Mahogany Writing Chair

[11 the possession of Alan Mackinnon, Esq. ft. 11 ins. height from floor to top of back, ft. ioj ins. across front of seat, ft. 7S ins. depth of feat, ft. 5 ins. height of seat.

Date about I7H0.


In the possession of J. 1). Phillips, Esq. 3 ft. oj in. height from floor to top of bach I ft. lii ins. width across front of seal. I fl. Jl ins. depth of seat. Oval of hack 20 ins. x 17J ins. outside. Date about 179(1.


In the possession of J. 1). Phillips, Esq. 3 ft. oj in. height from floor to top of bach I ft. lii ins. width across front of seal. I fl. Jl ins. depth of seat. Oval of hack 20 ins. x 17J ins. outside. Date about 179(1.

[n the possession of Messrs. Colling & Young. 3 ft. O ins. height to top of back, i ft. 6 ins. to top of seat. I ft, 11 j ins. across front of seat. I ft. 6 ins. depth of seat. I ft. 7-J ins. width across back. Date ahout 1785.

Fig. 245. BEECH GILT CHAIR. In the possession of J. I). Phillips, Esq. 3 ft. 3! ins. from floor to top of back. 2 ft. 1 in. across front of seat. 1 ft. 10J ins. depth of seat.

Date about 1790.

been copied from a pre-existing model. It is the one really impracticable design in the three editions of the Guide, and is all the more remarkable on this account, as the engravings all suggest that they were carefully copied from actual pieces, and not merely evolved from the imagination of a designer, which is frequently the case with many of the plates in Chippendale's Director. This sofa has been illustrated here to show how the French fashions were catered for in 1788. In the text it is referred to as " a design for a sofa in the French taste, covered with a figured damask : the ornaments should be gilt or japanned, of a bright colour." The term " japanned " in this connection is probably used to indicate a cheap form of gilding the carving with bronze powder, a protecting coating of japan gold size being brushed over afterwards to prevent tarnishing.

The association of George Hepplewhite with Robert Adam, either directly in working for the latter or indirectly in being influenced by him, is 110 doubt responsible for the gradual displacing of the shaped French leg by the turned one which is more closely allied to the general notion of the style of Hepplewhite. The characteristic

4 ft. o ins. wide x 3 ft. 3J ins. from floor to top of back. 2 ft. ol in. depth of seat outside. Date about 1790.

French back, several varieties of which are shown in Figs. 242-247, was still retained, in conjunction with the English turned leg, and the combination, which one might have thought would have been fatal from a study of the preceding examples, is very often an exceedingly happy one. The mahogany writing-chair shown in Fig. 242 is obviously an adaptation of the general form of Fig. 236, the design being Anglicised by the omission of the caning in the back and the substitution of the five upright splats, and the exchange of the tapered for the shaped legs. This chair is worthy of careful examination, as a wealth of thought has been spent on its quiet lines and general proportions. The sweeping of the back in oval form, the double curve of the arms finishing on to the tapered legs with the square moulded block feet, giving a very satisfying appearance of stability to the whole chair, are all features worthy of careful observation.

In Fig. 243 we have a recurrence in modified form of Fig. 237, many of the French details of the former being retained. These are noticeable in the small roped moulding surrounding the oval of the back, the ogee sweep of the side rails, and the splay and downward thrust of the back legs. The Adam details of the husk and the fluted seat rail are combined with the turned and tapered legs, carved with the water-leaf decoration which is typical of Hepplewhite.

Fig. 244 introduces a new form of the French back, combined with other details which strongly suggest the hand of Robert Adam himself, the more especially as he designed several very similar models for Osterley Park. In this chair the


Ill the possession of J. L>. Phillips, Fsq. 2 ft. iol ins. height from floor to top of back. I ft. 10b ins. width across front of seat. I ft. 7i ins. depth of seat. I ft. 5 ins. height ot seat from floor.

Date about 1785.


