Antiques Column: Chippendale’s designs remain a sign of quality

Michael Dowse at the AE Dowse Auction house which will be closing doors at the premises on Scotland Street

Michael Dowse at the AE Dowse Auction house which will be closing doors at the premises on Scotland Street

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Thomas Chippendale (1718-79) and his designs have become synonymous with furniture from the mid-18th century, although few actual pieces can be attributed directly to him.

He is, instead, the man behind the design; interpreting both the rococo and neoclassical styles alongside the increasingly popular Gothic and chinoiserie (a Chinese artistic influence focusing on a fanciful imagery of China).

Chippendale is considered as one of the best designers of his era and his secret to success lies largely in the publication of his book of designs: The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754). It is believed that he wrote and published the book to cultivate the patronage of the aristocracy with instructions to cabinet makers to recreate his designs for their wealthy clients!

The book included designs for everything from tables and desks to mirrors and commodes and of course the epitome of Chippendale furniture; the chair. The Director was used by furniture makers both in Britain and the US. The Chippendale chair actually appears in more than sixty variations in the Director but despite different stylistic influences the basic shape remains largely the same.

The chairs are low and wide. The backs are carved and pierced, often with interlaced splats and scrollwork. Most chairs have drop-in seats which are square or trapezoid. The front legs largely followed the rococo fashion for cabriole legs with carved knees and claw and ball feet. The majority of the chairs favour mahogany to allow for the detailed carving, although walnut and fruitwood are also used.

The American version can usually be distinguished from the English due to its focus on taller, slender legs and the distinctive back splat.

They are generally not as desirable as the English chairs.