Thomas Chip­pen­dale

Period Living - - Contents -

BBC An­tiques Road­show ex­pert Marc Al­lum looks at the life and work of one of Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated fur­ni­ture de­sign­ers

This year marks the 300th an­niver­sary of the birth of Thomas Chip­pen­dale (1718-1779). Ar­guably the most fa­mous fur­ni­ture maker in British his­tory, his name has be­come syn­ony­mous with a quintessen­tially 18th-cen­tury English pe­riod in cab­i­net­mak­ing that en­com­passes the ro­coco and the neo­clas­si­cal, as well as a sig­nif­i­cant se­lec­tion of gothic and ori­en­tal mo­tifs.

The fame and sub­se­quent pop­u­lar­ity of Chip­pen­dale and his de­signs have fos­tered both an avid con­nois­seurial ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his skill and a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion that has seen his fur­ni­ture con­stantly rein­vented and copied over the in­ter­ven­ing cen­turies. In­deed, ‘Chip­pen­dale’ has be­come a de­scrip­tive term that is lib­er­ally ap­plied to just about any­thing that re­sem­bles his work. I have on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions in my own ca­reer been heard to say the words

‘oh, that’s a Chip­pen­dale’, but quite lit­er­ally in ref­er­ence to the style. The ur­ban myths that abound in the an­tiques trade about Chip­pen­dale also mean that there are a plethora of tales sur­round­ing sup­posed finds of his fur­ni­ture – par­tic­u­larly chairs, which are nat­u­rally worth large amounts of money. There isn’t an an­tiques dealer or auc­tion­eer alive who wouldn’t like to add a ‘Chip­pen­dale’ to their list of dis­cov­er­ies.

York­shire made

Born in Ot­ley, York­shire in 1718, Thomas Chip­pen­dale was the son of a joiner and sub­se­quently worked as a jour­ney­man cab­i­net­maker. He was the first cab­i­net­maker in his­tory to pub­lish a com­pen­dium of his de­signs, which he first pro­duced in 1754. The Gen­tle­man and Cabi­net-maker’s Di­rec­tor was a re­mark­able pub­li­ca­tion. Not only did it pro­vide a cat­a­logue of de­signs from which his clients ➤

could choose their pieces, but it also gave other fur­ni­ture mak­ers and de­sign­ers the ba­sis on which to man­u­fac­ture or work up their own vari­a­tions or cre­ations. As a re­sult, it’s not at all un­usual to see Chip­pen­dale’s de­signs rein­vented for dif­fer­ent mar­kets – par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, where cab­i­net­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton, New York and Bos­ton ea­gerly traded on the fash­ion­able pop­u­lar­ity of his style.

At the cen­tre of design

The mid 18th cen­tury was a highly com­pet­i­tive pe­riod for crafts­men like Chip­pen­dale. In 1754, when he moved his busi­ness to St Mar­tin’s Lane in Lon­don, he was pur­posely po­si­tion­ing him­self among the most im­por­tant peo­ple in the busi­ness. This area of Lon­don was a cen­tre of design and man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­cel­lence, and Chip­pen­dale was in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with nearby mak­ers such as Wil­liam Ince and John May­hew. Co­in­ci­den­tally, Ince was a sub­scriber to the first edi­tion of Chip­pen­dale’s Di­rec­tor and also is­sued – in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion to this pub­li­ca­tion – The Uni­ver­sal Sys­tem of House­hold Fur­ni­ture.

Of course, the suc­cess of any busi­ness de­pends on your clients, and an­other rea­son for be­ing so cen­trally placed was Chip­pen­dale’s de­sire to be sit­u­ated close to the seats of power, in­flu­ence and money. Chip­pen­dale’s rep­u­ta­tion and suc­cess, like his com­peti­tors’, de­pended on com­mis­sions, and we know from schol­arly re­search by ex­pert Christo­pher Gil­bert that around 26 ma­jor com­mis­sions were ex­e­cuted by him. Th­ese in­cluded no­table houses such as Nostell Pri­ory, Dum­fries House and Hare­wood House.

In­ter­est­ingly, it’s also im­por­tant to un­der­stand that Chip­pen­dale didn’t just sup­ply fur­ni­ture. His re­mit was to im­ple­ment a com­plete in­te­rior design ser­vice, and this would also in­clude fabrics and paint colours. Where needed, he would also copy the work of other well-known de­sign­ers such as his con­tem­po­rary Robert Adam and, were it not for the ev­i­dence of pa­per­work and bills of sale, some of th­ese idio­syn­cra­sies would have been lost to his­tory.

