ENGLISH FURNITURE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
AMONG English furniture-makers the name of Thomas Chippendale stands first. Other designers have surpassed him in certain lines, but to none has the same amount of fame been accorded. Chippendale was the first Englishman to give title to a style. Celebrated designers had preceded him, but their identity is submerged in that of their sovereign. We hear little of a George I, a George II, or a George III period. Queen Anne's name is associated with the furniture types of the early eighteenth century. Victorian is the term given to the furniture development of the first half of the nineteenth century. Between these two reigns styles in furniture are known by the names of the men who created them.
Chippendale was more a translator than a creator. He adapted Dutch, French, and Chinese designs infusing his own personality into everything he touched. His early work was largely tinctured by that of Grinling Gibbons, a contemporary and co-worker of Sir Christopher Wren. Gibbons's influence on interior work was almost as potent as was that of Wren on the architecture of the day. Chippendale owed much to this man whose fame has been overshadowed by some of his followers.
All furniture-makers of the first half of the eighteenth century were indebted to the Dutch. Chippendale used the cabriole or bandy-leg freely, also the ball-and-claw foot, and the fiddle-back. Other designers did the same, but Chippendale combined them with greater success. It is hardly to be wondered at that these characteristics are termed "Chippendale," for it was he who gave them lasting fame.
How the world would rate Chippendale and his contemporaries if oak and walnut had been their only medium is impossible to say. What English furniture of the eighteenth century would have been if mahogany had been unknown is difficult to conjecture. The firmness of the wood, coupled with the fine quality of the grain, enabled furniture-makers to secure results which were unattainable in oakv It is not too much to say that the great English cabinet-makers of the eighteenth century could not have achieved their triumphs without the aid of this beautiful medium. By its use designers obtained both strength and delicacy, characteristics which were united for the first time. The introduction of this wood has long been credited to one Dr. Gibbon, an English physician and the date is placed at 1724. The tradition is that the doctor received from his brother, a sea-captain in the West Indies, a few pieces of mahogany, and being pleased with the color, ordered a cabinet-maker to utilize the bits in constructing a candle-box for Mrs. Gibbon. Delighted with the result he sent instructions to the sea-captain to ship him enough mahogany to make a bureau. By chance the duchess of Buckingham saw the bureau and was immediately charmed with it. Her approval brought the wood into general notice, and mahogany furniture soon became the fashion.
Mahogany was known in France and Spain at an earlier date than this, and it is quite probable that English cabinetmakers were familiar with it r
A Collection of Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture. Calculated to Improve and Refine the Present Taste, and Suited to Persons in All Degrees of Life. Many of the designs in the book were extremely rococo and showed how close a student the author was of the Louis XV school; some were executed in "the Gothic manner," others in the " Chinese taste." A list of the " Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture, in the Most Fashionable Taste," included:
before Dr. Gibbon and his candle-box became famous.
Chippendale worked in many veins, adapting his craft to the taste and purse of his patrons. His book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, shows a variety of designs executed in the French, Chinese, and Gothic styles. The third edition appeared in 1762, and by that time Chippendale's fame was firmly established. The sub-title stated that it was
Chairs, sofas, beds, and couches; china-tables, dressing-tables, shaving-tables, bason-stands, and teakettle-stands; frames for marble-slabs, bureau-dressing-tables, and commodes; writing-tables, and library-tables; library bookcases, organ-cases for private rooms, or churches, desks and book-cases; dressing and writing-tables with book-cases, cabinets, and cloaths-presses; china-cases, china-shelves, and book-shelves; candle-stands, terms for busts, stands for china jars and pedestals; cisterns for water, lanthorns, and chandeliers; fire-screens, brackets, and clock cases; pier-glasses and table-frames; girandoles, chimney-pieces, and picture-frames; stove-grates, boarders, frets, Chinese-railing, and brass-work, for furniture, from which it may be seen that the designer of St. Martin's Lane could design stove-grates and lanterns as well as organ-cases.
