Margaret Jourdain and The Burlington Magazine

In June 1903, when the Burlington Magazine was only 3 months old, it published a detailed article on the lace collection of Mabel Chermside, ‘Mrs. Alfred Morrison’. This was a detailed and richly illustrated account, which distinguished different kinds of laces, stiches and points. The article was a perfect example of the new art historical method of ‘connoisseurship’, an analytic style of writing through descriptive and comparative examples, which constructed clear arguments rather than giving an aesthetic stamp of approval (or disapproval) to works of art. Laces were not considered mere decorative accessories but a cognitive field in which art historical knowledge could be exercised. The article, simply signed ‘M. Jourdain’, was by a former classic scholar turned decorative art specialist who would become, arguably, the most important writer on furniture of the early 20th century, Margaret Jourdain (1876-1951).

Burlington Index Assistant Giulia della Rosa has compiled a full bibliography of Margaret Jourdain’s writings for the Burlington and put together the following biographical note that our readers may find interesting and useful


The early 20th century was a period of great development for furniture studies, spurred on by the ever-increasing fashion for ‘antiques’, pre-Victorian furniture. In a still largely male-dominated field, Margaret Jourdain stood out as a recognised expert. She wrote many articles and books that became an authoritative source for collectors, scholars and dealers.[1]

The origins of Jourdain’s expertise in furniture began with her friendship with Alice Drayden and her father Henry. The Draydens were Northamptonshire antique dealers, highly knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise on interior decorations and furniture.[2] Jourdain co-authored her first book on lace – the revision of Palliser’s History of Lace (1902) – with Alice Drayden, using the Draydens’ photographic archive.[3] Jourdain was so convinced by the potential of this technology that she used photographic comparisons in all her successive publications. Her early reviewers in the Burlington, however, criticised as crude her stylistic choice of minimal writing paired with extensive visual examples.[4]

Jourdain’s publications grew considerably as the century progressed: from three articles in 1903 to sixty in 1911, with numerous articles on art, house interior decorations and furniture.[5] Jourdain penned nineteen articles for the Burlington. Eleven of those were written between 1903 and 1911 and concerned textiles and laces. Later, between 1926 and 1946, she would write book reviews and comments through letters to the Magazine.[6]

Jourdain’s expertise on furniture was gained during her work for the fashionable British cabinetmakers Lenygon & Morant.[7] In 1911, Henry Lenygon, following the growing American fashion for European art and furniture, opened a branch in New York.[8] Lenygon hired Jourdain then, initially to catalogue the collections in the London branch.

The combination of Jourdain’s knowledge and Lenygon’s awareness of fashionable taste resulted in three catalogues, crucial for the rediscovery of the English Palladian style.[9] These were: The Decoration and Furniture of English Mansions During the XVII and XVIII Century (1909), Furniture in England, 1660-1760 (1914), and Decorative Arts in England (1760-1880) (1923). These volumes, however, appeared only under Lenygon’s name. [10] At the time there were fewer opportunities for women to write: many hid their identity behind non-gender specific initials, pseudonyms or, as in the case of Jourdain, found work as ‘ghost-writers’.

RegencyFurniture1 (1041x1300).jpgIn 1923, Margaret Jourdain began to contribute to the magazine Country Life,[11] after a period as saleroom correspondent.[12] Regency Furniture 1795-1820, published in 1934 with Country Life, contributed to establish Jourdain as an authority in the field of English furniture and interiors.[13]

Jourdain’s career developed further when her friend Ralph Edwards, Curator of the Woodwork and Furniture Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, invited her to contribute to the first Dictionary of English Furniture in 1924. [14] The Dictionary was a lengthy publication. It took three years to be completed by a pool of experts.[15]

Margaret Jourdain contributed to change the way interiors are studied and perceived.Until then, furniture and interiors were a subject for amateurs and antique dealers. They were seen merely as domestic objects, and believed to be of minimal interest and value to collectors. A growing market, and the expansion of furniture studies, significantly changed this attitude. Within this general trend, Jourdain’s own work contributed to transform them into a new field of scholarship.

GDR, September 2016


Margaret Jourdain’s writings for The Burlington Magazine:

Lace in the Collection of Mrs. Alfred Morrison at Fonthill, June 1903, pp. 96-103. Short Notice.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part I, September 1904, pp. 557-569. Article

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part II-Later Punto in Aria, October 1904, pp 18-23. Article.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part III-Rose Point. November 1904, pp. 123-135. Article.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part IV (Conclusion)-Milanese Laces. February 1905, pp 384-393. Article.

Point and Pillow Lace. October 1905, p 65. Book Review.

Lace as Worn in England Until the Accession of James I. December 1906, pp. 162-168. Article.

Sixteenth Century Embroidery with Emblems. August 1907, pp. 326-329. Article.

Crewel-Work Hangings and Bed Furniture. September 1909, pp. 366-368. Short Notice.

The Embroidery at Hardwick Hall. November 1909, pp. 97-99. Article.

Hand-Loom Weaving. March 1911, pp. 359-360. Book Review.

Plasterwork at Hardwick Hall. November 1926, pp. 131-134. Article.

Recent Acquisitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. December 1927, pp. 174-185. Article.

An Exhibition by the British Antique Dealers’ Association. April 1928, pp. 173-179. Article.

Thomas Chippendale. April 1929, p. 220. Book Review.

Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Silver Plate Belonging to the Colleges of the University of Oxford. August 1929, p. 102. Book Review.

Buckingham Palace: Its Furniture, Decoration and History. May 1934, pp. 254-255. Book Review.

The Antique Dealers’ Fair. October 1934, pp 185-188 XV. Short Notice.

Georgian Cabinet-Makers. September 1945, p. 234. Letter.



[1] Margaret Jourdain: Few rivals and no superior’, The Furniture History Society Newsletter 188 (November 2012).

[2] H. Spurling: Ivy. The Life of I. Compton-Burnett, London 1974, pp.325-326.

[3] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 326.

[4] L. Hooper: ‘English Secular Embrodery.’ The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (June 1911).

[5] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2) p241

[6] See the Burlington Online Index

[7] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 332.

[8] Mitchell and Cornforth: ‘Lenygon and the Making of the Georgian Market’, London 1997.

[9] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 309.

[10] Mitchell and Cornforth: op. cit. (note 11).

[11] Newsletter: op. cit. (note 1).

[12] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 311.

[13] R. Edwards: Regency Furniture 1795-1820. The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (April 1935).

[14] Newsletter: op. cit. (note 1).

[15] Smith H. Clifford: Dictionary of English Furniture. Vol III (Mo.-Z). The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (April 1928).

3 thoughts on “Margaret Jourdain and The Burlington Magazine

  1. The times have changed.
    Margaret Jourdain was shown how to read antique furniture by family of dealers who opened the door to explain their knowledge and understanding at a time when the world wanted to learn.
    Today we are in a period of the scholar, a book reader who live for comparisons and correlating writen facts that are not past on openly. The fact that furniture was not tought from a book for the cabinetmaker but by the master and the apprenticeship which means anomalies will happen but that doesn’t mean the piece is wrong or later.
    Be shown by people who handle furniture like dealers are very necessary or to hear the craftsmen mind from the bench like Herbert Cescinsky is very important too.
    Its also important not to forget the past and what all the historian bedore have writen and by adding science now we can learn so much more.
    I think if MJ was alive she would use these aids in a field of opinions which are not all black and white.

      1. Did Margaret Jourdain have any contact with antiques dealers Gill and Reigate or Herbert Cescinsky regarding her articles. Eg photos used etc?
        Also did she write any articles on 4poster beds? Other than those snippets chapters from her books

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