Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
IN studying the various periods into which different makes of furniture may be divided, the accentuating of one point, say of ornaments or the structural peculiarities, is noted, not as being sharply defined, but as being a gradual growth. Chippendale did not originate at first. Indeed, he hardly adapted, for the East India trade had brought to market Chinese designs which he used, and French furniture was so popular that he copied bodily in his book such designs as pleased him, although the term "French chairs," as employed at this time, referred to their being upholstered and not to the style or decoration. Thomas Johnson published a book about the middle of the eighteenth century, in which was a medley of French, Gothic and Chinese designs, many of which have a strong family likeness to Chippendale's. There was also Matthias Lock, who began to publish his books as early as 1740, dedicated to such "nobility as would stand for him." These books included one on Pier Frames, Girandoles, Tables, etc', also, one on Ornaments and Sconces, all of which were characteristic of what was considered desirable at this time, and which style Chippendale followed too. Ince & Mayhew published what they called a "Universal System of Household Furnishing." They made many designs, over three hundred, and not only set forth the fine taste in which they were conceived, but gave the workmen directions for executing them. They positively ran wild on "Chinese taste," their fretwork and combination of Chinese and Gothic being perfectly extravagant. Like Chippendale they designed terms, or as we should call them pedestals, for busts toilet-tables, book-cases, many mirror-frames, and chairs most intricate in their carved backs, with ribbon-work, scrolls, and elaborate patterns in brass nails.
Figure 18. Kitchen, Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Mass.
What were known as "overdoors" were very carefully designed by Chippendale, Ince & Mayhew, Robert Manwaring, and later by the Adam Brothers. These overdoors were the wood or leadwork into which glass was set, to go above front doors.
William Halfpenny, carpenter and architect, as he called himself, published many works on Furniture, Temples, Garden Seats, Windows, Doors, Obelisks, etc., beginning in 1719. Among the many books are these two, "Twenty New Designs of Chinese Lattice and Other Works for Staircases, Gates, Pailings, etc.," and also, "Chinese and Gothic Architecture." So fond were the Halfpennys (for the son was later associated with the father) of Chinese work that they seldom missed an opportunity of putting in a Chinese figure. On their ceilings, above the chimney-pieces everywhere that decoration could be crowded in, one is apt to find a Chinese mandarin with pigtail and umbrella.
The originality of Chippendale soon spoke for itself. He worked in so many styles, and has so grown in estimation, that his name is made to cover the greatest variety of designs. When he first came before the public his work met with much adverse criticism, Isaac Ware, a contemporary, writes of him thus:
"it is our misfortune at this time to see an unmeaning scrawl of C's inverted and looped together, taking the place of Greek and Roman elegance even in our most expensive decorations."
But the early extravagances of his designs were soon modified, and even they were touched with a grace which made them pleasing to the eye while wholly extravagant. His better and more familiar work is to-day the model upon which cabinet-workers rely, no one having arisen who can improve on his designs. Thousands of pieces of furniture are called by his name, both in this country and England, which were not even contemporary with this maker and bear no resemblance either to his designs or to work known to be his.
Figure 19. Chippendale Chairs
About the time that Chippendale came on the field (1750) it had become the custom for architects and designers to publish catalogues of their designs. Thomas Chippendale, a progressive business man, was not behind his contemporaries, so in 1754 he published his catalogue, which he called "The Gentleman's and Cabinet-Maker's Director." It was a very successful publication, passed through several editions, and brought him added name and fame. It sold for £3 13s. 6d., and had fine copper-plate engravings. The title page of Chippendale's "Director," specifies designs for the following pieces of furniture:
"Chairs, Sofas, Beds and Couches, China-Tables, Bason-Tables and Tea-Kettle Stands, Frames for Marble Slabs, Bureau-Dressing-Tables, and Library-Tables, Library Bookcases, Organ for Private Rooms or Churches, Desks and Bookcases, Dressing and Writing-Tables with Bookcases, Toilets, Cabinets, and Clothes-Presses.
China-Cases. China-Shelves, and Book-Shelves. Candle-Stands and 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."
