The first non-monarch to have the furniture style named after him.
The life of Chippendale is in much the same position as the biography of Shakespeare in as much as it is vague. Certainly neither has been well known in his own day as he is in this.
However, Chippendale was the most important furniture craftsman of his day.
There is no doubt that he died in 1779, the point of great importance is that he is stated in the great sexton’s book as being aged 62 which indicated that he was born in 1717 and not 1718 as many claim he is. He was born in Yorkshire; his father was a joiner (Carpenter) whom he most probably learned woodworking from.
This upsets to all the statements as to the great Chippendale making furniture in the early 18th century, the early furniture was probably the work of his father. Assuming Thomas came to London in 1727 he would have been 10 years old and also assuming he was apprenticed to his father at 14, the earliest date at which he would have started to make his furniture on his own account would have been about 1740.
His name, however, became potent and omnipresent in veritable households, genius as he was from an artistic point of view, it is evident that in general culture and education he was not above the class to which he belonged. It’s difficult to know which class did Chippendale belong too, we know he was elected a member of the society of arts, but this inspite of the names of his contemporaries, which have been given at length, was probably more a matter of paying a subscription rather than receiving a distinction.
Chippendale’s furniture was never cheap and neither were any of the other craftsmen I mentioned in my earlier articles so why do we in modern times want to compete with mass producers by degrading our work and ourselves by asking for less than what our skills has so painfully cost us over the years to attain. Chippendale had three shops in St. Martin’s lane, and when he had a fire, he was employing a large number of workmen, it is believed that he had 22 workmen under his employ, a flourishing business indeed. He was producing furniture in considerable quantities, without considering the contemporary craftsmen whose work he influenced.
Why is it then that we can find so few contemporary references either to himself or to his work? It may have been a novel idea in his time that a furniture designer could be an artist. To this day there is no record of the names of the men who designed the beautiful Queen Anne furniture. Probably Chippendale was considered an artist by a few, and a tradesman by many. If their interest were excited by the piece they purchased, it certainly did not extend to the man who made it; he was a tradesman around the corner who lived there.
He didn’t build furniture for the poor as in the 18th century the poor practically had no furniture in their households. The middle class home differed very little from that of today, the numerous pieces of furniture that survived to this day were found in the houses of the lesser merchants and members of the commercial classes in fairly comfortable circumstances, as well as the large class of farmers in the country.
Chippendale published three editions of his book in 1754, 1759, and 1762 “The Gentleman and Cabinet Makers director, being a large collection of the most elegant and useful designs of household furniture in the most fashionable tastes. “
The bulk of the subscribers to the book are themselves cabinetmakers as the book was partly a trade work giving proper directions for executing the most difficult pieces, the mouldings being exhibited at large, and the dimensions of each design specified.
Chippendale was first and foremost a chair maker, and certainly mixed more brains in the designing of chairs than of any other form of furniture.
It is interesting to note that the legs of the old chairs, both back and front, are as a rule not square but have an additional small inner side making five sides in all.
Following the period of the ball and claw foot, the form of decoration took the shape of heads and paws of lions.Which appeared carved with great spirit and animations, on the arms and legs of chairs.
The animal form of decoration was succeeded by a more restrained style with simple leaf designs on the knees of the legs.
It is needless to remark that this great man did not construct all these chairs. He was more of an influence rather than an actual producer, and the number of pieces of furniture which he built by hand could be counted on fingers.
He gathered ideas from many different styles, the Dutch, Chinese, French and Gothics. No doubt he was a great cabinet maker, a superb carver but he was more than all of this. He was a supreme influence, an inspiration which is with us to this very day.
His designs came from every available source, from the Dutch designs he crafted every style he could come upon, from the French he took the ribboned back chair, from the Chinese he took the whole form of the complete phase of his work which included the ball and claw foot., yes the Chinese invented the ball and claw foot.
This reminds me of my own similar approach when I made this stool below that included something from different nations, it was ultimately shaker influenced (America) but it also has a hint of Japanese to it hence the black trim around the seat and then I added Arabian style feet and inlaid star with an inlayed butterfly that was not in relation to any nation but all nations collectively as butterflies are found all over the world.
Final thoughts (off the topic, kind of)
I would like to finish this post off with a personal thought, we live in an age of consumerism and mass production. Mass production in truth is an exploit by the wealthy targeting the poor by making their products more affordable by way of cheap labour and materials. They falsely claim by way of advertising that their products are of quality enticing the buyer to make false informed decisions, when their products fault which they regularly do, mostly after the expiration of the warranty period, they shrug their shoulders and say “oh well it’s the way of the world now.” If we are to refer back to the 18th century poorer people as I stated earlier most didn’t even have furniture in their homes at least for whatever it’s worth they do now. I remember when I was 21 when I first moved out of home with nothing more than the clothes on my back and $80 to my name, I never owned a single bit of furniture, I just simply couldn’t afford it much like the people of the 18th century.
However; the wealthier lot can afford to look contemptuously upon modern machine made products. To decry one to the other is pointless, as one provides higher quality furniture to wealthier people and the other provides the only practical means of supplying furniture to a larger population. Having said that, mass production however you look at it has proven itself to be a decadence to society not only materialistically by way of lower quality goods but by stripping skilled labour and jobs to cheaper overseas alternatives. First came machinery that replaced skilled tradesman by trained monkey operating machinists, and just ponder on this; it is highly unlikely that furniture or any other product of craftsmanship will ever be produced by machinery with the same degree of spirit and individuality as the work of the man at the bench. Then to yield even higher profits moved their operations overseas stripping jobs nationwide thus hurting the economy and its people. This is not farfetched but a reality as we see it and live it today, I don’t agree with Trump on many issues but I do agree with him on one, and that is to force companies that have moved overseas back to their homeland or pay ridiculously higher taxes on their exports. Exports that are being exported to you while being produced overseas and reaping hefty rewards for it fattening another nation while you remain jobless and they’re getting away with it and I ask you you’re still buying their products?