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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

George Heppelwhite (? - 1792)

"To unite elegance and utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable" was the aim of the, Heppelwhite shop as stated in its catalog, "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide," published in 1788. This aim was achieved in most of the furniture that Heppelwhite designed, for it was generally excellent in contour and decoration, and was also original in conception. At different periods he worked for Adam or others, copied French styles, or originated his own style.

During Heppelwhite's time mahogany was still used to a great extent; but the delicacy of Neo-Classic designs made lightercolored wood desirable, so satinwood, chestnut, and sycamore were also employed in their natural colors, and highly polished. Beautiful veneers were often applied, or inlays of colored wood, or panels painted by such artists as Angelica Kaufman, Zucchi, and Cipriani. Sometimes Wedgwood medallions were introduced in connection with painted decoration. The painted pieces were finished in light colors and decorated with floral motifs, some being white with goldleaf decoration, and some being all gilt.

Heppelwhite used many more curved lines than his contemporaries. In chairbacks, seat frames, arms of chairs, tambour writing desks, French sofas, tables, the serpentine fronts of sideboards, and other wall pieces the curved line was nearly always employed. The legs of his furniture were straight and tapered, and more often square than round, being plain, reeded, or fluted, and usually having a spade or thimble foot, but frequently none at all.

Heppelwhite concentrated his ornament on chairbacks, which were often shield-shaped hollows broken in a great variety of ways, with motifs such as the Prince of Wales' plumes, a sheaf of wheat, or the draped urn and lyre. Other shapes used for chairbacks were interlaced hearts, ovals, hoops, or ladders. Since the central part of the chairback did not reach to the seat rail but was supported by two curved members, some designers feel that his chairs are weak at that point. His armchairs are notable for the graceful line extending from the back leg and sometimes from the front leg into the arm. The wing chair was also a favorite model with Heppelwhite.

It is said that Heppelwhite was not at his best when making larger case furniture, but his smaller objects were exquisite. Pole screens, washstands, and small tables were among his best creations. Heppelwhite or Shearer was responsible for the modern sideboard. It was one of these men who first joined together the three-part arrangement that Adam designed; however, both Sheraton and Heppelwhite improved the original sideboard design. It is possible to distinguish between the sideboards of these two men, because the fronts of Heppelwhite's sideboards were concave towards the corners, whereas the fronts of Sheraton's were convex, giving more room inside. Heppelwhite designed fine sofas, upholstered in horsehair cloth of many colors, striped or checked. These sofas had six or eight legs, with bowed or arched backs, or chairbacks. Heppelwhite also made the following pieces with beauty and variety in size and design: chests of drawers with tall French feet, long bookcases in three sections, secretaries, tambour writing desks, wardrobes, dressers, cases for grandfather clocks, and slender four-poster beds.

The textiles which he used most were horsehair cloth, moire, and damasks for upholstering; printed cottons, linens, and delicate silks for hangings. The colors were usually rather delicate.

Modern Use of the Heppelwhite Style. This type fits very well into homes of semi-formal or formal character with NeoClassic furniture. The more sturdy articles if made consistent in size with Chippendale pieces combine fairly well with them because of the curved lines used in both. It is also suitable for use with modern furniture that has the same qualities of lightness and grace. Interesting modernized adaptations of Heppelwhite furniture are available in shops.

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