Shire Book : Thomas Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale, Adam Bowett and James Lomax, Shire Publications, 2021, 64p, £8-99. ISBN 978-1-78442-477-0.
Thomas Chippendale has a claim to be Britain’s most famous furniture designer and manufacturer. Although we will have seen examples of his exquisite work in country houses and museums, we will not necessarily know very much about his life and achievements.
Adam Bowett and James Lomax, in this short book, manage to convey very effectively the extent of the achievements of this Yorkshire-born furniture designer. They reveal how he transformed his standing by the publication of his The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker Director and his move to premises in St Martin’s Lane in London in 1754. They trace his use of Gothic, Chinese and other styles and how he responded to demand for an increasing range of furniture items, and how he did so in collaboration with other figures such as Robert Adam. It is also interesting to note how his range included repairs, other furnishings and even the provision of full undertaker services.
What especially interested me was the fact that, despite his international reputation, and the huge success demonstrated by the sheer scale of his output, at death his household goods were valued at £28 2s 9d and his share of the business was £288 19s 6d. The point that the authors make quite poignantly is that his whole career depended on the financial backing of others and cash-flow, and it did not make him a wealthy man. His reputation and standing were to grow posthumously.
Along with over fifty illustrations which fully convey the nature and quality of Thomas Chippendale’s work, there is an excellent gazetteer of important locations where his furniture can be enjoyed, from Nostell Priory and Petworth House, as National Trust properties, to the Victoria and Albert Museum, outside of which there is a statue of Chippendale.