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Thomas Chippendale was an English cabinetmaker who lived from 1714 to 1779. A superb wood-carver and a master designer, he published a book of his designs in 1757 titled The Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director. The first book of its kind, the Director brought him world-wide fame.
Chippendale's styles are characterized by rich carving with the free use of curves. Graceful, beautiful and yet substantially proportioned furniture.
The ball and claw foot which is one of the most characteristic motifs associated with Chippendale was, strangely enough, not pictured in his book at all. Appearing on much Chippendale-style furniture, the ball and claw foot was used with cabriole legs. Other feet used with cabriole legs were club, web, and drake, but the ball and claw predominated. Bracket feet were used on some kinds of furniture, such as desks and chests of drawers.
Brasses were usually of the familiar "willow" shape. There was a vogue for Chinese styles in England 1750-1765. The popularity of these Chinese styles current at that time prompted Chippendale to use Oriental motifs. The resultant designs evolved to become known as Chinese Chippendale, and featured straighter lines including the straight Malborough legs, the carved ladderback chair and his carved fretwork.
Lacquered furniture, which was popular then, was elaborately decorated. Even such large pieces as highboys and chests-on-chests were lacquered in the Oriental manner.
Chippendale's furniture was beautifully designed and well built, so well, in fact, that much of what has remained is in excellent shape at present. His chairs were very strong structurally. All the Chippendale chair backs were fanciful, and are one of the highlights of his style. Even in the most delicate fretwork, care was taken to secure the maximum of strength: Instead of cutting a fret from one solid piece of wood, Chippendale's method was to cut three thicknesses ". . . which were glued together, the 'way' of the central thickness running in the opposite direction to the other two." This was obviously the forerunner to plywood, so much used today. (The actual invention of plywood is credited in 1854 to John Henry Belter, an American of German birth who had his shop in New York. Belter was issued a patent for it in 1856. Belter used 5-ply rosewood in the creation of his elaborate Victorian furniture.)
Wing chairs in Chippendale and Queen Anne styles are similar, thus often mistaken, one for the other. The chief difference lies in the construction of the arms: Queen Anne arms roll ver tically and turn outward, while in the Chippendale style the roll is horizontal. Ball and claw feet are usually found on Chippendale wing chairs, but not always.
Mahogany was first discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595, but not used extensively until after 1720. Chippendale, as a talented wood carver, preferred mahogany, using it almost exclusively for his furniture.
Carving was of the finest quality, including such motifs as acanthus leaves, swags, shells, the "C" scroll, rococo shells, knotted ribbons, Georgian masks, hoofs, drake, and ball and claw feet.
Piecrust edges appeared on tables. Jigsaw mirrors, elaborate pediments on top of tall furniture, beautiful finials; all were characteristic of Chippendale. Highboys reached their peak of perfec tion during this period and bookcases became important for the first time.
The Chippendale-style furniture made in Philadelphia reached the climax of mahogany carving in America. The rival cabinetmakers seemed trying to outdo one another in design and execution of their fine examples as the elaborateness shows.
Philadelphia highboys and lowboys are unmatched in beauty of workmanship either here or in England. Richly carved feet, knees, skirts, central drawers of highboys and lowboys, quarter columns, frets, finials and cartouches were done in shells, scrolls, flowers, and other beautiful carving which sometimes was merely lines of beauty, rather than anything copied from nature, and surrounding the shell-like form in the center.
Although mahogany was the favorite wood of the period, there was furniture made of other woods. Some fine specimens are to be found in maple, cherry, and curly maple.
Colors favored were subtler in shade than those previously in vogue. Earlier colors were more robust, gradually becoming lighter to almost pastel shades by the end of the period. White painted walls were most popular, but the range of color seen was from light pearl to cream yellow to dark mulberry and various shades of brown.
Fabrics were usually rich and strong in color and bold in design; although in later years they tended toward subtler shades also. Cream, yellow, brown, and soft blue-green were most pre ferred. Patterned silks, damasks, brocades, brocatelles, velvets were used for upholstery. Needlepoint and tapestry were popular. Plain velvets were used for contrast with patterned materials.
The Chinese vogue made Chinese porcelains a favorite accessory used along with the china and glass from the preceding fashion.