Thomas Chippendale – The Legend
The name Chippendale is probably one of the most recognized names in furniture design today and his contributions to design are still as highly praised today as they were three centuries ago and many people still seek out Chippendale style furnishings to add to their antique collections.
Chippendale was born in 1718 in Yorkshire to a carpenter father and apart from the fact that he married Catherine Redshaw in 1748 little else is known about his life. His work however which was influenced by English, French and Chinese furniture design remains as an incredible example of quality antique furniture and much is known about that.
Chippendale first became well known after he published a book entitled the "Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director", which was illustrated with examples of work that he had produced for clients and which later served as a kind of catalogue for the wealthy. The book was reprinted several times and is considered by many to be the most important collection of furniture designs ever published in England.
Chippendale furniture was so important that it dominated the English furniture market from 1745 to 1770 and its influence remained strong until the late 18th century.
One can fairly neatly separate Chippendale's style into four classifications. The more English influenced pieces used motifs of lions, masques, eggs and darts. Then there is what he borrowed from the style of French Louis XV furniture which is called rococo which featured elaborate lines and embellishments. He also had a Chinese style, sometimes called Chinoiserie which featured pagodas, bamboo turnings, claw-and-ball feet, intricate latticework and lacquering. Then finally, he had a Gothic influenced style that contained pointed arches, quatrefoils and fret-worked legs.
Chippendale was best known for his desks and secretaries and he was the first to design the Pembroke table which had a drop-leaf design with an oblong or rectangular fixed centrepiece which contained a drawer underneath.
His favourite wood to work with was mahogany and he always used solid woods to construct his furniture and not veneers and it was by necessity and well as perhaps by choice because of the deep carving and details that he used.
The Chippendale style has been widely copied so it is sometimes difficult to determine the authenticity of a piece that is called a Chippendale. However one of the best ways to check for authenticity is to study the carving and if it's uniform and symmetrical then it's almost certainly not an original. Another yardstick would be the price that's being asked as most Chippendale pieces from the 18th century would sell for in excess of several thousand pounds so if your asked for much less – beware.
A last small titbit of information for you is that Thomas Chippendale had the unique distinction of being the first non-monarch to have a furniture style named after him. Not bad for a Yorkshire carpenter!
We hope that you found our article both helpful and entertaining.
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