De­spite his great suc­cess, Chip­pen­dale was never wholly ac­cepted in po­lite so­ci­ety. Although his rep­u­ta­tion pre­ceded him pro­fes­sion­ally, he ap­par­ently treated his aris­to­cratic clients with def­er­ence. Yet his client list reads like a who’swho of 18th-cen­tury no­bil­ity and roy­alty.

Hare­wood House col­lec­tion

It is quite fit­ting that one of Chip­pen­dale’s most im­por­tant com­mis­sions was at Hare­wood House, not far from his birth­place in Ot­ley. This com­mis­sion – which was worth over £10,000 – be­gan in 1767, and would be worth well over a £1 mil­lion in to­day’s money. It is, there­fore, more than ap­pro­pri­ate in this 300th an­niver­sary year since his birth, that Hare­wood is cel­e­brat­ing this most fa­mous of English fur­ni­ture mak­ers with a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant events that spot­light the su­perla­tive col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture and fit­tings that he supplied to Hare­wood House.

Chip­pen­dale’s re­mit for the house is a startling af­fir­ma­tion of his skill. Few stones were left un­turned in his at­ten­tion to the de­tail re­quired to fit out and cre­ate the grand­est rooms, yet he also supplied the gar­den benches! His use of ex­otic woods, silk, porce­lain, glass and tex­tiles - gilded, painted and in­laid in myr­iad de­signs - ex­tended from more hum­ble items to some of the most ex­u­ber­ant and ex­pen­sive fur­ni­ture ever com­mis­sioned. The state bed, supplied in 1773 for around £400, in­clud­ing the silk hang­ings, was one of the most costly pro­duc­tions of Chip­pen­dale’s ca­reer. In­cred­i­bly, it had lan­guished since the 19th cen­tury in boxes, dis­man­tled af­ter a re­design of the room in the 1840s. It was re­stored in 2000 and can now be seen in its full ar­chi­tec­tural glory with its silk damask hang­ings recre­ated from a sur­viv­ing frag­ment that was found in the bed dome. Ar­guably one of his most fa­mous pieces is the Diana and Min­erva com­mode. One of Hare­wood’s great­est trea­sures, it ex­em­pli­fies a form of wealthy ad­dic­tion – that is, the cre­ation of su­perla­tive items that had no real func­tion other than to im­press. This richly dec­o­rated com­mode is a state­ment of sta­tus, pros­per­ity and opu­lence. It has two roundels de­pict­ing the Ro­man god­desses Diana and Min­erva and is dec­o­rated with ex­otic woods, ivory and or­molu (a gild­ing tech­nique) on a sat­in­wood ground, and cost £86 in 1773. Its cur­rent value is in­es­timable and, like the many other Chip­pen­dale trea­sures in Hare­wood and other great houses, it’s the con­tex­tual and doc­u­mented his­tory of his cre­ations, and see­ing them in situ, that is so im­por­tant to the chronol­ogy and back­ground of th­ese won­der­ful cre­ations. Three cen­turies on, there are many other Chip­pen­dalere­lated an­niver­sary events tak­ing place across the coun­try. Im­por­tantly, The Chip­pen­dale so­ci­ety, formed in 1963, will be ex­hibit­ing a col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal draw­ings and doc­u­ments along­side orig­i­nal ex­am­ples of this great crafts­man’s fur­ni­ture – some pre­vi­ously un­seen. The ex­hi­bi­tion is at Leeds City Mu­seum. In the mean­time, I live in hope of dis­cov­er­ing a true Chip­pen­dale.

Where to visit

Hare­wood House See a fine col­lec­tion of Chip­pen­dale fur­ni­ture on show – hare­wood.org

THE Chip­pen­dale so­ci­ety Find out more about the so­ci­ety, its events cal­en­dar for the cel­e­bra­tions, and its col­lec­tions – thechip­pen­dale­so­ci­ety.co.uk

Chip­pen­dale 300 (1718–2018) From June 2018, there will be a full pro­gramme of events to mark the 300th an­niver­sary of Thomas Chip­pen­dale. Find a list of what’s on at chip­pen­dale300.co.uk

Visit ot­ley for a look around his birth­place – vis­i­tot­ley.co.uk

nostell pri­ory Chip­pen­dale events through­out 2018 – na­tional-trust.org.uk/nostell-pri­ory-and-park­land

Hare­wood House in york­shire

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