At this period the best room or "saloon" was wainscotted chair high, and the remainder prepared for wall-paper, or battened for hangings of silk or tapestry. Chippendale drew many beautiful designs, which he calls "borders for paper-hangings," and which were used as finishings at the top of the paper. Some of them were also employed as patterns for carving, or work in stucco painted and gilded.
It must be remembered that Chippendale was par excellence a carver of wood, and so we find him working almost exclusively in "solid mahogany," as we have come to call it, which wood had been introduced into England about the time of Raleigh (1595), though it was not used to any extent as a material for furniture until about twenty-five years before Chippendale published his book. Indeed it seems to have been used in America for this purpose quite as soon as in England, although there are in that country a few detached pieces of mahogany furniture made late in 1600, showing that some wood had been imported before Raleigh caused it to be brought in more freely, along with "tabac" and the potato, which latter vegetable was first grown at Sir Walter's estate called "Youghal," near Cork, Ireland. Sir Walter did not use the new wood in his own beautiful house, but had splendidly carved oak chimney-pieces and furniture made by men whom he brought from Flanders for that purpose.
At the time Chippendale published his book he was about forty years old, as it is generally, supposed that he was born about 1710. Worcester is given as the place of his birth, and authorities state that other members of his family practiced the art of wood-carving before him, but the information about his early history is very scant. His shop was in St. Martin's Lane, London, and he employed as many as a hundred men, so it is rather strange that more authentic specimens of his handiwork have not survived. While mahogany was the wood which he used chiefly for his furniture, he employed a close-set pine for carving many of the beautiful floriated mirror-frames for which he was so justly celebrated. Scrolls, flower and leaves, falling water, and a particular bird of his own fancy, with a long and prominent beak, were employed in the decoration of these mirrors, which were richly gilded, the ornament being entirely of wood without the addition of porcelain plaques or metal work, which was such a feature of the French furniture of this period, the influence of which is noticeable in many of Chippendale's designs. It is true that he did not carry out some of his designs, notably such pieces as the state beds, etc., after the style of Louis XV. One glance at the "Director" will show how impossible these beds were. The top, supported on posts, rises like Ossa upon Pelion piled, with layers or terraces of carved figures of children, rock-work, and everything else, the whole crowned by groups consisting of several figures and animals.
Figure 20. Chippendale Chair
His designs for bedposts show the French influence, being fluted and wreathed with flowers. Many stand flat on the ground without ornamental feet, and are plain on top to support a canopy or tester.
Most successful of all the furniture designed by this maker are the chairs, many of them decorated with graceful scroll-work and delicate garlands of flowers, though the styles with which we are most familiar are massive, heavy pieces with carving upon them, and either with or without solid underbraces. A unique piece is shown in Figure 20. This chair is thought to have been imported into this country about 1760, but I should suppose it to be a very much earlier example of Chippendale's work, while he was still content to copy, for the front legs show the bear's paw while the rear ones are the familiar Dutch foot.
It belongs to the South Carolina College, at Columbia, S. C. and was given to it by General Preston about 1850. In his letter of presentation he calls it "the quasi throne of the Colonial Governors of South Carolina," but beyond this its history is unknown. This chair is of solid mahogany as most of these chairs were, and shows about the edges of the carving traces of the chisel-marks, a not at all unusual feature in these old hand-carved pieces. The splat (i. e. the central part of the back) is plainly pierced. The term "cabriole", which we apply now to the leg, in Chippendale's time referred to a chair having a stuffed back. It has generally been supposed that Chippendale was the originator of the ball-and-claw foot, which is of two varieties, but he copied this style of decoration directly from the Dutch. The foot in this chair is what is known as the "bear's paw", so called from the fur which is rudely carved above the foot. The other style being the "bird's claw." The chairs with cabriole legs were called bandy or bow-legged when they first came into use, about 1700, which is also about the time that easy-chairs were first used in bedrooms. Up to that date chairs had been rather severe and of the nature of stools and settles. As writing became better learned there was a demand for dainty and ornamental desks for ladies' use, as well as library desks for men, and bookcases were also needed.
