9253 A RARE CARVED MAHOGANY BOMBE LINEN PRESS TO A DESIGN BY THOMAS CHIPPENDALE OF 1754 English. Circa 1755. Measurements: Height: 73 1/4″ (186 cm) Width: 50 1/2″ (128.5 cm) Depth: 25 3/4″ (65 cm)
Of mahogany. The stepped top above frieze of flower-head paterae set inside lozenge pattern, the doors to the front with arched frame of stylized foliate form, with stylized gilt escutcheon, opening to an adjustable shelved interior, the base of bombé form, set to the top with single long drawer fitted with a leather tablet, with central stylized gilt escutcheon flanked by pull handles, above two short drawers with single drop handle issuing from a foliate star framing a central escutcheon, above a single drawer with drop handles flanking a central escutcheon, the base centred below with stylized foliate motif, to the canted front corner stylized foliate carving leading to shaped feet with stylized brackets to each side.
This cabinet is an extremely rare example of cabinet furniture that conforms almost exactly to an ambitious rococo design in Thomas Chippendale’s celebrated publication, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director of 1754 (figure 1).1
The piece follows the illustrated design, differing in only minor details of the carving and in the presence of a frieze, of delicate flowerhead and lattice-work form, to the top of the cabinet. The Director composed a large collection of, as Chippendale said, “the most elegant and useful designs of household furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern taste.” The modern taste refers to the anglicised version of the forms and styles of France which strongly influenced Chippendale’s work at this date and has been called “for the most part an Anglicisation of the rocaille”.2 This taste is strikingly revealed in the design of the present piece with the swelling bombe form of the base and the fine quality of the intricately designed carving to the feet and the doors, an interpretation in wood of the fine chased gilt bronze work of French metal-workers.
The Director design gives two alternative treatments of the doors to the upper section of the cabinet, the one with a pendant of stylized foliate decoration framing the door, as in the present piece and the other quite plain. This second form is closely followed in a cabinet exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1920-1 and illustrated in H.H. Mulliner’s The Decorative Arts in England (1923).3
The Director represented an unparalleled undertaking in the publication of furniture designs, with the first and second editions constituting 160 plates of superb engravings. The work exerted a powerful influence on contemporary style that was felt as far afield as the Prussian Court and Lisbon and which established Chippendale as an inspired and innovative designer. A third edition, somewhat expanded, was to follow in a series of weekly publications in 1762.
In the year of publication of the first edition, in which the design related to the present cabinet appears, Chippendale moved to spacious premises in St. Martin’s Lane and began to provide furniture to a range of fashionable clients. The imposing subscription lists for the Director reveal that among those who brought the work were a number of members of the nobility, including the Dukes of Beaufort, Portland, Norfolk and Hamilton, and the Earls of Northumberland and Chesterfield. The recipients of the dedication of the first volumes were the Earl of Northumberland and H.R.H. Prince William Henry, both of whom were among those to subsequently commission furniture from Chippendale.4
1 The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, Plate CXXXI.
2 Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, Volume II (1990 edition), p. 74.
3 H.H. Mulliner The Decorative Arts in England (1923), Fig. 14.
4 Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds.), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840 (1986), p. 164.