Thomas Chippendale was born in 1718. Considered as a great adapter, he took the best ideas of his time and incorporated it into his own ideas and designs and gave the Master’s touch to the completed product. He was a carver of fine wood and his workshop produced some of the finest English furniture of its day. He wasn’t just a good carver and a cabinetmaker, he was a good businessman as well. He published a book of his furniture designs and had his wares advertised. His book became a best seller that doubled his customers in number. His name became a by-word and rich Englishmen sought for his work. They only wanted furniture produced by Chippendale’s workshop. Chippendale’s name became a valuable asset – he was the first English cabinetmaker who carried such value in his name like an artist on a great painting.
Chippendale’s book of furniture designs entitled “Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director” became the english cabinetmaker’s bible. Most cabinetmakers during Chippendale’s time copied his works using his drawings as models for their own work because there was so much demand from customers for his designs so they had better supply what the customers demanded. That’s why most of the furniture we refer to today as Chippendale was not actually made by the Master himself nor coming from his workshop but rather made by other cabinetmakers who adapted his designs. Chippendale undertook a very wide range of different types of designs which makes it difficult to actually pin point the “Chippendale look” with great certainty.
Chippendale is considered the great adapter. Inspired by the styles of others, he adapted them in a special way that would meet the desires and needs of his vast clientele. Starting with the Early Georgian Period, Chippendale adapted them by simplifying Chippendales curse their lines and lightening their looks. He gave more grace and charm to the design. Chippendale’s chair designs probably won him the greatest acclaim and it is for these classic designs that his name endures. Chippendale tried so many designs and was imitated by so many cabinet makers that it is very difficult to pin down a piece of furniture as being absolutely Chippendale.
The following are important clues to look for in the Chippendale style:
1. Rococo Motifs with open carved backs. The rococo style of Louis XV is one major influence in Chippendale designs. He took the French design of Louis XV and adapted it for a more English taste. Although more often it is only possible for a connoisseur to distinguish Chippendale’s English rococo from that of the French Rococo. One clue is that Chippendale chairs, for example featured carved mahogany backs while the French chairs have upholstered backs.
2. Chinese is the second major influence in the Chippendale designs. Some chairs would reflect an outline of a pagoda roof on its back rest. Others have fretwork on the chair back that is usually a direct copy of an elegant Chinese design of the period. As already known, Chippendale was widely imitated during his period and any piece that reflects the same motif can rightly be called Chinese Chippendale even if it doesn’t come from the Master’s workshop.
3. Gothic Influence. The use of Gothic motifs is the third major influence in the Chippendale design. The pointed arch that epitomizes the Gothic cathedral is the most familiar of these Gothic motifs.