Plate 27 in the Appendix to the Drawing Book.
The three illustrations Figs. 267, 268, and 269 are examples of Sheraton's chair backs, and are among his most happy creations. They serve to show that the shield-back, in its various forms, which is so usually credited to Sheraton, belongs almost entirely to the school of Hepplewhite. The former illustrates only two chair backs of this pattern in the whole of the Drawing Book, shown in No. 5 of Figs. 268 and 269. In both instances the top rails are flattened in a way which bears no resemblance to any chair designed by Hepplewhite.
In the last example, Plate 27 in the Appendix, Fig. 270, eight designs for bookcase doors are given, each quite logical in conception, and capable of being executed with considerable effect.
Before finally dismissing Sheraton's Drawing Book from our notice, it is curious to remark how the two plates at the end, views of the " Prince of Wales's Chinese Drawing-Room," come as a species of shock. Sheraton's designs improve so much in quality as the book progresses, that this reminder of the ghastly atrocities of the Brighton Pa\ilion acts almost as a kind of death's-head at the artistic feast. Even Sheraton is constrained to remark that though the whole " may appear extravagant to a vulgar eye, it is but suitable to the dignity of the proprietor." This may have been intentional, but if otherwise, it is a delicious commentary on the taste and the " dignity " of the " first gentleman of Europe."
E have seen, during the progress of this work, that only some two or three of the craftsmen-designers of the eighteenth century were influential enough to dominate the furniture fashions of their time. Chippendale and Hepplewhite alone had created definite styles by illustrated and manufactured examples — a distinction, in the case of the former, much more marked than the mere use of the terms would appear to imply. With both Chippendale and Hepplewhite, however, it is very difficult to estimate both the measure and the duration of their influence on the trade of the cabinet-maker. Chippendale presumably had acquired considerable renown before the publication of the first Director in 1754, and the permanent character of the furniture made in the St. Martin's Lane workshops probably resulted in his influence being more widespread, in an indirect way, than would have been supposed. There is also strong evidence for the supposition that the so-called Chippendale Style was the result of the combined creative efforts of many designers rather than the product of Chippendale's own brain. It is impossible otherwise to account for the strong similarity between many of the Director designs and those in the books of Ince and Mayhew, Lock and others, issued at almost the same period.
With Hepplewhite we are also similarly circumstanced. When his designing career began, it is not possible to state with certainty. We know his style was a posthumous one as far as publication is concerned, and overlapped that of Sheraton. To Hepplewhite probably belongs the credit of popularising the lighter furniture woods —satinwood, sycamore, chestnut, and the like—and the custom of overlaying inferior woods, such as birch and beech, with " Japan " decorated with paintings of flowers and similar ornaments. It would appear, on casual examination, that very little, if anything, could have been left for Sheraton to accomplish. To assess the measure of credit due to the latter, however, several considerations have to be carefully borne in mind. As we have already seen, Hepplewhite (^the term is used to indicate a factory rather than a man) was primarily a cabinet-maker ; Sheraton—as far as his London career was concerned—was wholly a designer. The distinction is of greater significance than one would suppose, at first thought. The cabinet-maker could rely only on beauty of line and accuracy of proportion in the production of saleable .wares ; he was not obliged to be otherwise original. These considerations, however, were
those of manufacture, not of designing. With Sheraton, however, who had to depend on originality of outline or purpose for the sale of his designs to the trade, the case was quite otherwise. Even had he possessed the nicest taste in matters of line or proportion—and here he was by no means perfect, in spite of the " loud timbrel " which he sounded so assiduously—had his drawings escaped the many pitfalls of the imperfect reproductive processes of his time, he was still at the mercy of the cabinet-makers whose task it was to translate his creations from paper to wood. It is difficult enough, as every furniture designer knows, to be original in even a slight measure, when one has the privilege of ranging through some twenty or thirty known styles, English and French, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. How circumscribed Thomas Sheraton must have been can be well imagined. It was nol as if everything which he designed constituted an addition to the examples of the " Sheraton Style " ; he had laid down certain principles, as binding on the master as on the disciple. Sheraton probably turned to the new " English Empire " in the later stages of his career, not so much because of the change of fashion—as this had not fully set in at the date when the Cabinet Dictionary appeared—as by reason of the fact that, so far as his own style was concerned, he was, artistically speaking, " played out." The realisation of his creations depending not on the work of his own hands, but on those of other makers over whom he could have exercised little or no control, must have resulted in many absurdities, either from an unskilled attempt to make according to his designs or to evolve something new on the same lines.
