Chess and Art: a brief history

Purling London Art Chess was inspired by long history of chess and art, and the relationship between them. Here is some more background on this relationship.

Throughout its history, artists and artisans from across the globe have been creating thousands of differing chess sets and chess-inspired works of art. From the detailed and exquisitely carved 18th century English Barleycorn sets, to the clean, geometric lines of Bauhaus woodwork-master, Josef Hartwig’s wooden hand-carved Chess Set in a Box (1924), artists and artisans have, and continue to be inspired by chess and to reinvent and reinterpret the chess set in fascinating and extraordinary ways.

One of the most famous is the “Lewis Chessmen”. The pieces were discovered in 19th century, buried under the ground on the Isle of Lewis, apparently for safe-keeping by someone journeying from Norway to Ireland. (Why they were never retrieved by the traveller, remains a mystery.) These chess pieces are believed to have been made in Norway sometime around 1150-1200. The famously characterful pieces, with their strangely comical features and the obelisk-like pawns were finely carved from whale bone and walrus ivory. The designers of the Lewis sets, most certainly had in mind that they were creating high-end, desirable, luxury chess sets-very much in line with Purling London today.

In the 19th century, elaborate and exquisitely crafted chess sets were displayed in the homes of the wealthy as a statement of their place in society. However, these were mostly works of art rather than functional as the pieces were often very heavy, fragile or difficult to differentiate between. Around this time, chess was becoming more popular and less intricate and more affordable chess sets were produced. Chess clubs had been emerging in coffee houses and cafes and
The Calvert design was introduced in 1815. It is said to be inspired by German chess sets being produced from the 1500s to the time of the Calvert design’s creation. The slender design was carved from ivory, and was sold in sets of pristine white against vivid red; a style which was very popular. The Calvert chess sets were manufactured by John Jacques and Thomas Lund.

These are Purling London Art Chess sets by Kate Brinkworth, Nette Robinson and Thomas Dowdeswell. Visit our shop to see more.

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