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: Chippendale Furniture


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Three pieces of English furniture in the Chippendale style have recently been added to our collection, and are now on exhibition in Gallery B19, devoted to English and American objects of the eighteenth century. The card table and the tripod table were purchased from the Dunwoody Fund, while the chair is the gift of Mr. H. Burlingham of New York.The name, "Chippendale," as commonly applied to furniture, includes pieces made after designs of certain types which were used by Thomas Chippendale, whether the piece in question is thought to have been made by Chippendale himself, by workmen under his supervision, or by competitors and imitators, who copied the styles which the master had popularized.For use in attributing and dating Chippendale furniture, we have one very important document, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. The first edition of this work was published in 1754, and later editions appeared in 1759 and 1762. It was not the custom among cabinet makers of this period to keep on hand stocks of ready-made furniture. Designs instead were drawn with an eye to the fads and preferences of the day, and were submitted to patrons, and orders solicited. The Gentleman & Cabinet Maker's Director is a trade catalog of such designs, submitted to London's fashionable world by Thomas Chippendale, cabinet maker and wood carver in St. Martin's Lane. Chippendale evidently knew how to cater to the fashionable world of his day. It became a mark of good taste to be seen at his workshop. The names of 312 subscribers appear in the front of the first edition of the Director, which sold at the then very considerable price of two pounds, eight shillings a copy.That some of the designs in the Director had never been executed at the time of publication is clear from the impracticability which they display. On being translated into wood, various changes were necessary. In such cases the publication of the sketch can often be taken to indicate the earliest date at which the piece represented can have been executed.A type of furniture so well known that it had already come to be considered a necessity in the houses of the wealthy aristocracy when the first edition of the Director appeared was the folding card table. Card playing, often for high stakes, was so much the rage that there were commonly several such tables to be found in a fashionable house of the period. The recently purchased card table in the Institute's collection is illustrated (fig. 761) in L. V. Lockwood's Colonial furniture in America. It was made about 1750-60 and is particularly interesting on account of the fine quality of the carving. There are four cabriole legs with knees carved with foliated cartouches, and ball-and-claw feet. One of the legs swings outward to support the hinged half of the top when open. The most distinctive feature is the carving on the front of the drawer which is a beautifully designed piece of foliate scrolling executed with the greatest crispness and refinement.The tripod table was perhaps the most important achievement of Thomas Chippendale as innovator, for it was his exclusive creation. It combines much grace with a greater stability than can be had in a table with four legs. There is no design for these tables in the Director of 1754, and they first began to be made probably about 1760. Our example must have been made between 1760 and 1765. It follows closely the regular type, having a central pillar with a fluted shaft and a bulb or vase decorated with carved acanthus leaves. The three cabriole legs have carved knees and unusually fine ball-and-claw feet. The top is 29 1/2 inches in diameter, and is carved around a molded rim with eight foliated scallop shells. Following the regular type again, it is hinged at the top of the shaft so that it can be tilted back to save space. When in use it is held in place by a sliding spring catch, which snaps sharply into position when the top is let down. Hence, documents of the period commonly refer to "snap tables."The third addition to our collection of Chippendale furniture, as was mentioned above, is a chair, given to the Society. This piece is an illustration of the especial dignity and good taste achieved by cabinet makers in this style when they built chairs for their less pretentious patrons. The splat is scarcely carved at all. It is pierced, according to the so-called Gothic taste, with pointed arches and the quatrefoil, but in the modified and strained "Gothic" of 1760 to 1765, rather than in the extreme and often absurd "Gothic" affected by Chippendale several years earlier, when the vogue was beginning. Simplicity and a look of substantiality is further obtained by the use of square legs with simple designs and flat carving; and there is just the right relief from severity in the open work stretchers and underbracing.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Tripod Table, two views
  2. Card Table
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Source: H. B. Wehle, "Chippendale Furniture," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 6, no. 5 (May, 1917): 34-36.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009