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Decorative Periods:
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
General Antiquity
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
The Renaissance
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Jacobean Period
Queen Anne
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
Art Nouveau

Hepplewhite - Book Issued 1789

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



These three men compose a trio of furniture-makers whose names mean more to the American collector than any others, - Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton. Strangely enough a confusion seems to exist in the minds of even well-informed persons concerning their individual styles, and herein lies the reason for studying them, that we ourselves may be sage, and that we may give reason for the faith that is in us.

Great underlying principles are expressed in these three designers, and when they are understood, there ought not to be confusion as to their work. Hepplewhite and Sheraton were contemporaries; both were drawing from the same sources of inspiration (and not above imitating one another) ; there is often a marked similarity between them. But they are in most cases distinguishable, and it is a part of the pleasure of study to arrive at means of making these distinctions where difference is slight.

To sum it up very simply and briefly, the great actuating principle of Chippendale's work was the style in vogue in France at the time he lived and worked and drew fashion to his shop in St. Martin's Lane. That style was the one we call Louis Quinze - the crooked style, as a discriminating young lady of my acquaintance denominates it.

By the same inclination to turn to France for things decorative, we see that Hepplewhite and Sheraton found their inspiration in the succeeding French style, the Louise Seize, or the straight style, according to the same discriminating young lady alluded to above. The point of difference between the two men lies here, that Hepplewhite coming first, retained some of the methods of Chippendale, amidst whose furniture he had probably been brought up and educated. Hepplewhite is best described as the link between the rococo and the classic, - taking these terms in their English decorative definition, not in their purity.

We have seen that the Adam brothers preceded these others in adopting the classic idea, and perhaps there is reason for including them in the group of names. But the Adams are better known as architects and decorators than as furniture-makers, consequently their works are not found on this side of the ocean, as are Hepplewhite's and Sheraton's. Their furniture is imported now by private individuals, and a delicate bit of the Adams' glowing satinwood can be seen illuminating its grim Elizabethan prison-mates in the crowded storerooms of the best dealers. But to discover thus is a widely different matter from finding it in attics or from inheriting it from a mother's great-aunt, the pieces having associated themselves with the very bodies and souls of our people, as well as with the history of our country. It is this actual acquaintance with old furniture that endears it, and gives supreme value to what is loosely called Colonial furniture.

The Adam brothers, as we know, gave inspiration to architecture on this side of the water, and for this we are grateful. But Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton gave us the actual pieces which lent to that architecture the sweet graces of home.

In studying the furniture of these styles it must always be borne in mind that each maker had his followers, that, in fact, these men set the mode for all the less famous workers. Also that furniture was made in our own country at very early times, and that this aimed at no flights of originality, but copied the English models.

Another matter: life was far less elegant here than in the mother country -except among the few rich men of the thrifty North and the spendthrift South -and therefore furniture was simpler. It belongs to the same genus as the more elaborate pieces, however, and as its foundation principle, its artistic thought, was the same, it is easily allotted to its genus.

There was made, therefore, in both England and America, a large quantity of simple furniture in the styles we are considering, and it is not incorrect to call these after the name of the originator of these styles. To have turned out as much furniture as is called Chippendale would have obliged the great designer to run a modern factory with all its substitutes for hand labour.

Let it be understood, then, that we name pieces after the great originators who never saw them, because these pieces are the result of their inspiration. If a piece is actually made by one of these great masters its pedigree is generally known. Especially true is this in England, where families have not our vagrant habits of migration, and where furniture stands unmoved for generations. The prices brought by such pieces at sales are high beyond belief when we consider how entirely unappreciated they were thirty years ago.

Like all important designers of the eighteenth century, Hepplewhite gave to the world in book form his choicest original designs of furniture, and after the custom of the time he introduced architectural instruction for the betterment of the craftsman. Those of us who merely lounge in easy chairs, and do not make them, are pleased at the serious way in which Hepplewhite and his confreres draw them in perspective, and studied for their perfection the orders of architecture. We are also in our generation highly entertained at the quaint bombastic text in which the author becomes egoist and appears to despise his competitors, after the manner of the circus which always advertised itself as the " greatest show on earth."

To understand Hepplewhite and to fix him in place chronologically, it is well to remember that when he published his book in 1789, Louis XVI had been reigning fifteen years in France, and George III had occupied the English throne for nearly thirty years. On our side of the water independence had been announced, the colonies were States, and Washington was made president. Of all these events, the reign of Louis XVI was the only one which set the key decoratively. The others followed, or if not that, they translated into the natural expression of their own countries the decorative idea of France.