In Chippendale's book, "The Gentleman's and Cabinet-Maker's Director", while there are designs given for every imaginable piece of furniture, there is not a single illustration of the ball-and-claw or hoof foot; yet it is known by authentic pieces, coming down as late as 1780, and preserved in the South Kensington Museum, London, that such work was done by him. Further than this, we are used to consider mahogany as pre-eminently the wood he worked in, yet in this same guide this wood is mentioned by him but once.
"Six designs of chairs for Halls' Passages, or Summer-houses. They may be made either of mahogany or any other wood, and painted, and have commonly wooden seats."
All this fine solid mahogany furniture made by Chippendale, and by which his name is so firmly perpetuated, was regarded by him as merely commercial work. What he really took a pride in was very fussy, covered with upholstery, with an abundance of carving and gilding, and even metal work on the exposed parts. Rosewood was used by him also, with elaborate carving which was sometimes embellished with gilt, or, in cases where great elegance was demanded, by brass, copper, or silver mounts richly chased. He turned out many pieces of soft wood japanned or painted, and decorated also with gilt and colours.
Little of this furniture ever came to America. It was made to order for the nobility and gentry, and its immense cost rendered it possible only for the very wealthy. Among the two hundred copper-plate designs given in Chippendale's book, quite a large portion of them are in what is known as "Chinese taste," which had taken the world of fashion by storm. Sir William Chambers, who had travelled in China, is given the credit for having introduced this style into furniture and decoration, which was further adapted by Chippendale and other makers, but it was already known before Chambers's day. Both Chambers and Robert Adam, the best architects of their day, were Scotchmen. Chambers was born in 1726, and from his earliest years had a love for the sea. This induced him to make a voyage to Canton, where he made innumerable notes and sketches of furniture, buildings, and gardens, which he made full use of later. In 1759 he published his book "The Decorative Part of Civil Architecture," which was most successful. He was appointed drawing-master to the Prince of Wales, afterward George III., and managed to retain the royal favor for the rest of his life. He not only designed many houses for wealthy patrons and altered many others, but he was afterward appointed landscape gardener at Kew, and knighted.
The older Chinese furniture which one sees in Europe dates from the eighteenth century, and was made for and imported by the Dutch; hence the medley of styles, Elaborate bedsteads, tables, and cabinets were decorated with ivory figures in relief. There is furniture of this description in the United States, splendidly carved out of cedar and decorated with hundreds of tiny figures of men and women carved from ivory and set on. Such a piece is shown in Figure 21, the original of which is at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia.
Not only was Chinese furniture in wood and wicker brought from the Orient, but the Dutch, whom we have come to look upon as ready imitators, followed Oriental styles not only in furniture but in pottery as well. Chippendale specifies nine of his designs for chairs in Chinese style as proper for a lady's dressing-room, especially if it were hung with an India paper. They were likewise recommended for Chinese temples. These chairs commonly have cane bottoms with loose cushions, but if required may be stuffed and have brass nails.
As early as 1711 Addison comments on the motley confusion heaped up in a lady's library, where there were few books but "Munkies, Mandarins, and Scaramouches" without end; and to keep these ornaments in countenance was also furniture made after Chinese designs.
Besides these styles Chippendale also used a modification of the Gothic, notably in such places as the doors of cabinets, or the doors and the tops of bookcases. Horace Walpole, in his little Gothic villa at Strawberry Hill, had awakened a still further taste for a revival of Gothic designs; and everybody, to be in the mode, had their cabinet doors and bookcases with embattled tops and Gothic tracery. Of all the styles Chippendale adopted and adapted, this one left the least enduring trace. More successful were his bookcases based on Louis XV. style. They are of mahogany and have the rococo ornaments peculiar to this style. This work shows off gilding admirably. These bookcases with drawers and desk, as well as the bureaus, were used in bedrooms which were often boudoirs and studies as well. So a receptacle which could be quickly locked was quite necessary.
Figure 21. Carved Cedar Table
In Chippendale's catalogue are directions given for many small articles which were much in demand and highly fashionable when the book was written, but for which the present day and generation has no use. Such were the charming little tea-caddies with brass handles and locks, stands for candles, or china jars or animals with which the drawing-rooms of those days were crowded. There were also carved brackets, decorated with the bird we have spoken of before, and exquisite foliated designs making graceful adornments for any room, and often neglected in sales where other and better-known examples of this period bring fabulous prices. When carved in pine these brackets are always gilded, but occasionally they may be obtained in walnut and mahogany.
