Chairs And Sofas Part 4

The old method of treatment of wOod, which was known as " oil and elbow-grease," had by Chippendale's time become obsolete at least to the trade, and "French Polish," the composition of which was kept a close secret for years, was in use among cabinet makers. It is rather wonderful to note how far the cabinet-makers of the eighteenth century advanced when it is taken into consideration that they had no encouragement from royalty. The three Georges neither cared nor knew anything about art or design, and Chippendale, a merchant always, took what he found and catered largely to the tastes of his times.

He rather prided himself upon appealing to the tastes of all classes, and among the patrons and sub scribers for his book is William Frank, bricklayer, as well as the Duke of Northumberland.

He never used inlay in any form, and if this fact is borne in mind there will be fewer mistakes in as signing to him furniture ornamented in this way. To make up for his restrictions in this line he carved the backs of his most costly chairs with a wealth of ornament, introducing " ribbon-work," as it was called, in the most elaborate patterns and fanciful designs.

As soon as such pieces became the fashion, of course others copied them, and there are hundreds of pieces in this country as well as in England which are called Chippendale, but which never saw the hand of that master or England. The fact that none of the fur niture was signed in any way is a sad bar to giving it an authentic history. Pieces which have long been in English families, and where, as in some cases, the bills of sale are still preserved, bring perfectly fabulous sums. During the past few months at the auction sales at Christie's, the best known auction house in London, some pieces of Chippendale's furniture sold for the following prices:

A pair of Chippendale armchairs, ball-and-claw feet, £47 ($235.00). Set of six Chippendale horn-backed chairs, £93 ($465.00). A Chippendale four-legged stool, £10 6s. ($51.50). A large Chippendale easy-chair, £14 ($70.00). I have given these prices to show the estimation in which furniture by this maker is held in England.

Chippendale began to be well known by 1752, and worked steadily along, but rivals arose in this field, the most worthy of them all being Sheraton. Before his day came the two Adam brothers, Robert and James, who, originally architects, soon began to design furniture for the houses they built, which furniture was made under their direction. Their work was all on classic lines, and so careful and painstaking were they that they even designed the covers for the chairs and sofas, or any other small detail that they considered necessary to carry out the perfection of their scheme. They are not very well known over in America, yet, as there is more or less furniture designed by them, and it is pretty in shape and of a style that appeals to feminine taste, it has been extensively copied and put on the market. Furniture houses that claim to deal only in the antique have great stocks of this class of goods, and I have found it AAT.tb.in the last year in half-a-dozen cities, and in every case had its antiquity guaranteed. This was in the face of the fact that I could see the glue still fresh upon it, and symptoms of warping and cracking in every direction. The style of Adam furniture to which I particularly refer are the lovely satinwood sets, the originals of which were made about the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and which are painted with medallions and exquisite groups of figures, by such artists as Angelica Kauffmann and Pergolese, and still further beautified by the most delicate classical ornaments on legs, arms, and rails.

In Figure 82 is given an Adam chair, showing a shape often used, but in this example the beautifully carved woodwork is gilded.

 Fig. 81 Chippendale Mahogany Chairs. Fig. 82 Adam Chair. Fig. 83 Shield-Back Chair.

After the Adam brothers came Hepplewhite, whose fame largely rests upon his chairs, settees, and window seats. These latter have arms at the ends daintily carwed, and the seats are upholstered. This cabinet maker had one peculiarity by which his work may be generally recognised; he had a decided preference for a shield-shaped back to his chairs. The necessity for structural excellence never interfered with his plans for having his furniture pleasing to the eye. A good example of his style is shown in Figure 83, and it has its original covering in the striped material which was so often chosen by Hepplewhite for his coverings. He seldom carried the backs of his chairs down to the chair seat, and so, although the chairs are graceful and elegant, they are not strong, the break coming in the two posts that support the shield. When you observe the style and fine appearance of these chairs you are willing to pardon some defects.

Fig. 84 Hepplewhite Chair. Fig. 85 Sheraton Chair Fig. 86 Sheraton Chair.

Within the last few months many interesting details with referenceto the Hepplewhites have been brought to light through the researches of an Englishwoman, — Miss Constance Simon. The A. Hepplewhite Guide," also wrote the or at least was responsible for it, turns out to be Alice Hepplewhite, the widow of George Hepplewhite, who died in 1786. It is supposed that before his death George Hepplewhite pre pared many of the designs for the book, which was sufficiently popular to reach third edition. Hepplewhite used frequently for theadesign of his chair backs three feathers, as a compliment to royalty. Wheat ears was another favourite pattern, but they are not particularly pretty or graceful.

For many years there had been a fancy for things in "Chinese taste"; mandarins with umbrellas and pigtails were carved here, there, and everywhere. They sat or stood on mirror frames, on door and window casings, they grinned at you from china cabinets and mantel shelves. What was called "fretwork" was also immensely popular, and hundreds of designs were made for chair backs, railings, to set glass in, and for any other purpose to which it could be applied.

Fashions in dress have more to do with shapes in fur niture than one wOuld deem possible. Immense hoop-skirts could not be comfortably placed in an armchair, so chairs without arms became the mode. Chairs with large seats must have large legs to support them, and large legs must have underbraces, so there we have a reason for many of the styles of the late eighteenth century.

By the time Hepplewhite had come on the scene clothes had shrunk in proportions, and the taste was more for what was elegant and light in decoration. The fashion for satimvood furniture continued, and even mantelpieces were made of it to carry out the scheme of the room. Beside the shield-shaped back which we associate with Hepplewhite — although his book gives designs for eighteen chairs with banister backs — the legs of his furniture had peculiarities also. The chair shown in Figure 84 shows what is known as the ... — a curious device for giving an appearance of solidity to an unduly slender leg. It is the little block-like foot in which the leg terminates. He had also the fancy for using dozens of brass- headed nails to tack down furniture covering, or to fasten on fringe, or to put on in a pattern for ornament.

He specifies in his Own book of designs for furni ture that the proper dimensions for chairs are: "Width in front, 20 inches; depth of seat, 17 inches; height of seat frame, 17 inches; total height, 37 inches." Haircloth, plain, striped, and checkered, was fashionable now, but the best taste demanded that the curtains should match the furniture covering. Hepplewhite laid down many arbitrary rules for what was "proper," and though some of them are absurd, his furniture was deservedly popular. Not only was much imported to America, but our cabinet-makers copied it, and there are numerous chairs which we may safely call "Hepplewhite style," if not Hepplewhite.

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Source

The Collector's Manual by N. Hudson Moore, Amy Richards. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1906.

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