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´╗┐Title: The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, vol. 06, No. 5, May 1900 - Chippendale Chairs
Author: Various
Language: English
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                          THE BROCHURE SERIES
                          Chippendale Chairs
                               MAY, 1900


                            BROCHURE SERIES

                      1900.      MAY      No. 5.

                          CHIPPENDALE CHAIRS.

It is only within recent times that movable chairs have become common
and indispensable. Seats of some kind must have been used from the time
when houses were first built, but it is not until the civilization of
the last two or three centuries had transformed the old ways of living
that we begin to find them in common use. Representations of seats are
found in the sculptures and paintings of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and
all through the middle ages--many of them elaborate and luxurious--but
their use was confined to the noble and wealthy. In church furniture
chairs are familiar throughout the middle ages, but they were usually
fixed parts of the building. The seats of the common people were
probably constructed of rude blocks, or of single planks joined
together with little finish or skill.

In England, even so late as the sixteenth century, chairs as we know
them were of so rare occurrence as to be handed down from generation
to generation, and of such importance as to be frequently mentioned
in wills and deeds. Such chairs were of the rudest forms, ornamented,
however, with embroideries and costly stuffs. In the middle of the
seventeenth century it was customary even at royal banquets for all
but the king and queen to be seated upon benches without cushions. In
the reign of Charles I., however, with the encouragement of luxurious
living, chairs became more common among the favored classes, and under
the Commonwealth, with its levelling of class distinctions, their
use was extended. But in the latter period the revulsion against
unnecessary ornament and display simplified the models. With the
Restoration there was a return to the opposite extreme. The growing
taste for ease and luxury brought into requisition the richest
fabrics obtainable, and we find stuffed seats and backs, with Turkish
embroideries and heavily brocaded velvets. Chairs were elaborately
carved and gilded. French furniture was imported and copied, and the
influence of Indian art, through the recent acquisition of Bombay,
can be easily traced. Of the simpler patterns, those made of turned
spindles became common at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Forms were borrowed and adapted from many sources, from France, Spain
and Holland. In the time of William and Mary, under Dutch influence,
the seats and backs were broadened, colored inlay introduced, and the
"cabriole" legs commonly employed, suggesting the forms later adopted
in the Chippendale period. The strong point of English furniture
was not its originality, but its catholicity. It was a mirror which
reflected the outcome of other times and countries in a frame of its


The period when Chippendale appeared on the scene seems to have been
one very favorable to the success of his enterprise. The middle
classes were already accumulating wealth and beginning to assume
numerical and political importance. The troubles of civil war were
over, the reigning dynasty had successfully overcome the last attempt
at revolution, and the situation promised an age wherein the comforts
of life might again be enjoyed in security. English trade with
Holland, doubtless very largely fostered by the Dutch proclivities
of William III., had helped to disseminate a love for pottery and
lacquer work of the East; artificial works were multiplying, and the
middle classes, above all, wanted for the furnishing of their rapidly
rising, substantial dwellings something more sumptuous than the humble
simplicity of the common Jacobean--something which would have a taste,
at least, of the luxurious extravagances of the French reigning style.


English furniture of the time of Chippendale had profited by the best
of the past and of the present. It closely resembled the French work
of Louis XIV., but it had reached such a stage of perfection, though
still made up of heterogeneous elements, that it was for the first
time valued above the productions of other countries, and was even
taken abroad to be copied, while the books of designs published by
the English cabinet-makers were translated into other languages. In
the preface to Hepplewhite's book of designs, published in 1789, there
is this statement, which is of interest as indicating the esteem in
which English cabinet work was held abroad, viz.: "English taste and
workmanship have of late years been much sought for by surrounding
nations; and the mutability of all things, but more especially of
fashions, has rendered the labours of our predecessors in this line of
little use; nay, in this day can only tend to mislead those foreigners
who seek a knowledge of English taste in the various articles of
household furniture."


Oak had been the prevailing material up to this time, but now mahogany
took its place. An interesting account of the introduction of mahogany
for furniture is given by Frederick Litchfield in his "History of
Furniture." He says, "Mahogany may be said to have come into general
use subsequent to 1720, and its introduction is asserted to have been
due to the tenacity of purpose of a Dr. Gibbon, whose wife wanted a
candle-box, an article of common domestic use at the time. The doctor,
who had laid by in the garden of his house in King Street, Covent
Garden, some planks sent to him by his brother, a West Indian
captain, asked the joiner to use a part of the wood for this purpose;
it was found too tough and hard for the tools of the period, but the
doctor was not to be thwarted, and insisted on harder-tempered tools
being found, and the task completed. The result was the production of a
candle-box which was admired by every one. He then ordered a bureau of
the same material, and when it was finished invited his friends to see
the new work; amongst others the Duchess of Buckingham begged a small
piece of the precious wood, and it soon became the fashion."