It is not surprising, therefore, considering the fact that Sheraton's limitations were those of a designer, to find many attempts on his part to depart from stereotyped forms. In this striving after greater originality he was not always successful ; he evidently lacked the correcting experience of actual manufacture, where proportions are rectified and details frequently radically modified. In his search after originality of purpose, however, Sheraton effected man}7 innovations. He was probably the first to combine the capacities 01 the Adam and Hepplewhite pedestal sideboard within the compass of the one piece of furniture, the well-known side table with deep wine-drawers or cupboards on either side. It will be also noticed, in the following illustrations, that useless expense or workmanship, lavished where it is not shown to the best advantage, is carefully avoided. Sheraton's creations had to be commercially possible as they left his hand. He designed or made for no wealthy patrons where expense was of no consequence. The only exception to this rule is the instance of the " Carlton House Table," already illustrated, and there is strong evidence to show that this was not an original product of Sheraton's brain, as we shall see when the work of the house of Gillow is considered.
Of the sideboards of the period, Fig. 271 is a characteristic example. The mahogany is light in colour, polished with wax and friction without staining, and inlaid with lines of holly and fans of satinwood marqueterie. The locks are of the usual double-bolted pattern of this period, with the wards flat on the back plate, and the keyholes protected with flush escutcheons cut from thin ivory. The right-hand drawer, with the front panelled and cock-headed to represent two, is fitted with low partitions to hold bottles. On the left hand are two drawers, made to balance the one on the right, and in the centre is the usual long table-napery drawer. The veneer on the front faces is of fine curl figure, cut very thick, and well laid with the caul. The handles are of the oval patera type, which was usual until about 1795. Sideboards of this kind were usually fitted with a straight brass gallery, as in the next example, Fig. 272. This is a somewhat unusual model, the pedestals being disproportionately narrow. The taper of the legs begins from the rail of the first drawer, and continues down to the usual pointed toe. The three drawers in each pedestal are evidently proportioned to contain spoons, forks, and table cutlery, although none are fitted with locks. The fronts of each drawer are veneered with fine " fiddleback " mahogany, friezed with J-inch bandings of holly. The brackets are veneered with plain satinwood, inlaid with purple lines. A peculiar feature is the triple reeding of the shafts of the upright brass spindles of the gallery.
Fig. 273 is of the usual type, veneered with plain mahogany banded with tulip, and with the panels of the legs inlaid with cross-banded satinwood. The right-hand pedestal is fitted with a door panelled to simulate two drawers, and with escutcheons to correspond. On the left are two drawers to match.
A very charming little sideboard of about the 1790 period is illustrated in Fig. 274.
It is rare to find these smaller pieces so well proportioned and of such fine quality. The top is faced up to nearly if inches in thickness, veneered with mahogany and cross-banded with tulip wood. The edges are friezed with the same wood, a task of some difficulty considering the end grain at the sides, to which veneer will not readily adhere. The squares of the legs, the bracket piece in the centre, and the drawer fronts are inlaid with holly lines and sand-shaded fans of the same wood. On either side is a deep drawer, the one on the right fitted with low partitions to hold bottles. This example has the advantage, from the collector's point of view, of being in practically its original condition, untouched by the desecrating hand of the " French " polisher.
Towards the close of the century proportions began to broaden and become more bulk}7. In the next example (Fig. 275) the taper of the legs is so slight that its presence can only be detected by measurement. Both right and left-hand pedestals are fitted with doors, and the frieze has one drawer only, the ring-handles on either side serving
Was this article helpful?