The designs for such pieces are largely Original with Chippendale, for their use had just become needed, and we must remember besides that it was Chippendale's misfortune to live in a transition period, and that the rococo which preceded him, and by which his first work was influenced, died very hard. Indeed his first style might be called rococo, and the designs swelled and bulged, were covered with meaningless and fantastic ornament, and ran riot through all styles and countries. It had for its chief merit the fact that it was executed with great delicacy and beauty and had a grace about it which was always pleasing. The two sides of a design are seldom alike, and the merit of such pieces is due purely to the skill of the carver. Yet it was under his skilful hand that later the beauty of simplicity was once more proved, and he sought classic models for his inspiration. Speaking himself of designs for French chairs he says, "for greater variety the feet and elbows are different." The moulding around the bottom of the edge of the rails also comes under his consideration, and he mentions Spanish leather or damask as good material for covering chairs.
He it was who exemplified the principle that each part of a piece of furniture should be adapted to its use, and that overloading an article with ornament did not necessarily add to its beauty. After his rococo period came the rage for Chinese designs, and lastly the plain and solid style with which we are familiar.
Two very handsome chairs are shown in Figure 22, the side chair showing an abundance of exquisite carving on the knees and in the splat. It is wonderful what variety he encompassed working in the small space and confined shape of this part of a chair. It will be observed that in all the chairs shown no two splats are alike.
Figure 22. Chippendale Chairs
All the construction of the Chippendale furniture of the last period is remarkably solid and of the first order, and the wood is of a dark and rich mahogany. The best pieces of this period are those in which the originality of the designer had full play, and when he was not influenced by either the French or Oriental taste. The furniture of this period, fine and free in design, was well adapted to the fashions and mode of life of the people for whom it was made. He retained the roomy character of the Dutch furniture, which was needed for the style of dress affected by both sexes. The Spanish furniture of oak, with cane work or leather, introduced by Catherine of Braganza, was not the only innovation brought to England by that lady, for Evelyn says in his "Diary" for May 30, 1662,
"The Queene ariv'd with a traine of Portuguese ladies in their monstrous fardingals or guard-infantas Her Majesty in the same habit, her foretop long and curiously turn'd aside."
In the next forty years fashions changed, they changed slowly in those days, and among other things laid at the door of "Good Queen Anne" may be added the hoop-skirt. Flowered and damask gowns were worn over it, and in the "Spectator" of 1712 a number of gowns are advertised for sale, all the property of Mr. Peter Paggen, of Love Lane, near Eastcheap, London. Among them is an "Isabella-coloured kincob gown, flowered with green and gold; a purple and gold Atlas gown with a scarlet and gold Atlas petticoat edged with silver."
A little later in the century a lady's gown was all ruffles and flounces, in fact "every part of the garment was in curl, and caused a lady of fashion to look like one of those animals which in the country we call a Friesland hen."
The reigns of the first two Georges had Hogarth for their illustrator, and in the set of drawings called "Marriage ΰ la Mode" we see the hoods, skirts without trains, unruffled and often accompanied by a sack, or something between a cloak and a gown, and called a mantua. During the reign of George I. there was no queen to set the fashion, so it changed little. In 1735 Caroline, queen of George II. on the king's birthday appeared in a "beautiful suit made of silk of the produce of Georgia, and the same was acknowledged to excel that of any other country." The ladies who accompanied her wore flowered silks of various colours, of a large pattern, but mostly with a white ground, with wide short sleeves and short petticoats. These gowns were often pinned up behind in fantastic fashion, and generally quite narrow. It was also ΰ la mode to wear gold or silver nets on the petticoats, and to face and guard the robes with them and even to wear them on sleeves. Lady Harcourt, a famous beauty of Caroline's court, wore on one occasion a "white ground rich silk, embossed with gold and silver, and fine coloured flowers of a large pattern."
