The Director Himself: Thomas Chippendale & His Designs for Mirrors

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It is impossible to talk about antiques without talking about Thomas Chippendale.  This preeminent cabinetmaker of the eighteenth century has become synonymous for all things Georgian.  There are plenty of biographies of Thomas Chippendale that you can read here and here (PS: The Chippendale Society is a great resource for all furniture enthusiasts.  We are proud to be a Corporate Member and encourage you to join as well to get access to their wonderful events–at only £14 a year, it is a steal!).

So what are some facts about Chippendale you might not see in his standard biography?

  1. Chippendale operated his workshop out of ‘The Sign of the Chair’–the name of his premises on St Martin’s Lane.
  2. The Harrington Commode, a mahogany chest of drawers attributed to Thomas Chippendale, holds the record as the most expensive piece of English furniture ever sold at auction for a staggering £3,793,250 at Sotheby’s London in 2010.
  3. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the famous 20th century architect, once said, ‘A chair is a very difficult object.  A skyscraper is almost easier.  That is why Chippendale is famous.’

And now onto the mirrors.  Chippendale published a book of his designs entitled The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director in 1754.  This pattern book was widely disseminated across England to other craftsmen and was instrumental in spreading Chippendale’s design aesthetic across England (as well as internationally).

A Pair of Georgian Giltwood Oval Mirrors

This publication features numerous designs for mirrors in varying styles, designs, and tastes.  Pictured below is a plate from the Director that features designs for ‘Oval Glass Frames.’

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A plate from Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director

The design shows two mirrors, each split down the middle to show a variation on the design: so in total, Chippendale presents four distinct mirrors on this one plate.  We are lucky enough to have a pair of Georgian giltwood oval mirrors that features design elements drawn from all four variations.

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A pair of George III giltwood mirrors in the manner of Thomas Chippendale, Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

This very fine and rare pair of George III giltwood oval mirrors feature particularly accomplished drawing and proportion: the frames  are superbly carved throughout with borders of foliage and floral entwined C-scrolls.  One of the most striking features of these mirrors is the superbly carved ho-ho bird at the top of each frame.  Additionally, the base of each mirror features with a carved sheep and lamb within a C-scroll cartouche.  These details make a mirror come to life with its expressive carving and naturalistic features.

A Georgian Rococo Girandole

Chippendale’s ingenuity can be seen in his Rococo designs, particularly in this girandole, which is made entirely of C-scrolls: you would be hard pressed to find a single straight line in this design.

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A plate from Thomas Chippendale’s A Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director

The giltwood girandole in our collection, pictured below, is remarkably similar in design, and is characteristic of the exuberance of English rococo design found in the work of Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Johnson, a fellow influential designer of the eighteenth century.

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A George III giltwood girandole attributed to Thomas Chippendale, Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

The ho-ho bird with his outstretched wings sits perched on a scrolled acanthus support at the top of the mirror, and the asymmetrical frame is composed of conjoined C-scrolls, acanthus leaves, flowering branches and a rockwork bottom with flowerhead.  The mirror’s pierced apron features conjoined ruffle-carved C-scrolls surrounding the ancient overgrown pilasters.  

Chippendale supplied a number of pairs of girandoles, included documented examples to Merhsam-le-Hatch for Sir Edward Knatchbull, Nostell Priory for Sir Rowland Winn and Harewood House for Edwin Lascelles.

One example of particular interest is the pair that Chippendale supplied to the Earl of Dumfries for the Dining Room of Dumfries House, which were designed to embellish the chimneypiece and flank the overmantel portrait of the 5th Earl of Dumfries by Thomas Hudson displayed in the Dining Room.

We could talk about Chippendale for hours on end, but today we will finish with these two exceptional mirrors that exemplify his style.

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