The Chippendale Society

The Chippendale Society was founded in 1965 to promote the study and appreciation of England’s greatest furniture maker, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779).

By Leeds Museums & Galleries

The Chippendale Society

All Saints Church, Otley (2018)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Chippendale’s early life and training

Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, in West Yorkshire, in 1718. His father was a carpenter/joiner, as was most of his extended family. He probably trained as a cabinet maker in York before moving to London by 1748.

Marriage license of Thomas Chippendale (1748) by UnknownLeeds Museums & Galleries

In London Chippendale married Catherine Redshaw on 19 May 1948, and their first son, Thomas Chippendale Jnr, was born the following year. Catherine died in 1772 and Chippendale married again in August 1777, to Elizabeth Davis.

Invitation card (c.1753) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

It was probably in London that Chippendale learned to draw in the fashionable French or Rococo style. In 1753 he teamed up with the talented engraver Matthew Darly (d.1778), who engraved this invitation drawn by Chippendale himself.

The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1755) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director

In 1754 Chippendale published a ground-breaking book of furniture designs titled The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director. The book launched Chippendale’s new furniture business in St Martin’s Lane, London, set up in partnership with James Rannie, a Scottish  businessman and entrepreneur.

Three plates from The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

The Director was the first comprehensive catalogue of fashionable household furniture ever published, comprising 160 pages of furniture designs in the latest French, Chinese and Gothic styles. Its success made Chippendale a household name and ensured that the name ‘Chippendale’ achieved worldwide recognition while his contemporaries and rivals are mostly forgotten.

Drawing for a Gothic candlestand (1760) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

This is an original drawing by Thomas Chippendale which was engraved for inclusion in the Director. There were many good cabinet makers in London but few with Chippendale’s artistic talent.  

Drawing for four stove grates (1760) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

The success of the Director led to two further editions, in 1755 and 1762. The 1762 edition was expanded to 200 plates, and this the original drawing for one of the new plates. 

Detail of a table top by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

Chippendale and neoclassicism

In the late 1760s fashion began to change, and from 1770 almost all Chippendale’s furniture was in the neoclassical style promoted by architects such as Robert Adam (1728-1792) and Sir William Chambers (1723-1796).

Marquetry table (1772) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

This table was made about 1772 for the Circular Dressing Room at Harewood House, designed by Robert Adam and furnished by Chippendale’s firm.

Armchair (c.1773) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

This armchair was made about 1773 for Sir Peniston Lamb of Brocket Hall, near London. It is a variant of the ‘lyre back’ pattern used by Chippendale for several clients and was probably inspired by designs for similar chairs by Robert Adam.

Drawing for a pedestal and lantern (c.1774) by Thomas Chippendale juniorLeeds Museums & Galleries

This is the original design drawing for a set of six pedestals and lanterns supplied to Harewood House, Yorkshire, in 1774. The drawing is attributed to Chippendale’s son, Thomas Chippendale Jnr, who in the 1700s assumed an increasingly prominent role in the firm.

India picture (c.1771) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

A comprehensive furnishing business

Chippendale’s furnishing business was not only concerned with bespoke furniture for high-status rooms. This decorative picture for a bedroom was made with recycled scraps of Chinese wallpaper.

Reading desk (1769) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

Everyday articles such as reading stands were made to standard patterns. This one was made in 1769 for Sir Rowland Winn, one of Chippendale’s most demanding clients.

Bookcase (c.1775) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

This little bookcase was made for the actor David Garrick about 1775, part of the furnishings of his villa by the River Thames at Hampton Wick, near London. It was originally plain mahogany but was painted by Chippendale’s firm to match some Indian chintz hangings imported by Mrs Garrick.

Wallpaper (c.1760) by UnknownLeeds Museums & Galleries

Chippendale provided a complete furnishing service, which included carpets, bedding and wallpaper. Chippendale supplied wallpaper of this pattern to a London client in 1760.

Wall borders (c.1775-1775) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

Room borders of many different designs were needed to trim the walls. These elaborate examples come from Harewood House, furnished by the Chippendale firm between 1767 and 1806.

Coffin furniture (1772) by Thomas ChippendaleLeeds Museums & Galleries

Furniture for funerals included not only coffins with fine brass metalware but the whole paraphernalia of mourning; black crepe gloves and hatbands and a hearse with ostrich-plumed horses. These brass plates furnished the coffin of Lady Bridget Heathcote, who died in 1772.

Statue of Thomas Chippendale on the façade of the Victorian and Albert Museum, London, 2018, From the collection of: Leeds Museums & Galleries
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Photo: The Chippendale Society, 2018

Thomas Chippendale died in 1779 and was buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s in the Fields, London, on 13 November. Despite his success he was not a rich man, having been short of capital throughout his career and almost always in debt to his backers. His legacy carries on in the ‘Chippendale style’, which in the 19th century became a shorthand term for high quality English furniture in the Director style. Even today, copies and pastiches of his furniture are still made as sold as ‘Chippendale’.

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