By Tony Greist Department Head- James D Julia Inc.
Born in 1718 at Otley in West Yorkshire, Thomas Chippendale was the son and apprentice of John Chippendale. Although very little is known of his early years, Thomas Chippendale was said to have been a strong businessman with elevated social aspirations. In 1754 Chippendale published “Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director” consisting of a collection of furniture design templates which adapted existing design styles with the fashion of the mid-18th century including English, Gothic and Chinese motifs. The Director appealed to both makers and sellers of furniture and Chippendale quickly became a household name. Much to Mr. Chippendale’s (as he was known in London) disappointment while his furniture and styles were admitted to society drawing rooms he himself never was and his social goals were never achieved.
Chippendale believed in using the finest of materials and generally Chippendale style furniture was constructed in mahogany. Some cabinetmakers used veneers however most preferred solid wood which best accommodated the elaborate carving that was most notable in the style. Other woods less commonly used were cherry, cedar, pine and oak. Common characteristics of the Chippendale style include cabriole legs, serpentine carving and pilasters or quarter columns.
The primary version of Chippendale style in England stressed the richness of formal design with embellishments and detail. The acceptance of Thomas Chippendale’s design was strongest in the principle cabinetmaking strongholds of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and included ports such as Charleston in the south along an area concentrated with English imports of furniture and accessories.
Characteristics best known to the American market exemplifying the Chippendale period are details such as flourishing swans neck pediments and cresting, elaborate pierced carved backsplats in chairs, cabriole legs with ball and claw feet also found in chairs as well as case pieces as well as bracket feet found in desks and chests of drawers. Less obvious although equally characteristic would be the scrolling embellishments found on looking glasses as well as block and shell carvings used as embellishments on several types of case furniture, not the least of which would be those exemplified by the Goddard-Townsend school of cabinet makers in Newport, RI. A fine example of this is found in lot 2156; Important Chippendale Block-And-Shell Carved Figured Mahogany Tall Case Clock. Less formal examples are also represented here and an assortment of case furniture such as a Connecticut slant lid secretary bookcase found in a home in Southern Maine and a wonderful Chippendale cherry highboy originating in Connecticut but located also in Maine.