A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES USED BY TIM GOSLING25th August 2021
Elegant craftsmanship techniques such as Gilding and Straw Marquetry are not modern crafts. In fact, in 2300 B.C.E the Egyptians used gold leaf to gracefully adorn objects such as tombs and sarcophagi. Nowadays, the craftsmanship of these ancient techniques is being kept alive by designers such as Tim Gosling whose passion for unique British and historical crafts is continually pushing boundaries. With these exciting techniques having such historical value, let’s explore the ancient processes and how Tim is passionately incorporating these into his work.
“Every single time that we do a piece of furniture it is really exciting because we start with the traditional techniques.”
Exquisite craftsmanship techniques such as gilding have ancient Egyptian heritage. The lavish style of gilding often adorned wood and metal on items such as tombs, coffins, sarcophagi, and other elaborate objects. The actual process of gilding has not changed over time. In fact, the way of thinning the metal is still carried out in the same way by hand that the Egyptian craftsman would have done so. These days, however, we are able to beat the gold much thinner. In truth, the ancient Egyptians would have managed to get the gold to around about the thickness of modern-day tin foil, today the gold leaf is 100 times thinner.
The Greeks soon became hypnotized by the lustre of the gold leaf and started to extravagantly use gold to represent clothes, armour, and crowns on their iconic statues made of carved ivory and precious stones. Examples of these pieces of art date back to 2000 B.C.E and one of the most famous, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The process of gilding
Since rising in popularity during the first half of the 19th century, gilding has become synonymous with wealth and opulence. The application nowadays sees gold leaf, paint or powder applied to wood, stone, or metal to give a stunning thin coating of gold. Gosling has an enduring fascination with gold and is passionate about keeping traditional craft techniques alive.
The two main types of gilding that are commonly used in architectural or furniture decoration by Gosling are oil and water gilding. Oil gilding provides a beautiful surface coating of matte gold. This process tends to be quicker and less labour intensive than water gilding. The technique involves first applying an oil size to the surface which is commonly boiled linseed oil. The oil is allowed to oxidize (dry) until it becomes tacky, the gold leaf is then delicately applied by hand.
Water gilding is the process of applying gesso (a mix of calcium carbonate and animal hide glue) to a piece of furniture before covering it with bole (a mixture of clay and animal or fish-based glues). Once the layers have been applied to the object gold leaf is then held to the bole by organic glues. Once dried the surface can then be left completely matte or burnished to produce a mirror-like sheen. This process is typically more labour intensive than oil gilding but the sheen achieved is unlike no other. This technique is usually reserved for expensive objects and best experienced at more intimate distances where the opulent gilding can be truly appreciated.
Verre Églomisé is an ancient form of gilding that pre-dates the Roman era and rose in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries. Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Glomy frame maker to the renowned Louis XVI brought it back to style when creating lavish mirrors and embellishing frames for Marie-Antoinette.
Arguably some of the finest examples of Verre Églomisé were created during these centuries, although early examples of exquisite Églomisé glass decorated bowls dating from the third century B.C were found in tombs in Italy. Églomisé is the process of applying gold leaf, silver leaf, and paint either on its own or in combination to the underside of a sheet of glass.
“It’s a painstaking process, it has to be done by someone who’s very, very patient.”
The process of Verre Églomisé
Gosling uses glass in commissions for its beautiful clarity and ability to transform the space. The nature of the glass amplifies the natural and artificial light, creating a larger opulent area.
Before the decorative technique of Églomisé is carried out, the design is carefully etched into the base. The sheer ethereal quality of the technique and design creates a unique piece of art. With only a handful of highly skilled Églomisé craftsmen left in the UK, Gosling is able to capture the beauty of the ancient craft whilst giving it a modern twist.
The process involves using a mixture of gelatine and water to delicately apply the gold size by hand to the etched mirror. Once left for a moment, any transfer tissue can be carefully lifted from the glass to reveal the majestic gold leaf. The glass panel is then left to dry before it can be drawn onto using either a fine needle or hard pencil. Verre Églomisé has the power to evoke grandeur within any room.
“It’s not just the technique, but actually it’s how you create that technique. It’s my job to push it into a direction and work out the nuances of what that design is going to look like.”
The Neoclassical and Rococo prowess of penwork has become synonymous with the 17th and 18th centuries. Its lavish and linear style adorned many pieces of luxuriant furniture within England and Scotland. Many penwork pieces feature chinoiserie designs such as pagodas, exotic trees, pigtailed men, and women wearing kimonos with parasols. Others were adorned with acanthus leaves, Indian florals, past cultures, and scenes from the ancient world. On occasion, you will find opulent pieces with mixed motifs, such as greek gods amid Indian florals.
The process of penwork
Penwork is an iconic watercolour technique that was created to replicate the glamour and grandeur of ivory-inlaid furniture and the exotic lacquered cabinets from Asia. Rejuvenating the technique, Gosling is passionate to bring back to life this renowned regency style with intricate designs and patterns.
Although the origins of straw marquetry are not fully clear, by the 1600’s it could be found across most of Europe. Italian marquetry styles are often found today in museum collections around the world. In England, straw marquetry was brought to popularity by artisan Robert Wiseman who perfected the technique. Whilst in France, the town of Le Puy en Velay was thought to be believed as the historical hub of this ancient craft. During the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815) French and Dutch prisoners being held in England were able to relieve boredom and produce items from straw to sell at the market. These items included boxes, furniture, baskets, and large-scale model ships. These are some of the most iconic straw marquetry items of that era.
“One of my favourite materials to use is straw. I’ve spent my life looking at the Jean-Michel Frank photographs of the 1930’s.”
French designer Jean-Michel Frank first used straw marquetry in a contemporary way during 1930, in fact, it soon became his signature work. Gosling has taken the elegant and contemporary use of straw marquetry and put his own unique twist on this iconic technique.
The process of straw marquetry
All of the straw used in Gosling’s pieces has been grown and carefully hand-dyed in the South of France. The straw is then expertly worked into panels in Normandy before heading to the iconic Gosling workshops in Yorkshire to be transformed into the stunning statement furniture we have become renowned for. With its clean lines and statement design, Gosling’s straw marquetry pieces provide an elegant finish to any room.
“It wasn’t until I saw Hermes, who did the most incredible re-editions, that I realised that you can create the most amazing configurations.”
PASSIONATELY KEEPING ANCIENT CRAFTS ALIVE
Having carved out an international reputation for exquisite furniture and interiors, Tim Gosling is passionate about using traditional designs and crafts to create unique spaces for his clients. Each member of the talented team here at Gosling is driven by their love of interior design and their enthusiasm for reimagining spaces to create truly beautiful environments.
To find out more about Tim and his exceptional team, take a look here.