The Style In England

in order to have any understanding of Chippendale furniture in America we muSt, naturally, know something of it in the country of its origin.

The long-current traditions regarding Chippendale himself, which led to so many errors regarding the early Style, have at laSt been relegated to the limbo of fable by positive public records.*

Thomas Chippendale was baptised at Otley, Yorkshire, on June 5, 1718. As baptisms in the Church of England are not delayed, he was probably born the same year. His father was a joiner of that town by the name of John, and not also Thomas as was formerly believed. Mr. Oliver Brackett, of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who has gathered .together various particulars, says that it is reported by John Chippendale of NewcaStle-on-Tyne that Chippendale attracted by his unusual ability the notice of the ancestors of the Earl of Harewood through whose assistance he was enabled to Start in business in London, and remarks that this was probably in placing him in some well-known cabinet-shop there. I may add that Harewood House was one of the large establishments for which, from 1771-75 Chippendale executed important furniture in his alliance with Robert Adam.

On May 19, 1748 he married Catherine Redshaw and the same year finds him in business for himself— Mr. Ceszinsky tells me that this is the firSt year in which his name appears in the London Directory. He was then thirty years of age and was alone—his father did not establish the business, as was formerly believed, nor was he ever connected with it.

In 1755 Thomas Chippendale was occupying three houses in St. Martin's Lane, where a fire broke out destroying the cheSts of twenty-two workmen. In 1754 he had published the firSt edition of "The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director" and was now

prosperous, working for the nobility and gentry, and his fame was established.

Simply by the aid of these dates we are now able to clear up previous misapprehensions.

The piece of furniture with which even those who know practically nothing of the subject are familiar is the " Chippendale99 chair—and it was developed in London between 1735 and 1740, that is to say eight years at leaSt before Chippendale began business in 1748.

Between 1735 and 1740 in England began the revolt from those long years of dominance of the Dutch influence in favour of that of France. This was firSt seen simply in the refinement of form and in the evolving of certain details from the earlier Queen Anne-Early Georgian mode. Referring to the American chairs, showing this development, in Plate 15 A and B, we shall see that the hooped top-rail has now given way to the cupid's bow; that the back-splat, while retaining the vase shape, is now composed of interlaced Strap-work. These two features are particularly characteristic of what is commonly called the Chippendale chair. Now that dates tell us that they could not have originated with him, but with unknown predecessors, the question arises as to whether we shall continue the nomenclature. With due recognition of facts there is no reason why we should not do so. Not only is it more convenient, but it is to be remembered that he adopted the mode and continued it during the whole course of his career: it was he who, in colloquial phrase, put this type of chair "on the map/' '

Personally I do not feel at all sure that some of the fineSt characteristics of "pre-Chippendale" furniture do not actually belong to him. Disregarding the possibility of our some day learning that he entered business at a somewhat earlier date, we do not know what he may have produced while working for others —many men do unusual work for which the firm employing them naturally and rightly receives the credit. Certainly no one gains the phenomenal ability of a Chippendale only on the eve of entering business upon his own account, and it muSt be remembered that within six or seven years thereafter he had become the moSt famous cabinet-maker'in the kingdom. Such ability muSt have made itself manifest somewhere by the time he was about twenty-four years of age, that is to say about 1742. Let us therefore work backward for a moment and see what we discern. It is in certain chairs of juSt about that date that we find a greater elaboration of beautiful carving and a sense of Style, of distinction, dominating the whole piece. It was then that the French dolphin-foot and the French quatre-foil lattice (seen in Plate 15 C) appeared, and we know his tendencies, throughout his career, in favour of the mobiliary forms of France. And although acanthus-carving of the knee had sporadically occurred long before, after 1745 it becomes the usual ornament. Were these features due to Thomas Chippendale? It is an amiable theory: we do not know.


Chippendale's "Director" was firSt published in 1754, with a Preface dated 23 d March of that year. A second edition with no change beyond the resetting of the title-page appeared in 1759; a third, with numerous additions and some omissions was published in 1762, this laSt edition being firSt issued in parts.

The plates of even the firSt edition were somewhat worn, indicating the probability of separate impressions having been pulled from them for use with patrons and in the workroom. As in the Preface to this firSt edition he refers to certain animadversions made againSt his designs, they muSt have been accessible to criticism before publication in book-form.

Naturally, this volume is the beSt guide that we possess to the various Chippendale phases and without it we would be loSt indeed, but it is an exceedingly uncertain guide. To express it concisely, the " Director" was a glorified trade-catalogue showing the furniture that Chippendale was ready to make and hoped to make for patrons that he already had and that he hoped to get. It should not injure him in American estimation to know that he was decidedly efficient and a "go-getter."

He does not show a ball-and-claw foot in the whole volume: the Styles illustrated were new Styles. Possibly he may have made pieces from some of the designs anterior to their issue in book-form, but they muSt have been few, for many designs need rationalising, and this was done in the actual construction of furniture of corresponding design. The volume was experimental and if we "check up" existing English Chippendale furniture by this book we shall find that some pieces closely resemble illustrations there shown, that others do not, and that many designs there appearing were not made up at all.

