The furniture craft in Vilnius in the second half of the 19–20th centuries: development and exhibitions

  • Eglė Bagušinskaitė
Keywords: Vilnius, furniture, joinery guild, joinery, furniture upholsterer-decorator


The development of the furniture craft in Vilnius in the second half of the 19th – beginning
of the 20th centuries, as well as the status of the furniture craftsmen belonging to the guilds,
acquisition of professional skills, training and participation in Vilnius exhibitions are presented.
The mass-produced products spread in the Western European market in the second half of the 19th
century gained ill-feeling to the industrial production articles and raised nostalgia. The Arts and
Crafts Movement in Great Britain became the resistance expression of the mass industrial produc-
tion. This movement inspired by artists, when the wares of craftsmen were driven out by industrial
products, stimulated the revival of the old crafts, returning to the hand-made wares and admiration
for the medieval craftsmen guilds. Indeed, the situation in Lithuania was different. The develop-
ment of the advanced and modern craftsmanship was impeded by the medieval relict – the guild
system, which existed until the end of the 19th century. Craftsmen of the guilds defending their
monopoly production rights fought against non-guild craftsmen, craftsmen from other cities and
traders and opposed the establishment of the capitalist industry companies. In the second half
of the 19th century, the furniture production was based on the craftsmen works predominated
in Lithuania continuing the traditions of the guilds craftsmanship. The collision between crafts
and industrial production manifested not as the hostile disposition against the mass-produced
furniture, but as an attempt on the guild’s production monopoly.
Until the 19th century, the old crafts learning system in the guilds existed in Vilnius. The acqui-
sition of occupational skills was hierarchized. Learner–apprentice–master was the traditional
scheme of the craft secrets mastering and the development of the professional career. Only at
the end of the 19th century – beginning of the last century, new processes originated along with
the repercussions of the craft movement. The special courses and schools of crafts, which raised
the professional level of craftsmen, mitigated backwardness and represented modern craft ideas.
At the turn of the 19–20th centuries, the ideas of a new modern style reached Vilnius. The exhi-
bitions of art and crafts were invoked for the dissemination and introduction of these ideas to
craftsmen and society. After application of new artistic ideas, they reflected the turn of the former
workshop craftsman towards the modern applied art creator. However, derivations of different
historic styles (Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival, etc.) were the most demanded types among
Vilnius society and furniture manufacturers until the turn of the 19–20th centuries. At first,
the takeover of new modern artistic tendencies (English, German) was reflected in the furniture
design in the exhibition in 1909. The influence of European design tendencies was also reflected
in the popularization of production and increased demand for weaved and bamboo furniture at
the beginning of the last century.