Ill the possession of J. L>. Phillips, Fsq. 2 ft. iol ins. height from floor to top of back. I ft. 10b ins. width across front of seat. I ft. 7i ins. depth of seat. I ft. 5 ins. height ot seat from floor.

Date about 1785.

springing of the top rail of the back is repeated in the seat rails on front and sides. The central spat is pierced and well carved with a vase-centred lyre above an inverted honeysuckle ornament. The turned legs are fluted and carved with water-leaves, finishing on carved ball-feet, which have somewhat the appearance of having been worn down, although the backward rake of the seat renders this assumption hardly possible, as the back feet are practically intact.

In Fig. 245 we have the French curved back and seat rails allied to the typical Hepplewhite turned and carved leg. The general character of the ornament is a curious mixture of Adam and the early Louis Seize, and several unusual features will be noticed in the design, on close examination. The arms are kept back 011 to the side rails instead of continuing down to the legs, as in Fig. 243, which is unusual in Hepplewhite chairs with turned legs ; the Deading on the stuffing line of the seat sweeps round, in a series of curves, over the legs, which do not spring from squares, and the back legs are turned and carved to match those on the front, and are fixed with a curious outward and backward splay. The chair is of beech, and has originally been gilt. The back and arms of the settee, Fig. 246, resemble those of the chair very closely, but the turned legs are of more severe type, and the seat rail is regular, closely fluted, and centred with a plain moulded patera. The combination of the flamboyant French arm with the formal Adam seat rail and simple turned leg is not entirely successful.

In Fig. 247, a mahogany chair, the French character has almost entirely disappeared. The upholstered back is here replaced by a filling of three pierced, upright splats centring in carved marguerite paterae. The legs are turned, fluted, and " cabled."

The name of Hepplewhite is so closely connected with the " shield back " chair that we arc justified in assuming that so successful a design probably evolved at a later-date than the French models, and ousted them from favour. There is some evidence for believing that the " shield-back " did not become popular until about 1783-84, an d that it owes its origin to Gillows of Lancaster rather than to Hepplewhite of London. This theory will be considered at greater length in a subsequent chapter, when the history and influence of Gillows is examined.

Thomas Sheraton.

F all the eighteenth century designers of furniture whose work we have to consider, Thomas Sheraton occupies an unique position in the history of our subject. His fifteen years of London life were occupied in the writing and publishing of scriptural tracts and pamphlets, in the designing of furniture, the teaching of drawing and the publication of educational works. By trade a cabinet-maker, he was born at Stockton-on-Tees in 1750, and came to London in his fortieth year. In 17S2, at his native place, he had already published a pamphlet 011 A Scriptural Illustration of the Doctrine of Regeneration, in which he refers to himself as a mechanic, without the advantage of-an academical education. Sheraton never missed an opportunitv of describing himself.

Although he was a practical mechanic, it is more than doubtful if Sheraton ever worked in London as a cabinet-maker, even as a journeyman ; he certainly never was a master-man. His time was too fully occupied as a Baptist preacher, a writer of tracts, a teacher of drawing, a designer and a publisher to have permitted him to devote the necessary attention which a business as a maker of furniture would have demanded. His versatility and impractical character, allied with a peculiar proficiency in the " gentle art of making enemies," is evidently responsible for the fact that Sheraton's London career was one long struggle with poverty. With the boastfulness of modest}' which was one of his peculiar characteristics, he was " well content to sit on a wooden bottom chair, with common food and raiment wherewith to pass through life in peace, while racking his invention to design fine cabinet-work."

