Thomas Chippendale 1718-1779 : a celebration of British craftmanship & design
13th March 2020
Leeds City Museum
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 a range of his work including key pieces from the Royal Collection, Paxton House, Newby Hall, and Dumfries House.
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, 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. 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.
Some of the key pieces featured in the exhibition include:
The Lady’s secretaire (1773) was originally made for the State Bedroom at Harewood House, near Leeds. It is made up of imported Chinese lacquer panels combined with specially made matching parts to create the final piece. Chippendale’s commission for Harewood lasted over 30 years and was worth around £10,000 – probably the most lavish furnishing scheme anywhere in 18th century England.
The Panshanger Cabinets (c 1773) were supplied to the first Viscount Melbourne, following his marriage to Elizabeth Millbanke, for their new home in Piccadilly, London. Elizabeth was one of the most influential Whig hostesses of her time, and a leader of fashion and taste. The couple spent lavishly, so that Melbourne House became known as “one of the best furnished and finished houses in London.” The cabinet in the exhibition is part of a suite that is considered to be one of Chippendale’s most spectacular commissions; distinguished by the fact they are veneered in holly. In the 18th century they would have appeared almost white, with the marquetry insets heightened with dyes.
A large number of Chippendale’s commissions were for houses in Yorkshire. It is not known if this was in part due to Chippendale’s Yorkshire roots. At Newby Hall, near Ripon, Chippendale was commissioned to furnish the drawing room. The exhibition features one of the armchairs (c. 1774) and this with the rest of the suite are the only pieces of Chippendale furniture known to have kept their original upholstery.
Chippendale created the furniture for the Robert Adam designed Dumfries House. The featured armchair (1759) was used in the Blue Drawing Room, which also houses a magnificent bookcase by Chippendale, the only known example of that design. Dumfries House, 30 miles from Glasgow, and its contents were due to be sold in 2007. Prince Charles stepped in to stop the collection being broken up and to preserve the house as a visitor attraction. The house is said to contain around 10% of the entire surviving Chippendale items in the world.
Notes to editors
Throughout 2018, The Chippendale Society with a partnership of historic houses and museums will mark the tercentenary of the birth of Thomas Chippendale senior with a celebration of his work and his legacy. The programme will reveal the richness of the collections and interiors designed by Chippendale and still on public show in Britain. For further information please visit www.chippendale300.co.uk
About Thomas Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale was baptised on 5 June 1718 in Otley, 12 miles outside Leeds. He was the only child of John Chippendale (1690-1768) who was a joiner, and Mary (1693- 1729) whose father was a stonemason. He probably received training as a joiner and carpenter in the family workshop, and received an elementary education at Otley Grammar School. At around the age of 21 those who had achieved the required standard of craftsmanship could apply to become a ‘master craftsman’. By the 1740s, Chippendale was almost certainly working in York as a cabinet-maker. It is thought that his master or employer was Richard Wood. York was a centre of wealth and fashion in the Georgian period and supported a wide range of craftsmen.
By the late 1740s Chippendale had moved to London. In 1753 he opened his workshop in St Martin’s Lane, in the heart of London’s artistic quarter and alongside a number of other top furniture making businesses. The financial backing for the business came from James Rannie, a Scottish businessman. Until his death in 1766 the firm was known as Chippendale & Rannie, Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers
In 1748 Chippendale had married Catherine Redshaw in Mayfair. The couple had nine children although they did not all survive to adulthood. The eldest son, also called Thomas, became a cabinet maker and eventually took over his father’s workshop. In 1776, at the age of 58, Chippendale moved to Kensignton and lived a very humble existence in a terraced house. This probably marked his partial retirement from business. His first wife had died in 1772 and in 1777 he married Elizabeth Davies and had three more children. In 1779 Chippendale was taken ill and it is believed he relocated to the Hoxton area of London for treatment. He did not return to Kensington and was buried in the grounds of St Martin’s in the Fields on 13 November 1779. The inventory of Chippendale’s property taken after his death revealed he was not a rich man – his household goods and possessions were valued at less than £30. Thomas Chippendale Junior had been involved in the family firm for most of his life and was responsible for running the workshop after his father’s retirement. Like his father, Chippendale Junior was beset by financial difficulties. After his business partner Haig died in 1803, Chippendale Junior was declared bankrupt. He managed to keep the workshop going until 1813, when the business in St Martin’s Lane finally came to an end.
NB: There is no known portrait of Thomas Chippendale.
About Leeds City Museum
Leeds City Museum (LCM) is situated in one of Leeds’ much loved civic buildings – the Leeds Institute building on Millennium Square. The Leeds Institute is one of the City’s most important historic buildings and was completed in 1862 by Cuthbert Brodrick, who also built Leeds Town Hall and the Corn Exchange. From the 1950s until 2005 it housed the Civic Theatre where amateur theatrical groups staged public performances. It has been home to the City Museum since 2008. The City Museum is the flagship site for the service, and is home to four floors of interactive and exciting galleries showcasing the story of Leeds, as well as the Leeds Mummy and our Designated Natural History collection. In 2016-17 we attracted over 275,000 visitors to our site.
About Leeds Museums & Galleries
Established in 1821, Leeds Museums & Galleries (LMG) is the largest local authority-run museum service in England and has one of the larger and most significant multidisciplinary collections in the UK. We care for 1.3 million objects which we use to inspire, educate, entertain and challenge the people of Leeds and visitors to our city. We run nine historic sites and visitor attractions, to which we welcome over 1.1 million visitors each year, approximately 25% of all museum visits across Yorkshire.