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Chippendale - Chairs, Settees, And Tables

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Chairmaking, as already intimated, was at one time a separate craft, but most of the noted cabinet-makers of the period under review received their early training at the chair-maker's bench. Thomas Chippendale was familiar with the craft, and as a wood-carver under-stood the necessity of using the right materials and designing chair backs so that he could adapt his new style to chair-making. He worked on existing types, and then altered the backs, so that the shapes prevailing in the reigns of Queen Anne and the early Georges gradually disappeared. At first he retained the claw-and-ball foot, but the perforations in the plain bands which he made was an innovation which gave the older style quite a new appearance. Then the legs of the chair underwent some change. The claw-and-ball became a lion's paw, and lions' heads and paws were introduced into the more decorative arms and legs of the chairs he then made.

It has been pointed out that in the best chairs of the Chippendale period the bold sweep of the curves of the backs entailed the use of much wood. Thus a chair frame of delicate design may look as if it were only two or three inches thick, whereas the wood from which it was carved must have been at least four or five inches in substance. In the fashioning of such a chair back much expert skill was needed, and the designs of those chairs now met with bear evidence of quality of material, and of the superiority of the workmanship in their execution.

In Chippendale's description of three patterns of beautiful ribbon or " riband - back " chairs, we have confirmation, if it were needed, that many of the patterns in "The Director " were suggestive, and designs which had not been carried out ; for in reference to these chairs he says : " Three riband - back chairs which, if I may speak without vanity, are the best I have ever seen (or perhaps have ever been made). The chair on the left hand has been executed from this design, which had an excellent effect, and gave satisfaction to all who saw it. I make no doubt that the other two will give the same content, if properly handled in the execution." In the third edition of his book Chippendale alters the footnote, and intimates that " several sets have been made which have given entire satisfaction."

A development of the chair leg, sometimes applied also to tripod tables and screens, was that known as the dolphin head leg ; in some rare instances the dolphins' tails being carved right up the leg. That pattern was chiefly in vogue from 1755 to 1760.

Concurrently with small chairs larger ones with arms were made and upholstered by Thomas Chippendale and his contemporaries. In the earlier examples of those chairs, such as would be made during the first half of the eighteenth century, the arms were carved, and cabochon ornament was used on the legs. This style changed about 1755. Then, again, the arms of the armchairs were altered somewhat by Chippendale—being projected a little. Later another change is noticeable in that the carved connecting piece between the legs disappeared. Comparatively early, either in 1754 or 1755, Chippendale introduced carved frilling under the seat rail, that feature adding ornament, varied in its effect by its different exponents. Genuine ' chairs in good condition, whether from the workshops of Thomas Chippendale or his contemporaries, command high prices. In the Victoria and Albert Museum there are several exceptional examples of the style, but with their usual caution the authorities label them " after the style of Chippendale," and do not credit the chief designer of the style with having made any of them. One of these examples is an exceptionally fine mahogany armchair made during the first half of the eighteenth century, a beautiful piece with pure riband - back design ; it has short arms and carved ornament to the seat rail, the legs terminating with clawand-ball feet. It is covered with brocade velvet of an earlier date, probably seventeenth century.

Museum authorities are glad to secure fine examples of furniture which, while exemplifying a given style, carry with them historical interest. One such chair may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, specially beautiful with its very fine lion's head projecting handles to the arms, curved outwards. It is the chair of the President of Lyon's Inn, an old Inn of Chancery, formerly in Newcastle Street, Strand. On the back of the chair is a shield of arms, inlaid and gilt, surmounted by a lion rampant, gilded. The upholstery is red morocco.

The corner chair was an innovation of the Chippendale period, although not shown in " The Director," and it is probable that such chairs were added in small numbers to a set of chairs of ordinary shape and size, the ornament of the corner chair corresponding to those of the set both in ornament and in the interlaced scroll splats. As an unusual example of the Chippendale style mention may be made of a pretty little child's chair of carved mahogany, somewhat composite in style, the legs square with Chinese fret ornament, tapering down to claw-and-ball feet, the back being after the earlier style of Chippendale. Another example is a small chair for quite a young child. Both these interesting pieces are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There is a distinct difference between the generally accepted form of couch or sofa and the settee of Chippendale's day. Such settees which closely resemble an adaptation of two single chairs, are commonly called "love -seats" or "Darby and Joan" seats. They are sometimes known as bar-backed sofas, the French term confidente being applied to the smaller love - seats. Although the settee back was usually formed of two or more chair back designs it was not always so, for in those in which there was room for three or more persons the centre was frequently different, or an adaptation of a style of ornament of the so-called " chairs." The backs of the settees gradually assumed an individual style, and were eventually quite separated from the chair. The chief decoration of such settees lies in the back, but many of the seat rails are extremely ornamental, the later ones showing an adaptation of dragoon edges.

The dining tables of Chippendale's day consisted of two centre pieces with wide flaps on either side, and two semi-circular end pieces, all four being joined by small brass clips. The two larger pieces stood on four cabriole legs, and two semicircular pieces on two legs. It was these latter portions which formed useful side-tables when not in actual use as dining - tables. When Chippendale's Chinese style was applied to table fronts, rails, and legs, the oblong tables assumed a more distinctive character. Many of the examples met with are veritable side-tables which had been made for wall recesses, and are more correctly described as sideboards. Many of the side-tables were made to carry marble tops.

Reference has already been made to card-tables, of which there are so many beautiful examples of Chippendale designs extant. Many of the tables of this period are distinguishable by the sunk places for candlesticks used on the tables before the tall candle-stands were introduced. In addition to those circular cavities, two hollows are frequently seen, one on either side of the table. In some instances these scooped-out spaces were inlaid and polished, at others Iined with cloth. They were, of course, receptacles for the guineas which changed hands at the tables.

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