Sideboards are not mentioned in the Director and it is doubtful if Chippendale made these pieces. Many articles long attributed to Chippendale are now
■ ^ credited to Hepplewhite and j Shearer. It is conceded by students of furniture that Chippendale did not inlay any of his handiwork. The many beautiful cabinets and sideboards, standing on straight, tapering legs, and having for their sole decoration narrow lines of inlay which have long been called "Chippendale," are, in reality, after the manner of Hepplewhite. The serpentine sideboards are believed to have been designed by Thomas Shearer who was associated with Hepplewhite.
Carving was Chippendale's mode of decoration and in his beautiful chairs it found its best expression. Five distinct types are illustrated here and show the versatility of this renowned chair-maker. The first is the sturdy Dutch type to which Chippendale gave such * vitality. The cabriole leg'the club foot, the heavy
underbracing, are of Dutch origin. The pierced splat is Chippendale translation of the fiddle-back. In the second illustration the braces have been altered, and the curved Dutch leg gives place to the square, straight leg. The armchair is its companion and shows the designer at high-water mark. Here is grace coupled with comfort, and a restraint which is often lacking in his later chairs. That Chippendale himself thought lightly of this design and preferred his French, Chinese, and Gothic chairs, is well known. Of his fantastic "ribbon-backs," he once said, "If I may speak without vanity, they are the best that I have seen, and perhaps the best that have been made." And again, "There may be better chairs, but I doubt it."
In America these elaborate pieces are seldom seen, and perhaps it is for this reason that "Chippendale" to us always stands for the beautiful. Many of the rococo designs were made for wealthy patrons and were never duplicated. Others were made for royalty and the drawings immediately destroyed. The best work of the man was undoubtedly done when there was a restriction in regard to the cost. Then, as now, too much money was a detriment. When a fabulous sum was asked for a single piece of furniture the money had to show somewhere, and that was on the surface. If Thomas Chippendale could have foreseen that these designs would one day be held up to ridicule, while on the other hand some of his simple patterns would sell for fabulous sums, he would have doubted the sanity of posterity.
Among his "simple" pieces may be reckoned the ladder-back chair which is reproduced in the fourth illustration. This embodies the fine proportions which have justly given him the title of prince of chair-makers. The " roundabout" illustrates another phase of his work, while his French manner is depicted in illustration VI.
ladder-back chair, iv
Card-tables, sofas, settees, desks, bureaus, and bookcases came from Chippendale's shop in quantities. His sofas and settees follow the same lines as his chairs; his card-tables usually have the ball-and-claw foot, with intricate carving; the bureaus and commodes are less typical and combine features which partake of many styles. In the English definition of the word 4'bureau," a chest of drawers was not implied. The term was used to describe secretaries and commodes. Few of Chippendale's "bureaus" are found in America. In the Warner House in Portsmouth is a beautiful bookcase which is attributed to Chippendale, and a comparison with authenticated pieces in England lends probability to the theory. The case fills one side of the room and contains a drop lid which may be used for writing purposes.
While to Chippendale belongs the glory of raising his work above his contemporaries of the middle portion of the century, the work of other men must not be forgotten. Grinling Gibbons has been mentioned; James Gibbs, Isaac Ware, and William Kent followed him. Coming a little later were Abraham Swan, Batty and Thomas Langley, Edwards and Darley, Thomas Johnson, Ince, and Robert Manwaring. These men were notable in special lines. Batty and Thomas Langley were famous for their pier-tables and consoles; Edwards and Darley were exponents of the Chinese taste; Thomas Johnson was the high priest of the extreme rococo; Manwaring and Richardson were contemporaneous with the Adam brothers, and were identified with the work of their day.
One name should be given special prominence and that is Richard Gillow whose work was of unusual merit, and to whom may possibly belong the honor of originating the shield-shape chair. Richard Gillow was son of Robert Gillow who achieved fame earlier in the century. If Gillow had written a book he might have been a rival of both Chippendale and Hepplewhite. His work on paper was confined to his working drawings which show ability of a high order. Many of his finest pieces were executed for the Adam brothers whose commissions were greatly
prized by cabinet-makers. The work of this designer was signed, a custom which, we regret, was not universal among English cabinet-makers.