What we know as a morning-gown they called, in the middle of the eighteenth century a nightgown, and we read of a "garnet-coloured lustring nightgown with a tobine stripe of green and white, trimmed with floss of the same colour and lined with straw-coloured lutestring." A gay garment truly.
These were the styles in vogue when Chippendale began to design and make furniture for his patrons, whom he desired to see among the most fashionable. While the ladies were so gay, the gentlemen were quite as elegant, with three-cornered hats, wigs and patches, embroidered waistcoats, with stiffened skirts to their coats, knee-breeches, silk stockings, and snuff-boxes. Such modish people could not bestow themselves comfortably in chairs with arms, so chairs without arms, and tabourets, as they were called, were quite necessary for comfort. The fashionable ailment of the day, for men at least was gout, and we find designs for "gouty stools," in which the top could be raised or lowered as best suited the needs of the patient. His designs for sofas made these articles of great size; they ran from six feet nine inches to ten feet long. His ideas as to decoration seem amusing, for he mentions that the carvings on the sofa should be emblematic of Watchfulness, Assiduity, and Rest.
Wine-coolers for which Chippendale made many designs, sometimes had brass bands around them which had the effect of making them look very heavy and clumsy. Coolers of this style were round or oval, but some of better design were oblong or square. Numbers of beautiful little tea-tables, or tea-poys, as they were often called, were also made by Chippendale, and what he called in his book of designs "candle stands" were no doubt sometimes put to this use, though their height he says they should run from three feet six inches to four feet six inches, rendered the taller ones awkward. Figure 23 shows a very beautiful example of one of these stands richly carved. The post is three feet seven and a half inches high, and the hexagonal top has a standing rim of very delicate carving. The little tea-stand next to it has also a slight rim, and some carving on the pedestal and feet. The music-stand is not a usual piece, and has a cupboard and drawer to contain the sheets. All three pieces are of mahogany and belong to the collection at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia.
Many of these tables or stands made their way to America, for tea-drinking was a great resource for the ladies. As early as 1720 Bohea tea was selling at Philadelphia for thirty shillings a pound. Its great cost prohibited its common use, and it was not until much later that it became common, so the greatest treat that could be offered to a neighbour was a drink of tea, particularly if the proud housewife could serve it out of a tiny porcelain cup without a handle, such cups being almost as great a rarity as the tea.
The little rim which set up above the edge of the table was intended to prevent the tea furniture from falling off. These tables are occasionally seen in America in their simpler forms. There are special ones made to order for customers by Chippendale, which are seldom allowed to leave the families for which they were originally made. There are two such tea-tables made in "Chinese taste" with fretwork legs, sides to the table, and the little standing rim to protect the china. One of these tables was made for the great-grandmother of the present owner, by Chippendale, and has come down in a state of perfect preservation. It is held in England, is thirty-nine and three-eighths inches high, the top is thirty-two by twenty-one and five-eighths inches.
Chippendale, in his book, gives very elaborate directions for preparing the wood from which this fretwork carving was to be made. In order to have it as strong as possible he advises the use of three thin sheets of wood glued together, the grain to run in opposite directions, and the fret carving to be made in this. I-le particularly recommends this use of glued wood for such pieces as China-cases, which were largely fretwork with pagodas on top and hanging ornaments at the sides.
Figure 23. Chippendale Candle, Tea and Music Stands
Card-tables were also made in great varieties and numbers by this same maker, and his graceful designs were copied by other and less well-known makers, so that these tables, at least in "Chippendale style," are not uncommon. His card-tables were of two styles, with leaves which folded together on top when not in use, and a plain oblong table without leaves. As card-playing was one of the most fashionable pursuits of the day in England, which fashion was followed with becoming promptitude by us. It is seen that many of these tables were needed to accommodate the gay world. Those most esteemed were the kind with leaves, which could seat a larger party than the oblong ones, and which, when not in use, could be folded together and set against the wall. Both styles, when made by Chippendale, were decorated only with carving. During the last half of the eighteenth century there were probable few families who did not own at least one card-table.