The Jacobean and cognate styles, consisting fundamentally of "framing"
based on rectangular forms and decorated with characteristic carving
and turning, may be described as essentially suitable for oak, of
which the open character of the grain forbids any extreme minuteness
of detail. The particular qualities of the work of Chippendale and his
successors demanded, on the other hand, the use of a very different
material. Chippendale's delicate carving and his free use of curves,
even in constructive members of his design, could have only been
satisfactorily wrought out in a wood of fine, hard and close grain,
and one which also possessed great lateral tenacity, such as mahogany.
It is scarcely too much to say that, but for the introduction of this
beautiful wood the specialty in the work of the cabinet-makers of the
eighteenth century would have been impossible.

Together with the refinement of design came a perfection of
construction and workmanship which has rendered the furniture of this
period practically indestructible. It is said that Chippendale never
carved a fret without gluing together three thicknesses of wood with
opposing grain, and his work is so joined with tenons and pegs that
it stands as well today as when first put together. Sheraton devoted
whole pages of his book to constructive directions for the most simple
table. This excellence of construction, and the eminently practical and
usable character of the best of the eighteenth century work have been
potent factors in helping to preserve the many examples of it which we
fortunately possess today.


It will probably be a surprise to the reader who has had no occasion to
inquire especially into the history of household furniture to know that
a century and a half ago furniture makers, in England and elsewhere,
resorted to much the same method of securing customers, by publishing
illustrated catalogues, as do our own enterprising manufacturers.
Among the earliest of these trade catalogues, as we now call them, was
that of Thomas Chippendale, the first edition of which was published
about 1750 (the exact date is in doubt), and two later editions are
known. This catalogue has been reproduced in recent years and many of
the plates have been frequently copied, until the Chippendale designs
have become familiar, and the name applied broadly but loosely to all
of the work of the period, including a great deal which by right has
no connection whatever with Chippendale. The illustrations in this
catalogue were elaborately engraved on copper, and it was entitled
"The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director." It contained over two
hundred engravings of useful and decorative designs, some of which,
however, were probably never executed. It included designs "in the
most fashionable taste" for a great variety of furniture "calculated
to improve and refine the present taste, and suited to the fancy and
circumstances of persons in all degrees of life." A great deal of the
design is traceable to French influence, and may have been borrowed
directly from similar books by French cabinet-makers.



Of Chippendale himself little of a personal nature is known. Both he
and his father were carvers, and it is no doubt true that to the repute
established by his father as a basis, he added superior skill and
taste, and the shrewdness of a tradesman. It is by no means certain,
however, that in his time, or immediately after it, his reputation
was greater than that of other cabinet-makers. His present celebrity
depends more upon the survival and later reproduction of his book of
designs than upon any contemporary fame. That he had refinement of
taste is proved by his designs; but that he was anxious, above all,
to secure patrons is hardly open to question. Mr. J. A. Heaton
("Furniture and Decoration in England during the Eighteenth Century")
calls him a "vulgar hawker" ready to make anything that would fill his
purse. His book, the text of which is written in the bombastic style
of the period, begins with an explanation of the classical orders of
architecture, holding them up as the only basis of true design in
furniture; but he later refers to certain designs "in the Chinese
manner"--which were made, quite certainly, in response to the fashion
introduced in England by Sir William Chambers,--as the most appropriate
and successful of his whole collection.


Although much of the furniture of the middle and latter part of the
eighteenth century is wrongly attributed to Chippendale, and he is
now popularly held responsible for many excellencies as well as
many faults which do not belong to him, the evidence of his book
goes to prove that his work at its best was superior to that of his
contemporaries, and vastly superior to that which either preceded or
followed it.



Chippendale's ordinary furniture may be conveniently classified under
three heads of very various artistic value. The first is the pure
rococo. In this class of work we find, as Mr. Basil Champneys has
happily described it, "intemperately flowing lines, wantonly twisting
volutes, fantastic and unmeaning forms, suggestive about equally
of organic and inorganic nature, bursting here into a gryphon's or
sphynx's head, or there into a bunch of flowers; writhing into a
mermaid, or culminating in a trophy; here the volutes are propped with
an utterly dissipated and abandoned Gothic shaft, there is the ghost of
a classic pediment; here a whole piece of ruin is bodily foisted in;
a fortuitous interval is occupied by a sportsman or a flirtation,
or by the conventional Chinaman, with an impossible mustache and
inconceivable hat. The two sides of the design are seldom alike;
symmetry is ostentatiously avoided; everything twists, twirls, writhes,
changes, gets distorted like the images in a dyspeptic dream over a
book of travels, from which the reader will be glad to awake."


Fortunately for Chippendale's fame this class of work forms but an
insignificant portion of the remains of his furniture now extant--a
fact which is owing in some measure to its constructive weakness. Its
merits are purely those of a skilful carver.


