To celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum (The Met Fifth Avenue), New York, will examine how an unprecedented design publication of 1754 confirmed him as England’s most famous craftsman of the eighteenth century whose influence would become a world-wide phenomenon.
Thomas Chippendale became a name well known during his own lifetime, for the stunning furniture produced mainly by his successful London workshop, having moved to the city from the town of Otley where he was born in Yorkshire.
He worked for many of the greatest of the patrons of his age in England; Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl Burlington, The Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle, William, 5th Earl of Dumfries, Henry 10th Earl of Pembroke at Wilton, The Duke of Northumberland, Sir Rowland Winn, Bt at Nostell Priory 1766 – 1785, The Royal Family, Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House, Sir Edward Knatchbull at Mersham Le Hatch and Mr. David Garrick, the actor for his Villa.
His design legacy was recorded in three editions of his The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director as well as a French edition offered in 1763 for the ‘Convenience of Foreigners’, and it would help to keep his name and designs alive for centuries.
Showcasing acclaimed works in The Met collection, the exhibition, Chippendale’s Director: The Designs and Legacy of a Furniture Maker, will also present original preparatory drawings from the Chippendale workshop, together with a selection of British and American furniture inspired by Chippendale’s designs and aesthetic.
The artist’s legacy will be presented May 14, 2017 – January 27, 2019, through representations in portrait painting and revival pieces from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
This Chippendale-inspired chair, designed in 1984 by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, will be a highlight.
Chippendale’s competence ensured the popularity of his book on many a work bench. He was an astute businessman with an ability to adapt as styles changed.
He regarded himself first and foremost as a tradesmen, and became an enthusiastic promoter of his own talent, capable of designing in all the timbers available, the current styles to suit his clients taste.
As his popularity grew he produced further editions of his book in 1755 and 1762, with others produced posthumously after 1786.
You can still obtain copies of the Director, today. His chair designs in particular, can also be found all over the world today, transposing to all Britain’s colonies and way beyond.
Attributed to Benjamin Randolph (American, 1737–92); possibly carved by Hercules Courtenay (American [born England], 1744–84), this side chair (detail), ca. 1769 was made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from the rage timber of the eighteenth century Mahogany and northern white cedar. It has modern upholstery.
Without supporting documentation today you cannot say a piece of furniture designed and made in period by Thomas Chippendale is by the master cabinetmaker himself or from his workshop, unless you have the written proof.
If the chair was made say around 1860 to a design by Chippendale taken from his ‘Director’ and of the exact proportions as dictated in his pattern book by either machine, hand techniques, or a combination of both, it would not be ‘in period’ but would be classified as an antique. It should be appropriately described as ‘in the manner of Thomas Chippendale’ or, ‘in the Chippendale style’.
An historic collaboration between Thomas Chippendale and the eighteenth centuries most famous neoclassical architect Robert Adam began at Harewood House in England.
Of all Chippendale’s famous works in situ in that glorious house, my favourite remain the carved festoons in the Long Gallery imitating taffeta.
Chippendale and Adam had in common membership of the prestigious Society in Arts, which Adam joined immediately on his return from Italy to set up practice in 1760 as George III ascended the throne.
An armchair made by Chippendale to a design by Robert Adam was described by the master craftsman as ‘richly carved in the Antick manner’ and marked an important development in Robert Adam’s early architectural style.
Although Chippendale is thought to have worked with Adam often, there are only a few instances known where it is documented he worked to Adams designs, the rest appears to have been a remarkable collaboration of their refinement of taste.
Chippendale enjoyed a great reputation and appears to have been fully conscious of his own superiority as a designer. He introduced his work with an audacious confidence that was in sharp contrast to his recorded servile posture when dealing with his patrons.
In America the neoclassical style, as espoused by both Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale, had become the rage of the east coast by 1790.
While the style architecturally may have been out of fashion in Britain, by the early part of the nineteenth century, homes were still being built in this most lively and gracious manner elsewhere, including the Harrison Grey Otis House in Boston by Charles Bullfinch. Its bold neoclassical design and pleasing characteristics, inspired the example set by Adam and Chippendale.
Before the nineteenth century artistic innovation guided by an aristocratic elite established high standards through patronage, which subsequently ensured artistic freedom for the very best artist or craftsman.
It meant their immediate practical needs such as housing and food on the table were attended to, so they would be able to concentrate on attaining the highest level of achievement, or as we would say today, fulfill their potential.
Today great individual patrons have all but been replaced by a ‘new aristocracy’ i.e. philanthropic foundations governments and-or large corporations as well as great trust funds, many founded by individuals with the ready necessary, all over the world.
For lovers of English Georgian grace and style, Chippendale’s legacy keeps on keeping on and this exhibition will point to many of the reasons why.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018-04-03
May 14, 2017 – January 27, 2019
The Met Fifth Avenue
The exhibition will be accompanied by a Bulletin on Chippendale’s Director by Morrison H. Heckscher, curator emeritus of the American Wing and made possible by the William Cullen Bryant Fellows of The Metropolitan Museum of Art