Gambling at cards had always been an amusement at courts, and there were many games in vogue. Ombre had been introduced in the previous century by Catherine of Braganza, and quadrille was another favorite game of hers. Pepys under date of February 17, 1666-7, alludes to the fact that Catherine played not only on week days but on Sundays as well.
"This evening, going to the Queene's side to see the ladies, I did find the Queene, the Duchesse of York, and another or two at cards, with the room full of great ladies and men, which I was amazed at to see of a Sunday, having not believed it, but contrarily, flatly denied the same a little while since to my cosen Roger Pepys."
The next reign, that of James II., saw basset introduced, and it retained its popularity through several reigns and was still the mode when Queen Anne occupied the throne. It broke "into her hours by day as well as by night," and the drain on the privy purse was excessive, for the queen was a good loser.
The Cocoa-Tree Club, at No. 64 St. James Street, London, was, during Queen Anne's reign, a regular gambling-den. Walpole says:
"Within this week there has been a cast at hazard at the Cocoa-Tree, the difference of which amounted to £180,000."
By George II.'s reign cards were universal. The preface to the "Court Gamster" says:
"Gaming has become so much the fashion that he who in company should be ignorant of the games in vogue would be reckoned low-bred and hardly fit for conversation."
The Princess Amelia Sophia, daughter of George II., was an inveterate snuff-taker as well as gambler. Horace Walpole, who was often invited to make one at her card parties, has left many graphic pictures of her. At Bath the card-tables were one of the chief attractions, and the sums of money staked during a single night seem prodigious. But of all the Georges, George IV. had the most reckless propensities, Before he was twenty-one years old he had lost £800,000, one of his boon companions being that confirmed gamester, Charles James Fox.
Almack's was a famous gambling-club, opened in 1764. The gamesters began by pulling off their velvet and embroidered coats, putting on frieze garments, and pulling leather sleeves over their lace ruffles. High-crowned, broad-brimmed straw hats were worn to shade their eyes from the light, to keep their hair from being tumbled, and perhaps to conceal their emotions.
Figure 24. Chippendale Card-Table
George II. was still on the throne when Chippendale published his "Director," and in such a gambling age it is no wonder that he made many card-tables in order to please his patrons. Not alone at court were they in demand, but one has only to read such transcripts of the times as Jane Austen's or Miss Burney's novels to find that nearly every country family sat down of an evening to a quiet hand at cards. Following at a distance, but as well as they were able, the fashions set at court, Americans too played cards, and Chippendales tables were sent across the ocean and were copied by colonial cabinet-makers, who by this time had become very successful workers themselves. Contemporary letters, which describe the propensity of the ladies to play loo all day as well as all night were, no doubt, too extravagant. On the great plantations at the South, gambling was said to be a favorite diversion, and piquet, ιcartι, faro, hazard, and basset were played, as well as less exciting games. Besides the tables with plain polished surfaces, some were covered with a green cloth. Others had pockets to hold the counters, which were old silver Spanish pieces or were made of mother-of-pearl. These tables were valued highly, the early ones being walnut, the later mahogany. In some of the inventories already quoted mention is made of various styles of playing-cards which were imported by the gross, as well as "pearl fish," which were the fashionable counters.
In Figure 24 a very beautiful Chippendale card-table is shown. It is of mahogany, richly carved on the knees, and with a heavy carved moulding. It is unusual in having five legs, one of which moves out to sup. port the second half of the top. The feet are ball-and-claw, and within the lid is lined with cloth, has depressions for counters, and also four flat panels, one at each corner, where the candle-sticks stood. It belongs to Miss Sarah Frost, Rochester, N. Y., and has been in her family over mo years.
Most of Chippendale's furniture presents certain characteristics that are easily mastered. First may be mentioned the ball-and-claw foot, and the cabriole leg which he adopted from the Dutch, and which he used so freely before he introduced the straight leg. Then the backs of his chairs are quite distinctive, whether the splats run up and down, or become cross-braces, or are elaborated into very ornamental ribbon-work. The top bar is generally extended on each end into what, for a better name, we will call "ears."