The "Director" illustrated Chippendale's Gothic and Chinese Styles, re-introduced the Straight leg, and was a very blaSt of the Rococo. As we shall see, the latter is of special importance to us because of its extensive employment by the foremoSt makers in America.

Our knowledge will be advanced by considering certain misapprehensions regarding Chippendale's

Rococo furniture. The firSt is that it came late in his career, whereas it is a foremoSt characteristic of the very firSt edition of the "Director," published but six years after he began business. The second is the derogatory or apologetic attitude too often taken toward that ornamental phase of his work.

This furniture was made for palatial establishments and was extremely coStly even in the days of its production: it was not intended for the average abode. If Americans in general were more familiar with the whole field of European furniture throughout the centuries of its design* they would be more appreciative of the wonderful work accomplished by the human brain and hand. Chippendale's ribband-back chairs and French commodes are among the moSt glorious productions of the cabinet-making art. They are wonders of design and marvels of carving: Gibbon's work was in soft lime wood: Chippendale's in hard and tough mahogany. See Plates 29 B and 38. He was by no means alone in presenting Rococo design, but he was the only one we know who used the Style as if he had been born to it.

At firSt sight it is also puzzling to note what is so well expressed in the phrase "how non-Chippendalian some signed Chippendale pieces can be." (The word should be documented, as Chippendale did not sign his work.) This is the furniture produced when, in alliance with Robert Adam, Chippendale worked from 1766 onward at NoStell Priory, Harewood House, and other "great" houses. Though constructed by and billed by Thomas Chippendale and (beginning with 1771) Chippendale, Haig & Co., it was made after designs by Adam and therefore cannot properly be con* See "The Pra&ical Book of Learning Decoration and Furniture" "with 180 illustrations.

sidered Chippendale furniture. It enhances our appreciation of his ability to realise that he could with the greatest facility and success so depart from his own metier and follow the classical mode of Adam, then and in the Garrick furniture. But Chippendale was always at heart a Romanticist and never a Classicist: although finally that Classicism triumphed and fashion Steadily moved away from his own prepossessions, Chippendale proved himself unregenerate and would not yield in the pursuit of his own ideals. The Style of his very laSt days (he died in 1779) was his "French manner," using the typical scroll foot of Louis XV for his chairs and building commodes with metal mounts in the Style of the ebeni&es of that reign.

Chippendale did his very fineSt work between the years 1750 and 1760 when he was constructing furniture principally for the nobility and gentry. A newer aristocracy of wealth had also grown up, emulating the older class as closely as might be in manner of living, and Chippendale found among these many customers. Either he or his followers also made much simple but excellent furniture for the householder of moderate means. He never ceased the production of fine pieces, but as his business grew he undoubtedly did more commercial work, and, later, when he was losing his more important connexion he would have been obliged to depend to a greater degree upon the less notable clientele and his work with Adam.

It is doubtful however if a defection occurred quite so soon or was quite as serious as is sometimes thought. Let us fall back upon reliable dates. Robert Adam returned from his Studies on the Continent in 1757 and had opened his architect's office by February 1758. His series of drawings for furniture and mantels, at Soane, were from about 1762 to 1790, the early ones being very tentative. As Adam found that no exiting English furniture would properly accompany his Classic interiors, he began to design it for himself. He was in no sense a cabinet-maker and these designs often required rationalising for actual production. Accounts rendered prove that some of the furniture was made by Chippendale: the mutual influence between Adam and Hepplewhite, evident in furniture itself, shows that at a later time (not before 1775) some was made by Hepplewhite: while others, too, were doubtless employed. Adam's work was not generally available, for he designed for his own clientèle; but we know that gradually he was imitated by the lesser craftsmen of his time. His influence was preëminently upon architecture, and it is doubtful if before 1765 enough furniture had actually been constructed to emphasise the change in this branch and materially to affect Chippendale. By that date his dominance and preStige might have weakened in the estimation of those alert to changes of impulse in the world of art, but with general society his vogue was firmly welded and it is questionable how much his reputation or his business suffered for several years Still to come.

But after about 1770 "the Adam character permeated the whole trade." Nevertheless during Chippendale's laSt years he was Still making handsome furniture—especially that in the "French manner" previously referred to.

In addition to the wonderful late commodes with metal mounts Mr. Ceszinsky illustrates among others a superb chair of 1770-75 with elaborate dolphin feet, in which the entire woodwork is covered with an appropriate pattern of scales. He tells us that this was originally one of a set of about twenty-four chairs and a settee which were arranged in the long corridors at Ditton Park, the home of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu at Thames Ditton. From this and further known examples it would appear that Chippendale had not entirely loft his aristocratic clientèle and their important commissions.

He died in 1779 and was succeeded by his son— another Thomas. It was at this time that the Hepple-white school became powerful, succeeded by that of Sheraton about 1790. Not a great deal is known of the work of the son but the Chippendale firm went out of existence in the bankruptcy court in 1805.

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