Celebrating 300 Years of Thomas Chippendale

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2018 marks 300 years since Britain’s most influential Furniture Maker, Thomas Chippendale was born.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Dumfries House Family Parlour 2Source: Chippendale 300

Born in Otley, Yorkshire on June 5th, 1718, we know very little of Chippendale’s early years. However, following his marriage to Catherine Redshaw in 1748, in London, Chippendale moved to St. Martin’s Lane, where he set up both his home, his showroom and his workshops. It was here he quickly became established as one of the leading cabinetmakers of the 18th-century.  His name became synonymous with the English Rocco style and subsequently the Neo-Classical style.

‘The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director’

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - The Director 1Source: Simon Dewhurst via Town&Country

Only one year later Chippendale published, by subscription, what has become his seminal piece of work to this day.  His furniture pattern book, ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director’ is now celebrated as one of the most significant works of the age and what secured his position as one of the most eminent cabinet-makers of the 18th century.

From his showroom on St. Martin’s Lane, the fashionable centre of furniture making in London, Chippendale undertook a number of large scale projects for stately homes throughout Britain. The ‘Director’ had tapped into the increasing demand for well made luxury goods.  He provided the market with around 160 engravings of numerous furniture designs including Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste (Rocco style) designs.

Subscribers included many leading figures of the aristocracy as well as a number of other cabinet-makers.  The book was so successful, it was reissued in 1755 and again in 1762, this time with additional designs adapted to suit the Neo-Classical style.

Following this success, Chippendale was put to work by Edwin Lascelles, the gentleman who commissioned the build of Harewood House, in West Yorkshire.  He wanted nothing but the absolute best for his new home, employing every significant name of the time.  Along with Chippendale, Designer Robert Adam was commissioned for the Interior Design, Visionary Landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was enlisted to work on the grounds and leading Architect, John Carr, to design the house itself.

Some of Chippendale’s finest work can be found at Harewood House

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Harewood State Bed Room 1Source: Paul Barker via Town&Country

To celebrate the tercentenary of Thomas Chippendale’s birth, Harewood house along with a number of country houses, are showcasing the talents of his work.

The State Bed at Harewood, designed to accommodate Royal visitors, was supplied in 1773 by Chippendale at a cost of £250. The three mattresses, bolsters, linen and decorative fringes cost another £150, making it one of the most expensive pieces of furniture he ever supplied. It is a piece quite like no other, with its towering architectural construction of intricately carved and gilt wood, draped with exquisite green silk damask.  It is a true testament to Chippendale’s craftsmanship.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Harewood State Bed Room 2Source: Jonathon Taylor via Cloud 9 Leeds

His designs found in the Music Room are great examples of Chippendale’s furnishings. Delicate colours complement the gilt work of the wooden frame for a romantic settee design.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Harwood House Music Room 2Source: harewood.org

Another fine collection of Chippendale furniture can be seen at Dumfries House

Recently saved through intervention by HRH the Prince of Wales, Dumfries House, has retained its entire collection of Chippendale furniture.  This includes an exquisite bookcase that can be found within the Blue Drawing Room.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Dumfries Blue Drawing Room 1Source: dumfries-house.org.uk

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Dumfries Blue Drawing Room 2Source: dumfries-house.org.uk

The bookcase, originally cost just over £47 and is the only one of its kind. It was probably a stock item in Chippendale’s workshop.  The Auction house, Christies, valued this piece between £2 million and £4 million, when the estate was being considered for auction. It is now estimated that had the 2007 auction gone ahead, it would have fetched around £20 million.

Equally compelling, is the famous Blue Four Poster bed.  The four poster bed was conceived as the centrepiece by Thomas Chippendale.  It exudes luxury and was by far the most expensive piece commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Dumfries State Bedroom 1Source: Country Life

In total, 50 items were commissioned for Dumfries house, however only 12 are actually documented as coming from the Chippendale’s Director.  Most likely, the rest of the pieces were variations of existing designs.

In the Family Parlour of Dumfries house Chippendale’s sinuously carved elbow chairs and card tables can be found. These pieces capture so much movement, that people have commented how they may appear as though they could walk across the room. The upturned scroll feet and ornamental rails of the mahogany with original timber patina are exceptional.

Thomas Chippendale 300 Years - Dumfries House Family ParlourSource: dumfries-house.org.uk

Chippendale’s Success

Despite the overwhelming success Thomas Chippendale achieved, unlike many other of his fellow St. Martin’s Lane cabinet-makers, he never actually received a significant Royal commission. 

Nevertheless, from his wonderful satinwood works at Harewood House, to the magnificent carved blue damask bed at Dumfries House, Chippendale’s furniture is a masterpiece and a testament of the cabinet-maker’s craft. There is little doubt that Thomas Chippendale’s legacy will live on for another 300 years.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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