Meet Mr. Chippendale

When I’m out walking my dogs, we often make our way through a little wood close to the sea. A wood is such a good place for thinking. All those trees! They understand so well my fascination for old chairs and help to create a very special atmosphere.

In a small clearing in the wood a memorial stone honouring the man who planted the first saplings here is complemented with the following words of wisdom: “Revere the trees in whose shade you are sitting.”

My thoughts turn to another memorial, or rather a monument in Otley, West Yorkshire in England. It has been raised in memory of the famous furniture designer Thomas Chippendale, who – if I’m not mistaken – is clutching part of a chair back in his hands.

Wasn’t the famous old circus family also called Chippendale? I think of all those wide-eyed children who, ever since that circus’s earliest beginnings in 1684, have so eagerly and anxiously witnessed the feats of real-life acrobats suspended from ropes high, high up under the apex of the big top. Then the trees begin to thin out, and I realise that the acrobats have sent my thoughts flying off in totally the wrong direction.

The circus family was called Chipperfield, not to be confused with Chippendale, even though they both share the same first syllable in their names: a chip is a small fragment of wood or a splinter – a more than appropriate allusion, it would seem, to the craft of a famous furnituremaker.

Thomas Chippendale was born in West Yorkshire in 1718, the son of Mary and John Chippendale. John Chippendale was a cabinetmaker, and Thomas would later follow in his father’s shoes.

Thomas Chippendale moved to London where he published ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director’ in 1754. This compendium of the decorative designs that the furnituremaker could conjure forth soon proved to be a best-seller. Thomas’s chairs incorporated traits of both Gothic and Rococo style with cabriole front legs and claw and ball feet. Some of his chairs, however, have perfectly straight legs and spectacular backs where the inspiration from China is unmistakable in the sparse elegance of the spindles or the fantastical ribbon-back splats.

Chippendale was a great eclectic, mixing different elements of style in a voluptuous and highly personal fashion, and his book helped him to exert great influence and spread his style to the furthest concerns of Europe.

In Sweden it was primarily in Gothenburg and along the west coast that enthusiasm for Chippendale’s style was greatest.

It is from these parts that this chair hails, now standing by itself in a setting populated with other chairs and furniture of a very different style. The chair has suffered an attack of woodworm, but survived, it has crossed the sea without sustaining any damage, and it has a seat that has been patched up and mended on numerous occasions. It’s things like that which are deserving of respect. And for my part, I think the embroidered seat is utterly delightful.

The current owner, who acquired the chair by inheritance, describes it simply as ‘incomparable’. It does one good to hear that. It’s almost like a tender caress.

– Gun Bjerkander Handberg

Note From The Editor:

Do you have any experience of Chippendale furniture? We would love to hear your tales of your Chippendale chairs so please share.

You can read more Historic Chair Tales by selecting one of the series of books by author Gun Bjerkander Handberg where chairs from both grandiose backgrounds and simple Swedish homes are explored. Antique Expert and Art Historian Gun writes about all nature of chairs in her book series Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell.

Until next month…..

One thought on “Meet Mr. Chippendale

  1. Oh Gun, How very wonderful your description of your gorgeous forest and your thoughts that wander…. around the chips… I send you much love from Dresden where I am working at the Semperoper. In my day off I cycled with the costume designer ti Pillnitz Castle where I saw many many beautiful trees and photographed this chair thinking of you. The delicate wickerwork….and the angle of thought you trigger ! Miss you Big kiss Paula



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