Chippendale's Work and his Contemporaries
Chippendale published "The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director," not, as stated in the introduction to the catalogue to the South Kensington Museum, in 1769, but some years previously, as is testified by a copy of the " third edition " of the work, which is in the writer's possession and bears date 1762, the first edition having appeared in 1754.
This valuable work of reference contains over two hundred copperplate engravings of chairs, sofas, bedsteads, mirror frames, girandoles, torchères or lamp stands, dressing tables, cabinets, chimney pieces, organs, jardinières, console tables, brackets, and other useful and decorative articles, of which some examples are given. It will be observed from these that the designs of Chippendale are very different from those popularly ascribed to him. Indeed it would appear that this maker has become better known than any other, from the fact of the designs in his book having been recently republished in various forms; his popularity has thus been revived, while the names of his contemporaries are forgotten. For the last fifteen or twenty years, therefore, during which time the fashion has obtained of collecting the furniture of a bygone century, almost every cabinet, table, or mirror frame, presumably of English manufacture, which is slightly removed from the ordinary type of domestic furniture, has been, for want of a better title, called "Chippendale." As a matter of fact, he appears to have adopted from Chambers the fanciful Chinese ornament, and the rococo style of that time, which was superseded some five-and-twenty years later by the quiet and more classic designs of Adam and his contemporaries.
In the chapter on Louis XV. and Louis XVI. Furniture, it has been shewn how French fashion went through a similar change about this same period. In Chippendale's chairs and console tables, in his state bedsteads and his lamp-stands, one can recognize the broken scrolls and curved lines, so familiar in the bronze mountings of Caffieri. The influence of the change which had occurred in France during the Louis Seize period is equally evident in Adam's treatment. It was helped forward by the migration into this country of skilled workmen from France, during the troubles of the revolution at the end of the century. Some of Chippendale's designs bear such titles as " French chairs " or a " Bombé-fronted Commode." These might have appeared as illustrations in a contemporary book on French furniture, so identical are they in every detail with the carved woodwork of Picau, of Cauner, or of Nilson, who designed the flamboyant frames of the time of Louis XV. Other designs have more individuality. In his mirror frames he introduced a peculiar bird with a long snipe-like beak and rather impossible wings, an imitation of rockwork and dripping water, Chinese figures with pagodas and umbrellas; and sometimes the illustration of AEsop's fables interspersed with scrolls and flowers. By dividing the glass unequally, by the introduction into his design of bevelled pillars with carved capitals and bases, he produced a quaint and pleasing effect, very suitable to the rather effeminate fashion of his time, and in harmony with three-cornered hats, wigs and patches, embroidered waistcoats, knee breeches, silk stockings, and enamelled snuff-boxes. In some of the designs there is a fanciful Gothic, to which he makes special allusion in his preface, as likely to be considered by his critics as impracticable, but which he undertakes to produce if desired -
" Though some of the profession have been diligent enough to represent them (especially those after the Gothick and Chinese manner) as so many specious drawings impossible to be worked off by any mechanick whatsoever. I will not scruple to attribute this to Malice, Ignorance, and Inability; and I am confident I can convince all Noblemen, Gentlemen, or others who will honour me with their Commands, that every design in the book can be improved, both as to Beauty and Enrichment, in the execution of it, by
"Their most obedient servant," Thomas Chippendale."
The reader will notice that in the examples selected from Chippendale's book there are none of these fretwork tables and cabinets which are generally termed " Chippendale." We know, however, that besides the designs which have just been described, and which were intended for gilding, he also made mahogany furniture, and in the " Director " there are drawings of chairs, washstands, writing-tables and cabinets of this description. Fretwork is seldom seen, but the carved ornament is generally a foliated or curled endive scroll; sometimes the top of a cabinet is finished in the form of a Chinese pagoda. Upon examining a piece of furniture that may reasonably be ascribed to him, it will be found to be of excellent workmanship, and the wood, always mahogany without any inlay, is richly marked, shewing a careful selection of material.
The chairs of Chippendale and his school are very characteristic. If the outline of the back of some of them be compared with the stuffed back of the chair from Hardwick Hall it will be seen that the same lines occur, but instead of the frame of the back being covered with silk, tapestry, or other material - as in William III.'s time - Chippendale's are cut open into fanciful patterns; and in his more highly ornate work, the twisted ribands of his design are scarcely to be reconciled with the use for which a dining room chair is intended. The well-moulded sweep of his lines, however, counterbalances this defect to some extent, and a good Chippendale mahogany chair will ever be an elegant article of furniture.
