Insight | Thomas Chippendale
April 23rd 2021
Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, West Yorkshire in June 1718. He was born the only child of John Chippendale and his first wife Mary. Thomas received an elementary education at the Prince Henry’s Grammar School and was surrounded by woodwork growing up as his father was a joiner and the Chippendale family had a long history with the woodworking trades. Thomas is believed to have received a basic understanding of woodworking from his father. It was believed that Thomas also received training from Richard Wood in York before relocating to London around 1948 at the age of 30. He went onto marry his first wife Catherine Redshaw and they had nine children, five sons and four daughters. Later Chippendale went on to remarry in later life fathering another three children.
Working his early career as a journeyman cabinet maker in London, Thomas went onto publish a book of his designs in 1754 titled ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director’ being the first cabinet maker to publish a book of his own designs. Three editions were made: the first in 1754, the second in 1755 and finally the third in 1762. By this time Chippendale’s illustrated designs began to show signs of Neoclassicism. Chippendale grew his business and began building one of commission designs much like a modern day interior designer in which pieces were specially made for the famous and wealthy of their time. Many of these including royalty, politicians and high-profile noblemen. Twenty-six of these commissions have been identified with some still available to view today in locations such as Blair Castle, Perthshire (originally for the Duke of Atholl), Harewood House, Yorkshire (originally for Edwin Lascelles) and Petworth House, Sussex (originally for George Wyndham 3rd Earl of Egremont).
In 1776 Thomas Chippendale retired and his son Thomas Chippendale Jnr took over the business with other investors until they filed for bankruptcy 1804. Unable to follow in his father’s success, the business stopped trading and the Chippendale name stopped crafting furniture completely in 1820. Sadly, in his later years, not long after retiring Chippendale developed tuberculosis and died from the disease in 1779. He was buried at St Martin-in-the-fields on 16 November. There is a statue and memorial plaque dedicated to Chippendale outside The Old Grammar School Gallery in Manor Square in his home town of Otley. There is also a full-sized sculpted figure of Thomas Chippendale on the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. His works and designs are known around the world and Chippendale is regarded as one of the most influential and prolific furniture makers in history.