His chief work, the Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book* was published in parts, and consists of three divisions, devoted to treatises 011 geometry, the five orders of architecture, problems in perspective, an appendix and an " accompaniment." Of these, the first two were probably finished before Sheraton left his native town, and many of his subscribers were possibly obtained by personal canvass, during his journey to London. We can imagine Sheraton, in his opinionated way, setting out for the metropolis, with the intention of educating the trade by a course of lessons in drawing, geometry and perspective, a course which should make his name, and incidentally his fortune, as a teacher, only to find that whereas new designs were

* Three editions, in all, were published. The first consisted of 111 plates and text (1791-4^, including an appendix ; the second of 119 plates and text (1793) > ar>d the third of 122 plates and text (1802).

welcomed, drawing lessons were emphatically not wanted. It is the third part, with the accompaniment and the appendix, which really constitute Sheraton's contribution to the history of English furniture, and the scheme of these was not only suggested, but almost dictated, by his subscribers.

Of this London portion of Iris book, as it may be described, despite Sheraton's scornful references to Hepplewhite, and his wilful ignoring of the name of Robert Adam, there is no doubt that he was largely influenced by both the Guide and the Works in Architecture. Hepplewhite had been a fellow-tradesman, and could be reviled with impunity, but the renown of Robert Adam had been so great,—he had been thought worthy of a burial in Westminster Abbey,—that it was wiser to ignore than to mention him. Sheraton was probably under the impression that no accusation of plagiarising the work of a man whom he had dismissed so scornfully as Hepplewhite could ever be levelled against him. Chippendale was referred to in respectful terms, but then he did not borrow from him. It is a peculiarity of human nature that our bitterest enemies are those whom we have ourselves injured. Thomas Chippendale had been dead eleven years ; his style was obsolete, and the.glories of the St. [Martin's Lane firm were on the wane, whereas the Guide had been published but a few years before,—the last edition is later than the first part of the Drawing Book,—and the demand for Hepplewhite's work was at its height in spite of the fact that the founder of the firm had been dead four years.

The quality of so-called authentic Sheraton furniture is so unequal that the conclusion is irresistible that the making up of his designs was left to the cabinet-makers who had subscribed to his book. Five hundred and twenty-two names are given in the list, and there were probably others who bought the book after publication or borrowed it from those who possessed copies, so the source of supply of " Sheraton " furniture is a wide one. The design for the Chinese drawing-room at Carlton House, given at the end of the Drawing Book, was merely by way of a suggestion, as the name of Sheraton does not figure in the preserved records * of the expenditure for the refurnishing of that residence.

In the first years of the nineteenth century Sheraton followed the popular taste for the " English Empire " of Thomas Hope, and in the Cabinet Dictionary of 1S03 several designs in the new manner are given. He must have had considerable contempt for these productions, as Sheraton was undeniably gifted with a discriminating eye, but he was evidently at the mercy of his patrons, the cabinet-makers of his day.

In 1803 he projected the Cabinet-maker, Upholsterer, and General Artists' Encyclopedia, to be completed in 125 folio numbers, and in the following year the first

* Supplies were voted by Parliament for the purpose.

part appeared. A certain Adam Black, a bookseller's apprentice, had journeyed to London from Edinburgh in 1804, and he assisted Sheraton in the preparation of the Encyclopaedia. This poor apprentice lived to found one of the most famous publishing houses, Adam and Charles Black,—the publishers of the Britannica,—in Soho Square.

In 1793 Sheraton occupied a house at 41 Davies Street, Berkeley Square, removing to 106 Wardour Street in 1795. His last years were spent at 8 Broad Street, Golden Square.

Scriptural treatises and pamphlets appear from his pen at various times : in fact, his thoughts seem to have been equally divided between religion and furniture.

On the 22nd of October 1806 the end came. Worn out with over-work, bad luck, and the bitterness of failure and disappointment, in dilapidated Broad Street, over a meagre shop, died Thomas Sheraton, preacher, author, publisher, teacher, cabinetmaker, and possibly one of the greatest, and certainly the last, of the designers of the eighteenth century, at the age of fifty-five. Perhaps his versatility may have accounted in some measure for his lack of success, but the " Little Corporal " had already begun to leave his mark on Europe, and the times were surely changing for the worse, as far as our greatest designer of cabinet-work was concerned.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment