Celebrating the Chippendale tercentenary

Editorial Staff Exhibitions

This year marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the man whose name became an adjective synonymous with a furniture style. Thomas Chippendale, son of a Yorkshire woodworker, was christened on June 5, 1718, and grew up to become the most influential furniture maker the English-speaking world has ever known. He won fame with the publication of a novel marketing device: The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, a catalogue of sorts offering designs for chairs, tables, commodes, and other furnishings, first issued in 1754. With the book, Chippendale created a standard of good taste that still prevails.

Chippendale-inspired side chair attributed to Benjamin Randolph, c. 1769. Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchased with funds and gifts from various donors.

An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will demonstrate the breadth and durability of Chippendale’s legacy. Along with a selection of the original drawings for the Director, the Met will display furnishings made by Chippendale and inspired by him, including a “hairy paw” chair from the renowned commission from about 1770 by the Cadwalader family of Philadelphia. The museum will also publish an art bulletin about Chippendale’s life and work, written by Morrison Heckscher, the retired head of the American Wing.

Diana and Minerva commode (with detail) by Thomas Chippendale, 1773, shown in the State Bedroom, Harewood House, Yorkshire. Harewood House Trust.

The most extensive Chippendale celebrations, naturally, will be in Britain, where a panoply of lectures, museum shows, workshops, tours, and contemporary artistic “responses” to his work have been organized under the promotional banner Chippendale 300 (chippendale300.co.uk). Heavy events schedules are planned for at least seven great houses furnished by Chippendale, most notably Harewood House, near Leeds, his largest and most lavish commission.

For anyone inspired to purchase a piece of Chippendale, the London antiques gallery Ronald Phillips will hold a selling exhibition of work by and attributed to him—including a marquetry commode made for Harewood; price: £500,000—opening in late June.

Chippendale’s Director: The Designs and Legacy of a Furniture Maker • Metropolitan Museum of Art • May 14–January 9, 2019 •