Figure 25. Chippendale Marble-Topped Table
Chippendale never used inlay on any of his pieces, preferring to produce the decoration by carving. In his very ornate carvings we have mentioned the long-billed bird, the falling-water effect, and the familiar ribbon-work which is often introduced into backs with such good effect. There are a number of patterns for carving shown in the designs in his book, and used by him over and over again, with which we have become well acquainted. Little carved bands were quite universally employed to decorate the rims of his card-tables, and in his fine chairs the front bar of the seat often had a shell or other ornament carved upon it. The very finest chairs by this maker are seldom found in America, though furniture was imported freely. In Smith's "History of New York" for the year 1756, two years after Chippendale published his work, there is the following statement:
"In the City of New York, through our intercourse with Europeans, we follow the London fashions, though by the time we adopt them they become disused in England. Our affluence during the late French war introduced a degree of luxury in tables dress, and furniture with which we were before unacquainted. But still we are not so gay a people as our neighbours at Boston, and several Southern colonies."
This is the first time possibly that the descendants of the Pilgrims have gone on record as a "gay people."
When the seats of Chippendale's pieces are stuffed, it will be noticed that the material is usually drawn over the rails, and sometimes adorned with gilt-headed nails set in a pattern or straight. See Figure 19. He says in his catalogue that he considers this the handsomer fashion; but in some cases, where the seats were covered with set work or crewel work, they were set in the wooden frame. There are two such chairs made by Chippendale and given by the fourth Duke of Marlborough in 1790 to an ancestor of the present owner. The seats of these ribbon-backed chairs were worked by the famous Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and are still in a fresh and blooming state of preservation. These arm-chairs are very handsomely carved, and rest on large ball-and-claw feet. The carving is not confined to the knee alone, but runs down the leg to the end of the claw. These are owned in England.
That quantities of this furniture are changing hands all the time is evident from reading the records of sales which go on at all the large auction rooms in Europe. It is safe to say that fully half of it comes to America, and that it is possible to buy here choice specimens of the works of all the famous cabinet-makers. Even the well-known Battle Abbey has been despoiled, and while much of the furniture was Flemish and German, and not of particularly good quality, there were also some pieces of both Chippendale and Adam Bros., the latter being represented by several mirrors. Chippendale chairs of undoubted authenticity bring easily at these sales $200 each, while one of distinctly inferior quality sold for $335, owing to the authenticity of its history.
At a sale of furniture held within the year at Christie's, in London, a genuine surprise was furnished when a set of mahogany Chippendale chairs brought $5,225. A few weeks later two chairs, apparently out of the same set, appeared at another sale, also, at Christie's and about an hour before the sale they were withdrawn. These chairs, says the catalogue, were given by a lady to the vicar and church wardens of a parish church in Lincolnshire. The lady died, and her executors held that they were lent, not given, and the sale was stopped until the rightful ownership should be established by law. But there was also in the catalogue still another chair which was said to belong to the same set, yet which was of a different wood and more boldly carved. This chair brought but a little more than $100. The removal of the two previously mentioned chairs from the sale, and the whole mystery which surrounds them, has given rise to wild rumours, and all kinds of reports are circulated which makes one very cautious about buying at auctions. In fact catalogues at auctions are little to be relied on, as one will often find pieces heavy with inlay, or of undoubted American make, boldly marked Chippendale, while Sheraton is made to shoulder the baldest imitations of his style and design. It must always be a matter of regret that furniture-makers so rarely signed their work. If they had realized that individual specimens would bring as much as fine paintings, they would not have left their work clouded with an uncertain pedigree.
Figure 26. Chippendale Chair-Backs and Mirror-Frame
Chippendale did not make sideboards. He made side or serving-tables but the sideboard was a later growth, due largely to three cabinet-makers who succeeded Chippendale, Shearer, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, all of whom, like Chippendale, published catalogues of their designs. The nearest approach which Chippendale made to a sideboard was a table with a shallow drawer for linen. He did not make any of those pieces of furniture with drawers and cupboards which are so often called by his name.
It may be seen that on Chippendale's title-page he refers to "frames for marble slabs." These were generally tables, side or serving tables we should call them, and they were elaborately carved on legs and edges. Nor were they unknown in this country, for inventories as early as the middle of the eighteenth century refer to sideboard tables with marble tops, as well as marble-topped parlor tables.