The shield or heart-shaped chair is associated with Hepplewhite, yet Chippendale, Gillow, Shearer, Sheraton, all used it. It was Hepplewhite who gave it special prominence and it is Hepplewhite's name which is now associated with it. Doubtless these designers borrowed largely from each other, adapting various characteristics to suit the commission in hand.
The fame of these great furniture-makers rests on their representative work, not on their creations en masse. Nor is it so much a question of the invention of a style, as whose individuality was strong enough to perpetuate it. On this score we ascribe to Chippendale the pierced back and the ball-and-claw foot; to Hepplewhite the shield-back and the straight, tapering foot; and to Sheraton the rectan- french manner, vi gular back and the fluted leg. That these men could be "myriad minded" in their designing we know from their books, but we judge them by their typical furniture and rate them accordingly.
Less is known of Hepplewhite than of either of his great contemporaries. His death occurred in 178G; the date of his birth is a matter of conjecture. For many years a mystery has surrounded the names "G. Hepplewhite" and "A. Hepplewhite" which has of late been solved. Research has revealed the fact that the business of George Hepplewhite, after his death, passed into the hands of his widow Alice, who continued the work of the firm over the signature of "A. Hepplewhite and Company." Thus the long controversy as to the relationship of the two is satisfactorily settled. The theory that "G." and " A." Hepplewhite were brothers is set at rest.
That this designer personally made, or even supervised, half of the furniture bearing his name, is out of the question. Craftsmen trained in his methods perpetuated the work. Hepplewhite's book, The Cabinet-maker and Upholster's Guide, appeared the year following his demise and was completed by other hands. It is believed that Thomas Shearer, who was associated with him, made many of the drawings contained in the work. Shearer's identity seems to have been lost in that of Hepplewhite. An English critic, in writing of him, says: "Whether Shearer in-
fluenced Hepplewhite or Hepplewhite Shearer is a question to which we are not likely to find a definite answer; yet as a considerable portion of Sheraton's style was founded on Shearer's lines, the presumption is that if a man of such very decided personality was affected, Hepplewhite was no less indebted to this great but practically forgotten designer." And again:
"In bookcases Shearer is very strong. His eye for proportion is indisputable, and it is only his occasionally uncertain use of inlay and ornament which would prevent us placing him first in this particular department. -Even as these stand they are better than Hepplewhite's, and there can be little doubt of their influence on Sheraton."
Shearer is believed to have originated the serpentine sideboard and Hepplewhite to have brought it to perfection. A fine specimen illustrated on page 143 has all the characteristics of this designer. The serpentine curve, the straight, tapering legs, the spade-feet, and the peculiar inlay, all show this master hand. Hepplewhite used inlay most effectively. The legs of his tables and sideboards are sometimes ornamented with delicate vertical patterns in sycamore and tulip-wood. The meander pattern was a favorite with him and so was the Greek fret. In this work the influence of the Adam brothers is plainly discernible. The urn-shaped finials used by Shearer and Sheraton, and in a slighter degree by Hepplewhite, are in the "Adam style." Knife-boxes in this form were made by all three of the designers, and are among the most attractive of small pieces of furniture. Dressing-tables with heart-shaped mirrors, cabinets with long, tapering legs, and tables of many forms, are among Hepplewhite's designs. His shield-shield-shaped chair, hepplewhite shaped chairs have doubtless brought
him greatest renown. An unusually fine example of this style is reproduced here. It is more elaborate than much of his work, yet full of refinement and dignity. Robert Adam never handled the urn with greater skill. The details are remarkably fine, and place Hepplewhite above the reproach that his chairs were usually faulty in construction.
