Chippendale: the Man and the Brand

Chippendale wallpaper at Nostell, West Yorkshire

Nostell is home to a world-class collection of over 100 items supplied by Chippendale and a unique archive of letters, providing an insight into the man behind the famous brand. Visit this new exhibition from Wednesday 2 May 2018 to discover how a humble cabinet-maker from Otley made a name that has lasted nearly 300 years.

Chippendale is celebrated today by many as the ‘Shakespeare of furniture’, however he died in relative obscurity. Chippendale: the Man and the Brand tells the story of the 18th century designer, furniture-maker and entrepreneur, setting the scene before you explore the elaborate showrooms he helped create on Nostell’s first floor. 


Building a brand

Born into a Yorkshire family of carpenters and joiners, you’ll learn in the new exhibition how Thomas Chippendale’s entrepreneurial spirit and talent led him to build a business in London’s St Martins Lane, supplying the 18th century elite with the most fashionable domestic items.

Chippendale produced three editions of his famous pattern book of furniture designs
The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director
Chippendale produced three editions of his famous pattern book of furniture designs

Discover how Chippendale’s brand was launched by the publication of The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director in 1754.

This was the most luxurious and comprehensive book of furniture designs yet created, covering the full range of objects that an aspiring house owner would want and in all of the on-trend styles of the day.

Chippendale had cleverly seen a gap in the market and this must-have catalogue of designs proved a valuable marketing tool to build his business.

The Chippendale firm

Chippendale didn't just provide high-end design pieces for 18th century showrooms, his firm also supplied less glamorous items to help with the running of the house. Explore the full range of products and services that were supplied for Nostell, from classic Chippendale chairs and elaborate cabinets such as the one below to a mangle for the domestic quarters as well as dying old fabrics and fixing jammed doors.  

Chippendale's firm produced hand-carved masterpieces such as this medal cabinet at Nostell
Detail of the Chippendale medal cabinet at Nostell, West Yorkshire
Chippendale's firm produced hand-carved masterpieces such as this medal cabinet at Nostell

Providing a full fit-out service to prestigious clients required a team of skilled employees and a wide range of specialist tools. In the exhibition, you’ll see a selection of 18th century joiner’s tools from a spokeshave and mortice guage to a veneer hammer and cock bead plane, which were supplied by Christopher Gabriel & Sons, a leading London dealer.

Chippendale’s challenges

A selection of the letters, invoices and drawings, normally looked after by the West Yorkshire Archives, will be on display in Nostell’s new exhibition. You’ll be able to explore this unique collection of correspondence to discover the challenging relationship Chippendale had with his client, Rowland Winn including arguments over faulty goods and late payments.

Thomas Chippendale's letters are normally stored at the West Yorkshire Archives in Wakefield
A letter written by Thomas Chippendale, held in Nostell's collection in the West Yorkshire Archive
Thomas Chippendale's letters are normally stored at the West Yorkshire Archives in Wakefield

Promotional publications, large premises, imported materials and highly skilled employees all cost money; you’ll see how Chippendale suffered various financial woes during his career. 

From a major fire at the London workshop in 1755 to the death of his financial investor, unravel the challenges that Chippendale faced and why, despite his apparent success, by the time he died in 1779 Chippendale left no great fortune.

" A Chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous."
- Mies van de Rohe

Legacy

In the 18th century there were well over 50,000 furniture makers working in England. How has one name - 'Chippendale' - stood out from all the rest?

When the Victorians became interested in 18th century furniture they looked for the origin of the designs. The source they discovered was Thomas Chippendale's Director. Because furniture makers left no marks on their items to say who made them, 'Chippendale' became the name used to describe any quality 18th century English furniture.

Thanks to the Director, Chippendale's brand has lived on beyond his lifetime and has even entered popular culture - a fitting legacy to a man who had strived hard to better himself in the tough environment of 18th century England.

Today Chippendale's works are regarded as the height of quality and elegance that we associate with the 'golden age of furniture'.