In Figure 25 is shown an unusually elegant marble-topped parlor table. The profuse carving is in Chippendale's very best style, not flamboyant, but elegant and graceful. On each of the long sides is a grotesque mask, and the legs, carved over the knees with shells and flowers in low relief, end in a ball-and-paw, the hair on the foot being most delicately carved. The wood is dark, rich mahogany; the marble top is of brown tint with light veinings. This fine piece is at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia.
To sum up, then, briefly, Chippendale's peculiarities may be expressed as follows:
He used the ball-and-claw foot with the cabriole leg: this was succeeded by the straight leg.
The tops of his chairs are almost invariably prolonged into little ear-like ornaments.
He never used inlay on his furniture.
He used carving as ornament, generally worked in solid mahogany for his larger pieces, and in a close-set pine which was gilded for his smaller and ornamental pieces.
Many of the gold-frame looking-glasses have the glass pane divided by delicate ornament or pilasters. This was to save expense, as in this way several small panes of glass could be used instead of one large and more costly one. The glass made in England was in very thin plates, and the bevel was ground by hand, so that it followed every twist and turn in the convolutions of the frame which rested on it.
Strength, beauty, and adaptability to the use for which the piece was made, were the watchwords for Chippendale's most characteristic furniture. It is true that during the early years of his work there was a large demand for everything French, to which he catered, yet he in time reversed this and caused the attention of the world to be drawn to England as the centre from which could be obtained the best designs in furniture. While Chippendale sought for his effects largely in his use of carving and gilding, although we find little of this latter work in the pieces seen in America, he also took the greatest pains to select brilliant and elegant brocades, wrought stuffs, and hand-worked material for the upholstered parts of his furniture. Nor did he neglect brass nails as a means of brightening up a piece, though both Hepplewhite and Sheraton used them more than he did. None of the furniture which we so fondly ascribed to his name is from the designs figured in his book, his use of brilliant metal mounts is practically unknown among us. He himself admired the beautiful Louis XIV. ribbon ornament which he lavished on so many chair backs, and he says "If I may speak without vanity, they are the best I have ever seen, or perhaps have ever been made."
Like his fellow-craftsmen, Chippendale made cases for tall clocks, and some of them are odd and not in the least graceful or beautiful. One will have for ornament on the extreme top a crowing cock, life size, and rampant, the base on which he stands being a mass of ugly carving. Another has what might be called a sunburst, with a star in its midst; others have allegorical figures. His designs for mantel clocks were much prettier and in better taste everyway. He used walnut as well as mahogany for the cases, and sometimes Chinese panels, or panels painted with nymphs and goddesses, called in "French taste," were inserted. These decorations served, besides, to ornament the fire-screens which were popular pieces of furniture. He made designs for chimney-pieces or "over-mantels." These were filled in with glass. Chippendale says:
"Chimney-pieces require great care in the execution. The embossments must be very bold, the foliage neatly laid down, and the whole properly relieved. The top may be gilt, as likewise sonic other ornamental parts'"
Knowing the sturdy, plain characteristics of Chippendale's furniture as we see it, this constant reference to gilt and the mass of over-decoration seems quite out of place. His beds were called Canopy beds, Chinese beds, Dome beds, Gothic beds with flat testers, Field beds, Tent beds, Sofa beds with canopies, and the usual high four-posters.
Many beautiful clothes-presses were made by Chippendale, either chest like affairs on four legs, or having drawers below and wardrobe above, some of these latter bearing a strong resemblance to the French pieces from which they were copied.
Scant mention is made of Chippendale, in contemporary literature, but he has the distinction accorded to but few of having a large class of furniture design called by his name, instead of being designated by the period in which it was made. Mr. Clouston, in his book on "Chippendale Furniture," says that there were two Chippendales, father and son, and alludes to the author of the "Director" as "the elder Mr. Chippendale". The son, like many sons of great men, seems to have lost his identity in the reputation which has been gradually gathering about his father's name. He seems to have produced nothing of moment, and the family has sunk again into the obscurity from which one man had the genius to raise it.