One of the most graceful chairs of about the middle of the century, in the style of Chippendale's best productions, is the Master's Chair in the Hall of the Barbers' Company. It is carved in rich Spanish mahogany, and upholstered in morocco leather; the ornament consists of scrolls and cornucopiae, with flowers charmingly disposed, the arms and motto of the Company being introduced. Unfortunately, there is no certain record as to the designer and maker of this beautiful chair, and it is to be regretted that the date (1865), the year when the Hall was redecorated, should have been placed in prominent gold letters on this interesting relic of a past century.
Apart from the several books of design noticed here, there were published two editions of a work, undated, containing many of the drawings found in Chippendale's book. This book was entitled, "Upwards of One Hundred New and Genteel Designs, being all the most approved patterns of household furniture in the French taste. By a Society of Upholders and Cabinet makers." It is probable that Chippendale was a member of this Society, and that some of the designs were his, but that he severed himself from it, and published his own book, preferring to advance his individual reputation. The " sideboard " which one so generally hears called " Chippendale " scarcely existed in his time. If it did it must have been quite at the end of his career. There were side tables, sometimes called " Side-Boards," but they contained neither cellaret nor cupboard; only a drawer for table linen.
The name of Robert Manwaring should not be omitted' as one of Chippendale's contemporaries. He published " The Chairmaker's Guide " in 1766, which included " upwards of two hundred new and genteel designs, both decorative and plain, of all the most approved patterns for burjairs, toillets, cornishes and lanthorns, etc."
The patterns of his chair-backs are very similar to those of his contemporaries, and four of his designs which were reproduced in " Furniture and Decoration," two years ago, only differ in detail from those illustrated here as the work of Ince and Mayhew. Manwaring also designed china cabinets, fenders, balconies, and other decorative items, and he is believed to have been a leading member of the Society of Upholders and Cabinet Makers, alluded to in fig_183.
Two other designers and makers of mahogany ornamental furniture, who also deserve special mention in the discussion of eighteenth century English furniture, are W. Ince and J. Mayhew, who were partners in business in Broad Street, Golden Square, and contemporary with Chippendale. They also published a book of designs ("The universal system of Household Furniture, 300 designs on 95 plates, folio London, n.d. (circa 1770)."), which is alluded to by Thomas Sheraton in the preface to his " Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book," published in 1793. A few examples from Ince and Mayhew's " Cabinet Maker's Real Friend and Companion " are given, from which it is evident that, without any distinguishing brand, or without the identification of any particular piece of furniture with one of their designs, it is difficult to distinguish between their work and that of Chippendale and other contemporary makers.
It is, however, noticeable, after careful comparison of the work of Chippendale with that of Ince and Mayhew, that the furniture designed and made by the latter has many more of the characteristic details and ornaments which are now generally looked upon as denoting the work of Chippendale; for instance, the fretwork ornaments finished by the carver, and then applied to the plain mahogany; the open-worked scroll shaped backs to encoignures or china shelves; and the carved Chinaman with the pagoda. Some of the frames of chimney glasses and pictures made by Ince and Mayhew are almost identical with those attributed to Chippendale.
Other well known designers and manufacturers of this time were Hepplewhite, who published a book of designs very similar to those of his contemporaries, and Matthias Lock, some of whose original drawings were on view in the Exhibition of 1862 (Matthias Lock published " A new book of pier frames, ovals, girandoles, tables, etc." Imp. 8vo., 1769.), with interesting memoranda attached, giving the names of his workmen and the wages paid: from these it would appear that five shillings a day was at that time sufficient remuneration for a skilful wood carver.
Another good designer and maker of much excellent furniture of this time was " Shearer," who has been unnoticed by nearly all writers on the subject. In an old book of designs in the author's possession, " Shearer delin " and " published according to Act of Parliament, 1788," appears underneath the representations of sideboards, tables, bookcases, dressing tables, which are very similar in every way to those of Sheraton, his contemporary. George Richardson and Matthias Darly should also be mentioned as notable designers of furniture and decorative details of this time.