Exhibition celebrates stunning craftmanship of Thomas Chippendale
8th February 2018
Thomas Chippendale, 1718-1779: a celebration of British craftsmanship & design launches a nationwide programme to mark the tercentenary in 2018 of the birth of Thomas Chippendale senior, celebrating his life as furniture maker, designer and entrepreneur. The exhibition will show key pieces from the Royal Collection, Paxton House, Newby Hall, and Dumfries House displayed in a comprehensive, thematic way.
The exhibition will explore Chippendale’s rise to prominence, reflecting on the quality of his work, his workshop and techniques, his relationship with his clients and their commissions, and the legacy of the Chippendale brand up to the present day. Showing objects from his early life, alongside a first edition of The Director and beautiful hand-drawn designs, it features some of the best examples of his work, out of a country house context and many on public display for the first time.
Born in Otley in 1718, he made his name in London with his exquisite designs and entrepreneurial spirit. His beautiful designs and the superiority of his workmanship made Chippendale one of the most sought after furniture makers of the 1700s, working in some of the greatest and most fashionable houses in the country.
Much of Chippendale’s renown is thanks to his strong sense entrepreneurial spirit and forward-thinking approach to business. In the early 1750s he decided to produce a catalogue of furniture designs in the style of the great architectural books of the period.
Ruth Martin, Leeds City Museum’s curator of exhibitions, who has been bringing the exhibition together, said: “Chippendale is a man whose name will forever be inextricably linked with the truly exceptional quality of his craft, and it is that remarkable professional skill which has made his work so famous and sought-after across the world.
“But it’s likely that very few people know much about the man himself and how he rose from relatively humble beginnings in Leeds, honed his craft in London and worked tirelessly and innovatively to become a successful businessman as well as a mastercraftsman.
“Understanding more about how Chippendale strove to become the household name we know today adds an extra dimension to his work and helps us to build a deeper appreciation of the man behind these stunning pieces.”
Chippendale was the first furniture maker to ever produce such an ambitious book of designs. The first edition of The Gentleman’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director was published in 1754 and of the 308 subscribers – 49 of these were gentry or nobility who may have been looking to commission Chippendale for future work. Fellow craftsmen who would have used it to inform their own work largely bought the remaining copies. The Director was so successful that it was reprinted in two further additions, and the third edition included major updates to the styles of furniture available as fashions and tastes changed.
All of Chippendale’s known commissions (with the exception of one) date from after the appearance of The Director – clearly it had its intended effect on stimulating his career. He was commissioned to create furniture and fit-out whole suites of rooms in major houses throughout England and Scotland. One of his most profitable partnerships was with Robert Adam, the celebrated architect of the period. Whereas most other craftsmen were known to make items to Adam’s designs, there is only one known example of Chippendale following Adam’s designs. Instead, Chippendale was trusted by Adam to design and make appropriate furnishings for even the grandest of his designs.