In this we find the reason which many have thought unexplainable of the sudden shift from Chippendale curves to Sheraton severity. All great decorative styles are the expression of some political or religious condition, and we look in vain in England and her colonies to find the reason for this change, but turning our eyes to France, there it lies clearly before us.

Hepplewhite was the first to take the new mode disassociated from architecture. Let us learn, then, those details of his work that will help us to distinguish it from that of his great rival Sheraton.

The first conspicuous mark is found in chairs, in the design for backs known as shield-shape. This was one of his most distinguished specialties. The shield is of graceful shape, rarely covered with upholstery, but forming an open frame surrounding a central design carved and pierced.

It is urged that Sheraton too used the shieldshaped back, to which the reply is made that as both these men lived and worked shoulder to shoulder, neither was willing to acknowledge to his rival or to the world that he was not prepared to furnish all other designs as well as his own. But there is a marked difference between the chair-backs of the two designers. The shield of Hepplewhite shows across the top one continuous sinuous line, while that of Sheraton is broken by the introduction of an angle.

The design inside the shield is of infinite variety, following sometimes the classic, sometimes the curving upright slats of Chippendale, and is executed in the style of low relief carving which prevailed in Chippendale's time. Indeed, it is in this carving and in the free use of mahogany that Hepplewhite clings to the style which his replaced.

The device of three feathers is often seen to form the central ornament, and thereby hangs a tale political, graven on the wood. There were two parties then, be it remembered, the Court party and the Prince's party, and it is easy to see which one was indicated by the usual emblem of the Prince of Wales.

To continue with the chair, the legs mark the next strong point of difference between this and the preceding style. The cabriole has disappeared, utterly routed, gone from France, abolished in England. In its place we have a square shaft of pleasing delicacy tapering slightly to the floor. Here again we must say that although this is the rule that determines in most cases, yet Hepplewhite was known to produce the turned leg characteristic of Sheraton. In these cases the style must be determined by an examination of the back or arms, if arms there be.

The armchairs of the time were of two sorts, two extremes, one might say. That most easily called to mind is the capacious wing-chair or ear-chair, that promises shelter and repose, and even serves hiding children as the invisible cloak of fairyland. As much as Hepplewhite avoided upholstery in other seats, on this he has lavished so much that nothing of the frame is visible but the square taper legs of mahogany, with under-framing.

The other armchair is a combination of lightness and elegance, a seat in which one may discourse of State affairs and fashion, a chair in which taste and intellect receive more nourishment than the body receives of languorous repose. When tired men of those days wished forty winks, or Mistress Dorothy wanted to read a romance to the accompaniment of a box of " Turkish delight," it is probable that these luxury loving persons took their sweets to the armchair.

The backs of the characteristic armchair were of carved wood, resembling in every particular the backs of others. The shield prevails, and as usual rests on subtly drawn supports which blend with the general curve while giving an idea of strength and harmony. The arms are worth examination, as their manner differs from that of Sheraton. The forward part is not formed of a rigid upright, but sweeps downward and forward, carrying the lower part of the arm near the front leg, and sometimes entirely to it. It is pertinent to add that, graceful as is this method, Sheraton's was more effective, he forming a straight upright from the floor to the top of the arm. In other words, the front of the arm terminated in an upright which rested on the front leg as on a post, both making one continuous line like an attenuated bed-pillar.

It is rather a shock to our modern prejudices to read in Hepplewhite's book that the material recommended for covering his dainty and elegant chairs was horse-hair cloth. The word at first thought means the abominable gloom of shiny black surface which hid an army of minute spears all attacking the defenceless half-hosed legs of childhood. But the modern upholsterer is showing us now what the old makers used, a material, harsh to baby flesh, it is true, but in good colours, striped or figured quaintly in the weaving. With such were the chairs of Hepplewhite covered.

To hold the material firm and to further the ornament of the chair, the covering was held down with close rows of small brass-headed nails, sometimes in rows, sometimes in waving lines. Hepplewhite in his book says that chairs may be painted or japanned " with minuter parts of the ornaments generally thrown in by the painter." Judging by the delicate good taste of these minuter parts we conclude that chair painters were more liberal and more trustworthy craftsmen then than now. Before leaving the subject of chairs it should be said that in addition to carving, a fine line of inlay was used, and also painting in a design of husks. This applies particularly to the legs.

Sofas at this time grew longer, and the reason for this was probably the ease with which the length could be supported without injuring the design. Four legs were harmoniously placed across the front. The front line of the seat and the top of the back were drawn in a gentle curve, a fading reminiscence of a past style. For the most part they were upholstered, but the temptation to use shields led Hepplewhite into arranging a row of them to form a sofa back.

