China, Chairs and Chippendale

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China, Chairs and Chippendale

Ever heard of Chippendale? No—not the Disney characters or the Vegas dancers, but the great English designer Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) who ran a fashionable shop in London from 1749-1779. Many historians of the decorative arts regard Chippendale as the most important designer of the 18th century and, importantly, his style was actually the first named after the creator rather than the reigning monarch sitting on the throne.

            Chippendale re-purposed and skillfully used many earlier design concepts from the French (especially from Louis XV) and from the Queen Anne style, along with Gothic motifs, thrown in with a bit of Chinese brackets and ornamentation. Besides his design skills, he was a master wood carver and cabinetmaker as well as a good businessman. Surely, an ideal combination of talents.

Although there are many identifying characteristics, there are some particularly distinctive features seen in his chairs such as the ball-and-claw cabriole legs and wide seats with carved backs embellished with acanthus leaves which flare outward at the top. Most often there are richly carved “aprons” and “skirts” on his tables, chairs, and cabinets. Chippendale’s Chinese style, which is often found in contemporary furniture, included straight lines, fretwork resembling bamboo, and pierced legs, particularly at the joinery. Interestingly the ball-and-claw idea is supposed to have originated in China. Mahogany was his wood of choice—perhaps Cuban or Honduran.

The Hammond-Harwood House has many Chippendale-style pieces, including chairs, mirrors, and tables. Among one of our prize pieces is the Chinese Chippendale Chair, created in mid-18th century. It has the shaped crest with outscrolled ears, a pierced splat for the back, and an upholstered seat on the cabriole legs with those great ball-and-claw feet. Beside the chair’s beautiful design, it has an interesting provenance, as it was formerly owned by Lord Doverdale of Westwood Park, Worcestershire, England. Other chairs from the set of 16 are found at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. The chair was sold through Sotheby’s in 1950 and then donated to the Hammond-Harwood House in 1951 by Irwin Untermyer through the negotiations of “Monuments Man” Marvin Ross. Come see it! We’re here for you!

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg


Credit line:

Chinese Chippendale Chair, English or Irish (ca. 1750)
Mahogany and Oak
Hammond-Harwood House, F95.
Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1951.

Posted on Aug 2, 2023 in , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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