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Chippendale - Bedtsteads And Commodes

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The most imposing piece of furniture in an eighteenth-century house was the state bed, which occupied such an important position in the state bedroom. In Chippendale's day the massive four - poster of Jacobean and earlier times had been displaced in favour of the light and graceful four - poster, with its beautiful decorative columns or posts, handsomely carved back and foot rail, and often gorgeously decorated canopy and cornice. Chippendale offered his patrons many remarkable designs in his "Director"; one state bed to which he called special attention was, he said, " submitted to the judicious and candid for their approbation. In it," he continued, "were magnificence, proportion, and harmony." It was evidently a design he had not executed, for he proceeded to explain to the would-be artist who should make it how to go about the work. He says : " A workman of genius will easily comprehend the design, but I would advise him in order to prevent mistakes to make first a model of the same at large, which will save both time and expense." Referring to another very beautiful bed-stead engraved in his book, Chippendale says : " The crane at the top of the canopy is the emblem of Care and Watchfulness, which is not unbecoming a place of rest." The full decorative value of such an important piece of furniture as the four-post bed, is only realised when it is seen in the full glory of its bed hangings, upholstery, and cover. The bed hangings usually fell inside the cornice, thus exhibiting the decorative work of the carver, and sometimes of the builder. The four-post bed has gone, and in modern replicas of Chippendale furniture, and in the suites of so-called Chippendale style, the bedstead which takes its place in no way indicates the remarkable imposing beauty and grandeur of an eighteenth-century state bedroom, with its fine four-post bed and hangings. Nowadays fresh air is preferred, and much of the bedroom draperies have disappeared, for sleep is not courted within a narrow enclosure, and the drawn curtains of the eighteenth century are not deemed idealistic conditions of dreamland.

In the days of Chippendale there was more architectural wood-work, such as the carved cornices of the windows, than there is in present-day houses, and many of these beautiful cornices have perished, in that they are scarcely collectable objects. Even the four-posters have gone, their beautiful columns and posts only being retained, but in many instances put to other uses. In like manner it is not an easy matter to meet with good examples of canopy beds, with curtains and valences drawn up in the day time and lowered at night. Couch beds and Chinese sofas were not uncommon. Such a sofa could be converted into a bed, the front part of the seat drawing forward, the sides folding when not in use, the curtains in a similar manner being drawn forward and let down to form a tent.

Although many of the fine commodes of Chippendale's style were in reality drawing - room chests of drawers, combining usefulness with beauty of ornament, they were made low so that tops could be utilised for the display of fine porcelain. There were, however, commodes of plainer types which found their resting-place in the state bedroom, and others of still less imposing appearance from which no doubt evolved the ordinary chests of drawers of later days.


The pier - glasses with Chippendale frames are very fantastic ; they afford the wood-carver an opportunity to let his wildest ideas run riot. The simpler base design was mostly made up of shell-shaped and broken-scroll ornaments, many presenting French characteristics ; from these came additional details of ornament, and eventually long-beaked birds, dripping water, rock-work, pagodas, and little figures were added. Copper-plate engravers revelled in Chippendale designs as the style became more pronounced. They frequently adopted mirror frames for traders' cards, the frontispieces of books, and ball tickets. Mirrors were very fashionable then, and those of Chippendale types showed two extremes of decoration and ornament, the elaborate gilt mirrors and those of plain mahogany carved with foliated designs. The cost of mirrors was then considerable, but Chippendale used the best glass he could procure. Those fitted with Vauxhall glass have a somewhat pink tint, and the hand ground bevels are somewhat narrow and flat. The glazed mirror girandoles were exceedingly ornamental, and many pier-glasses were placed over side-tables of the console type. Then, again, Chippendale overmantels surmounted the mantel-pieces of his day. In the Victoria and Albert Museum there is a remarkably fine carved mantel-piece in the Chippendale style, surmounted by a mirror carved in pine-wood, and painted white. The decoration of such mirrors was frequently emblematical, Music being often chosen for allegorical designs. Other frequently used emblems were those relating to Abundance and trophies of the Chase and War.

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