A rare design is the oval-back chair containing the Prince of Wales plumes, shown on page 144. The spade-foot, which is one of the distinctive features of this designer's work, is illustrated in both chairs. Pieces of furniture in the Hepple-white style are numerous in this country, and are among the most interesting of colonial possessions. R. S. Clouston, writing of English cabinet-makers, says:
"Personally, I am unable to rank Hepplewhite with Chippendale on the one side or Sheraton on the other, either in construction or design, yet there is an undefinable charm about his work, even when faulty by rule, which, like some old song, touches a higher and more human note than can be attained by mere correctness."
To many people the name Adam is vaguely associated with a severe type of interior woodwork, variously called colonial, Georgian, and Louis XVI. To others the term signifies a few ornamental details found in old furniture, such as the fluted column, the festoon, the garland, and the band of ribbon. The real work of Robert Adam and that of his brother James is seldom considered. To them was largely due the reaction that took place in English handicraft about the middle of the eighteenth century. The Adams were architects but their influence did not end with the architecture of the period. It extended over all the arts and fo'ind an echo in this country. The real worth of these gifted men cannot be measured by the buildings they erected, although these have stood the test of time, nor can it be reckoned by the interiors they designed, successful as their work in this field will always be considered. It must be estimated by the impetus they gave the arts as a whole—an impetus towards simplicity.
The brothers did not create the style which bears their name. They adapted to English conditions a style old as ornament itself, and which in France had already gained a footing, later to blossom as the Louis XVI school. Robert Adam, on his return from Italy, whither he had gone with the French architect Clerisseau, found England ripe for a second reformation. The work of the great French designers of Louis XV's reign was being copied in England, but without the delicacy of
touch which made the eccentricities of such, men as Meissonier almost excusable. One glance at the early drawings of Chippendale, Johnson, and Ince show with what a heavy hand the English designer wielded rococo ornament. When Sir William Chambers introduced the Chinese style of decoration, and a few so-called "oriental" details were grafted upon the rococo hodgepodge, the time was at hand for an artistic upheaval. At this point Robert Adam, fresh from the study of antique ornament in Italy and Spalatio, arrived in England. The year was 1754—a memorable one in English annals. 'From this moment the reformation began, insignificant at first, but gathering force as its influence widened.
In 17G4 Adam published a folio of drawings, engraved by Bartolozzi, showing the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian's palace at Spalatio. In an introduction to the work he stated that his "object in selecting this ruin for special examination was its residential character, as the knowledge of classical architecture in England is confined to public buildings." In 1778 the brothers, James and Robert, began the publication of their Works in Architecture, a series of folios containing their most important designs. These books were of great value and were used by architects and decorators on both sides of the Atlantic.
Few of the interiors designed by the brothers are now in existence. Number 25 Portland Square, the house built by Robert for himself, has been little altered, and one or two other dwellings have shared a like kindly fate. But the beautiful rooms of Sion House, of Kenwood, and of the Earl of Derby's mansion in Grosvenor Square, exist only in the fine old engravings which are a lasting legacy of the Adam brothers.
The drawings of the library in Sion House, the seat of the earl of Northumberland, of the "great room" at Kenwood, the residence of Lord Mansfield, and of the "withdrawing-rooms" in the earl of Derby's house, show what masters of detail these princely designers were.
The characteristics of the Adam style were, to quote from an old writer, "simplicity, elegant slender-ness, and low relief." "In their fine sense of proportion," says another critic, "in their chaste taste in the selection and disposition of niches, lunettes, festoons, and other classical ornament, the brothers Adam have never been excelled."
They made use of the urn, the laurel leaf, the arabesque, the oval paterae, the acanthus, the ribbon band, and the garland. Many of these details appear in the Louis XVI decorations. The difference between the Louis XVI style and the Adam style lies in the application of the ornament rather than in the ornament
The brothers carried their classic tastes to a very fine point, bestowing on the furniture and metal appointments of the rooms they designed as much thought as they gave to the ceilings, doors, and mantels. Some of their most charming work is seen in their locks and escutcheons for furniture, vases for candles, stands and brackets for lamps, and frames for mirrors. Interesting examples of their designing in this line may be noted in the illustrations of the vase and bracket for candles made for the countess of Derby, and in the lock for a cabinet door made for the duke of Northumberland.