In contrast to these fairly comfortable sofas were the slightly built window-seats spoken of in the chapter on the Adams' style, those delicate affairs which suit only the daintiest of forms and the most transitory occupation. They were then used as window seats, and were called such, but in our modern living we put them in the middle of the room where the lame and the lazy avoid them. Those of Hepplewhite do not differ from those of Adam.

The girandoles and mirrors of Hepplewhite are of infinite interest to us, for we see in them the parents of what we fondly call American antiques. Hepplewhite took a leaf from Adam's book in designing the gilt girandoles which express all attenuated grace. They faintly follow the classic and speak eloquently of the colonies and the First Administration. Adam introduced what was called compo work in place of carving, and this was used in decorating mirror frames. In the desire to be chaste in style, the tendency of the day veered towards aerial effects, and these were gained by festoons of compo husks, strung on wire and draped from place to place on the riZOre solid part of the design. These mirrors are not as common in our country as are heavier ones, but are not unknown and are much copied. '

The young man alluded to before, who called his Hepplewhite sideboard a Chippendale, would never have made that mistake if he had known that sideboards were not known in the time of Chippendale. Cupboards and tables were undoubtedly used and the corner cupboard known as a beaufet, but the sideboard as we know it now was developed in England by Hepplewhite. Its evolution is one of those processes based on need and on logic that never fail to interest.

The dining-room in the time of George III became a place for more daintiness of feasting than hitherto. Wants became more numerous, and living more elegant and complicated. The simple accommodation of a generous table was not enough for the needs of the manners of the day. And so the side table received help.

Its first aid was the pedestal, a sort of cupboard like a square column, but fitted with interior conveniences. The table was flanked with two of these pedestals, one arranged as plate-warmer, the other to hold bottles and decanters. To finish the top and increase both service and ornament, a graceful urn capped each pedestal, lined with zinc to hold hot water, on one side, for the quick cleansing of small silver which was scarce and costly in those days, the other urn being filled with ice for the cooling of drinks. It is needless to dwell on the beauty of these urns, nor on their exquisite workmanship, for that is selfevident. Unhappily they are too rare nowadays for us to be very familiar with them.

To complete this elaborate style of sideboard were two knife-boxes beautifully executed, standing on either side of the table; over the centre of the group hung a gilt girandole of elegance and grace. It would be difficult to surpass in symmetry or beauty this early sideboard of Hepplewhite. It is possible the change he instituted came from a demand for something less costly, for when inlay and painting were added to the careful cabinet work, the expense was considerable.

The first attempt at simplifying was the addition of small cupboards or drawers to the ends of the table, doing away with the necessity of the knifeboxes. The next step was to increase the accommodations of the table and dismiss the pedestal altogether, making, in fact, a union of pedestal and table, the sideboard as we know it.

The sideboards of Hepplewhite stand before us as the oldest we know, and as the most admired. They are usually mahogany, although lighter woods are used as panels. The notable features are their lightness of construction, their smooth surfaces free from the projections of mouldings, their square, taper legs and their delicate ornament in inlay.

But all these things are true of the sideboards of Sheraton, contemporary and rival of Hepplewhite, so how is one to be known from another? By a very simple rule and one that shows Hepplewhite's application of utility. When he first began to elaborate the table, he curved inward the face of the cupboard, for the greater convenience of the servant, as the pedestal still stood alongside. Therefore his sideboards will always be known by the convexity of their front toward the sides. In his book there is not a single exception to this rule. The reverse of this pattern is true of Sheraton, all his sideboards having the outward swell on the side section. These sideboards all have six legs, four across the front, and it is between the two to right and left of the centre that these significant curves show themselves.

Those, then, who would know how to distinguish these sideboards have but to remember this simple rule, and mistakes are impossible. The same rule of curves applies to nothing else, however, for in card tables, pier tables and others, both men used this line which commenced with an inward bend and then swept outward with sinuous grace.

In a ramble among curiosity shops, one sometimes runs across a tea-caddy of this time, a box of considerable size, not a small affair, of old Canton or silver. Hepplewhite designed many of these which were a necessity in the days when tea was so precious that servants were never allowed the care of it. The Dutch introducing tea through their trade with China in 1660 imported more freely in the following years, but even at the time of Hepplewhite it was a costly luxury. It was at this time that Boston was having its celebrated Tea-party, and brewing for England a costly cup of tea.



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