John Linnell, born 1729- died 1796. One of the most prolific British furniture designers and cabinetmakers from the 18th century. He took over his father’s cabinet shop and designed and built furniture for some of the greatest homes in England. What I find striking about Linnell is his use of drawings. Note this chair sketch from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, it’s almost like an artists pre-study for a great painting.
Another departure in his drawings is to leave a bit of the architectural background behind the furniture image. This drawing for a table and mirror says a great deal about traditional design. Look closely at the faint lines that show a bit of the window frames and interior woodwork and how the elements on the table and mirror align with the interior architecture. Traditional designers put an emphasis on how doors, windows, and fireplaces harmonized with a room. In the same way a large furniture piece, be it casework or a mirror, is part of the composition of a wall space. Typical of the period also is how the drawing illustrates several options for the same design. If you look at the details of the legs and ornament on the left and right side you can view two different schemes built around the same form. Even if Linnell’s designs aren’t your cup of tea, there are lessons to be learned. I’m just now putting together my “Design Matters” column for the Aug issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. In it I am exploring sketching techniques to aid the design process. Although we may not all have the artistic flair of a John Linnell, these sketches from our design tradition hold nuggets to inspire and inform.
George R. Walker