The Adams regarded the Grosvenor Square house as their masterpiece, and one of their folios is largely devoted to the rooms and furniture of this mansion. The great drawing-room, where the countess of Derby entertained so lavishly, was pronounced by Robert to be one of the "most elegant in Europe." The chimney-piece of this apartment shows what delicacy and force these artists could impart to large surfaces. All the decorations and appointments of the smaller rooms were planned with the same regard for detail. The private suite of the countess was conceded to be the finest of its kind in London. The furniture was designed by James and executed under his direction.
The influence of the Adam brothers on the furniture-makers of their time was very marked. The later work of Hepplewhite, and more especially that of Sheraton, was largely shaped by them. The latter acknowledged his indebtedness in a graceful tribute dedicated to Robert. Sheraton did not imitate—he was too great for that—but he embodied in his furniture a feeling for simplicity which he himself was generous enough to attribute to the brothers. In this country the Adam type of furniture is best known by the work of Sheraton. The fine sideboards with urn-shaped knife-boxes made by him are splendid examples of the Adam style.
When Robert Adam returned from Italy, Pergolesi and Bartolozzi accompanied
him. Pergolesi executed many of the decorations designed by the brothers, and in this work he was assisted by Cipriani, another Italian, and by that gifted woman, Angelica Kauffman. Furniture was designed in harmony with the walls and painted in gold and enamels.
Strong as the influence of the Adam brothers was in England it was scarcely less in this country. America owes these men an everlasting debt of gratitude, for to them is largely due our finest architecture. Many of the houses erected in New England and the South from 1780 to 1810 were built on lines laid down by Robert and James Adam. The beautiful rooms of these old mansions are as truly Adam as the interiors of Kenwood, Sion House, and Portland Place. To the American mind the colonial woodwork is the finer, being simpler, and marked by greater restraint.
Robert Adam shared honors with James and to-day their names are seldom separated. Robert was undoubtedly the master of the two, possessing the creative faculty to a rare degree. Aside from his work the story of his life reads briefly. In The Gentleman's Magazine for March, 1792, is a short but significant biography.
England lost two of her greatest men within one month, and both are honored in this quaint pamphlet. Under the heading, " Obituary of Considerable Persons,"
the death of Rob Joshua Reynolds is notes are rather these brief articles is interesting. With many capitals and sketch is faithfully "At his house in Robert Adam, Esq., the Royal Antiquadon and Edinburgh, buildings, public in various parts of Adam will remain of his taste and natural suavity of to the excellence of have endeared him to a will long lament his death. Kirkaldy, in the county of Fife, to Dr. Adam Smith, author of was the second son of William an architect of his education at the burgh. The friend-were with men who nently distinguished themselves them being Mr. David Hume, Dr. Adam Fergusson, and Mr. John of life he had the good fortune to of Archibald, duke of Argyle, the earl of Mansfield, and several bracket and vase for candles designed for the countess bracket and vase for candles designed for the countess
ert Adam and Sir recorded. Obituary solemn reading, but contain much that the exception of the the long s, the first reproduced. Albermarle Street, architect, Fellow of rian Society of Lon-The many elegant and private, erected the kingdom by Mr. lasting monuments genius. And the his manners' joined his moral character numerous circle of friends, who Mr. Adam was born in 1728, at the same place that gave birth the Wealth of Nations. He Adam, Esq., of Marybury, merit. He received University of Edin-ships he formed have since emi-by their literary products, among Robertson, Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Home. At a more advanced time enjoy the friendship and society late Mr. Charles Townsend, the others of the most illustrious men of the age.
"Mr. Adam, after his return Jf from Italy, was appointed archi tect to his Majesty in the year • 17G2, which office, being incom patible with a seat in Parliament, he resigned in 176S, on his being elected to represent the county of Kinross. It is somewhat remarkable that the arts should be deprived at the same time of two of their greatest ornaments, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Adam, and it is difficult to say which of them excelled more in his lock for a cabinet door designed for the duke of northumberland
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