pines, with their silvery sking of shingles, their porches and gables, turrets, balconies, bay windows, and long, sweeping roofs, became a national style, at home in Maine and Minnesota and California, to which modern architecture can trace its lineage.
Mark Girourd combines what someone called perfect focus in architecture with an exuberant literaty gift. In 1971 he published a superb study, The Victorian Country House (Oxford), which was greeted as masterly; one need not be an architecture buff to relish both these books. Houses are stages for human drama, the fabric of fantasy and common sense working together or at odds; a floor plan tells as much about how people lived as their diaries and letters.their diaries and letters.