Armchair for the Woburn Public Library
Probably designed by H.H. Richardson; possibly manufactured by A. H. Davenport & Company
Boston, MA, ca. 1878
Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Woburn Public Library; photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 61.236
One of America's most influential architects of the nineteenth century, Henry Hobson Richardson is best known for his original interpretation of early medieval building styles in modern architecture; he himself described the style as "a free rendering of the French Romanesque." As an important figure in the design-reform movement of the period, he designed furnishings and interiors integrated with the overall architectural scheme of his libraries, churches, and other public buildings. For the Woburn Public Library (sometimes called Winn Memorial Library) in Woburn, Massachusetts — the first of several public library commissions, constructed from 1876 to 1879 — Richardson designed this chair to harmonize with the curved lines of the wooden barrel-vaulted ceiling in the book room and the picturesque, neo-medieval style of the building. The chair reveals the influence of British architects and design reformers, including Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, Bruce Talbert, William Morris, and others who advocated a return to the "honest" design principles of medieval furniture. Richardson intended its solid oak frame with chamfered, or angled, edges and deliberately exposed joinery to suggest the sturdy character of medieval furniture so admired by the English reformers. The chair's curving, crossed members and pared-down structure may be indebted to Gothic-inspired designs by Pugin and Talbert, including X-frame chairs and tables. Nevertheless, Richardson's chair was an original form, which despite its massive scale is visually lightened by its spare carved ornament and its unusual cantilevered arms.
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