Thomas Johnson - Encyclopedia

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THOMAS JOHNSON, English 18th-century wood-carver and furniture designer. Of excellent repute as a craftsman and an artist in wood, his original conceptions and his adaptations of other men's ideas were remarkable for their extreme flamboyance, and for the merciless manner in which he overloaded them with thin and meretricious ornament. Perhaps his most inept design is that for a table in which a duck or goose is displacing water that falls upon a mandarin, seated, with his head on one side, upon the rail below. No local school of Italian rococo ever produced more extravagant absurdities. His clocks bore scythes and hour-glasses and flashing sunbeams, together with whirls and convolutions and floriated adornments without end. On the other hand, he occasionally produced a mirror frame or a mantelpiece which was simple and dignified. The art of artistic plagiarism has never been so well understood or so dexterously practised as by the 18th-century designers of English furniture, and Johnson appears to have so far exceeded his contemporaries that he must be called a barefaced thief. The three leading "motives" of the time - Chinese, Gothic and Louis Quatorze - were mixed up in his work in the most amazing manner; and he was exceedingly fond of introducing human figures, animals, birds and fishes in highly incongruous places. He appears to have defended his enormities on the ground that "all men vary in opinion, and a fault in the eye of one may be a beauty in that of another; 'tis a duty incumbent on an author to endeavour at pleasing every taste." Johnson, who was in business at the "Golden Boy" in Grafton Street, Westminster, published a folio volume of Designs for Picture Frames, Candelabra, Ceilings, &c. (1758); and One Hundred and Fifty New Designs (1761).

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