A second important characteristic style was that which may be described
as "fret work." Some pieces coming under this description, shelves
and cabinets for china, amongst others, are constructed almost wholly
of thin slabs of wood pierced with a great variety of small patterns,
many of them very intricate. These are dainty pieces of furniture, well
suited for the drawing-room and boudoir; and it speaks volumes for the
care and finish in the workmanship that any of them have been handed
down to us in a perfect state during so long an existence.

What is sound of the reputation that Chippendale has earned, however,
apart from the excellence of his workmanship, lies in the furniture
coming under the last head of our division--in pieces wherein we find
the decoration applied, a little lavishly it is true, with a certain
admixture of straight lines and plain surfaces with which to contrast
it. In these, members otherwise square and straight are enriched with
delicate and shallow sunk carved work, sometimes based on geometrical
patterns. The backs of chairs, although consisting of curved forms,
have commonly a rectilinear disposition of the principal lines, and the
curvatures of the constructional members are so subtle and restrained
that the impression of strong wooden construction is not wholly
destroyed. The supporting members, such as legs of tables and chairs,
are often kept straight, and the carving, where applied, is kept so
shallow that it does not interfere with the apparent or real capacity
of the parts for the function for which they are designed.

In appraising his merits it must always be remembered that Chippendale
was pre-eminently a _carver_; and as a carver producing work applied to
objects of utility he holds an unchallenged position.


Mr. K. Warren Clouston, describing the work of this period (_The
Architectural Record_, Vol. VIII.), says: "Chippendale, above all
things, was a chairmaker, and his chairs are full of variety, at
first with the high back, cabriole leg and claw-and-ball foot of
the so-called Dutch taste; then rising to lighter fancies, either
with vase-shaped ornament, flowing ribbon bows, interlacing frets
of Gothic tracery. But what matters it whether the rococo ornament
then prevailing on the continent, the Chinese leanings of Sir William
Chambers, or Strawberry Hill Gothic were adopted, when the different
sources are blended in one harmonious whole? We give Chippendale the
first place simply from his book, for the squat backs and ungainly
chairs of Manwaring and the Society of Upholsterers, and the badly
designed seats of Ince and Mayhew only serve to accentuate the work of
the master hand."


The chairs chosen for illustration in this number are of the simpler
patterns. It will be seen that they have very little ornament, and that
this is almost entirely confined to the backs, the legs being in most
cases square and plain. In the backs the same lines occur as in those
made in the time of William III., but instead of the frame of the back
being covered with silk, tapestry or other material, Chippendale's are
cut open with fanciful patterns. Those with cabriole legs usually have
claw feet and a shell or leaf at the top. The chairs in Chippendale's
book are much more elaborate than those here illustrated or than
those he ordinarily produced. This is naturally accounted for by the
desire to induce customers to purchase the more expensive pieces. The
simple square leg without taper is one of the distinctive marks of
Chippendale's time. Later in the century, in the work of Hepplewhite
and others, the legs were made more tapering and the whole chair
much lighter and more elaborately ornamented to correspond with the
Renaissance forms then in vogue. The turned leg is rarely found,
although much used later. The shaping and ornamentation is generally
confined to the front legs. Mahogany, as has been stated, was the wood
most used, and the ornamentation was confined as a rule to carving.
Inlay and marquetry, brass and ormolu were employed on other articles
of furniture, but the chairs rarely have such ornament.

The rococo of Chippendale's earlier work, corresponding to the French
of Louis XV. and XVI., was succeeded by a modification tending towards
the severer Renaissance, influenced by the designs of the architects,
Robert and James Adam, who gave their attention to the minutest details
of interior decoration and furnishing, as well as the larger problems
of architecture. Of Chippendale's contemporaries, Ince and Mayhew, who
also published a book of designs, are now looked upon as most deserving
to share his fame, although there are records of many others.

Hepplewhite forms a connecting link between this period and that of the
more severe lines of Sheraton and Shearer. Sheraton was a skilled and
cultivated man and an excellent draughtsman. Among the subscribers to
his book, "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book," published
in 1793, are the names and addresses of no less than four hundred and
fifty cabinet-makers, chairmakers and carvers, not including musical
instrument makers, upholsterers and other kindred trades. This gives
some idea of the extent to which such books were then employed, and the
number of makers whose work is not now distinguishable and whose names
are lost in oblivion. Following the work of these men came the "Empire"
style introduced in France after the French Revolution.

Readers interested in the subject of the furniture of the Georgian
period are referred to the recently published large collection of
photographic plates, entitled "English Household Furniture" (see
announcement in our advertising pages) from which our present
illustrations have been reproduced.

  NOTE.--The illustrations in this issue are reduced from large
  photographic plates in the recently published work, entitled
  ILLUSTRATING 348 EXAMPLES." Bates & Guild Company, publishers,
  Boston. See advertisement on another page.


                          Transcriber's Note:

Italics are indicated by _underscores_.

Small capitals have been rendered in full capitals.

A number of minor spelling errors have been corrected without note.

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