I suppose the name Chippendale is to many synonymous with male strip tease shows and then again, there will be just as many who have never even heard of the name. To a select few who may read this however, it is one of our greatest 18th. century cabinetmakers whose fame is at least in part down to publishing his book of designs. So famous did he become that we have named a period and style of furniture making after him as well. His Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director was first published in 1754 and became an instant hit bringing a whole range of wealthy clients to him. The rest, as they say, is history!
Thomas Chippendale sprang to mind because I acquired a stunning mid 18th. century Mahogany Gentleman's Press this week and was delighted at the originality, completeness, quality and patination of this brilliant Georgian example. It has stood in one home for many decades and needed the lightest of touches to slowly remove the grime of 250 years and reveal the wonderful colour and grain beneath. The timbers were hungry for wax and absorbed several coats before burnishing to a subtle shine. This has been a very exciting journey to take it from its home of years and bring it back to vibrant life and the excitement does not stop there.
I overheard two chaps in the Pub during the week comparing their girlfriends attributes and one commented to the other "I guess I'm more of a legs man myself" to which the other replied using a different part of his girlfriends anatomy as a yardstick. I know exactly what they meant and understand their parts attractions.
Brilliantly exaggerated ogee bracket foot.
I have never thought of me as a "feet man myself" but I have to admit when I saw the incredible Ogee Bracket Feet on this press I was very excited. Start at the bottom and work your way up. It is an exaggerated foot with a wonderful patina - not everyone gets to polish the feet of a piece like this every day. Also very unusually on this piece, the base with its drawers actually sits on a separate tray with feet and held in place by the retaining moulding in the same way as the top with its doors sits within the retaining moulding at the top of the base. To top it all off, the whole cornice comes separately as well. You might call it a masterpiece in four parts. Every aspect of this truly great find is exciting with the original handles and backplates to the drawers, the glorious panels of exquisitely figured Mahogany to the doors, the blind fretwork and delicate dentil to the cornice and overall the stunning display of consummate craftsmanship when you stand back and admire.
Door panel detail
Often referred to as "Flame Figured" Mahogany I cannot think of a better example with the soft yellow tones as well as the darker reds and browns all suffusing to a terrific pattern. I need to do some further research to try and establish who actually made this press but with the discovery of the original sliding trays inside the top all in beautiful Cedar we may be on a very exciting path as in Christie's July 2007 Catalogue for the Dumfries House Sale, lot 125 is attributed to Chippendale as it is described in the original invoice of 4th. June 1763 as "A large mahog'y cloaths press with folding doors and sliding shelves of cedar..."
Cedar shelves to interior and Red Wash to Back
In Volume II of the Dumfries Sale Catalogue there is a major article all about identifying pieces by Chippendale and much is made of the "Red Wash" which Chippendale used to finish the unseen areas of pieces and you can certainly see this on the back behind the cedar slides shown above. When I tell people that I rush to go to work every day because this business is so exciting this is what it is all about. The very first in-house exhibition I put on was back in 1978 (35 years ago and it doesn't seem like it) and was devoted to the life and works of Chippendale and I am still just as passionate about good pieces today as I was then. To top the whole piece off , the cornice is a delight - rather as you would expect.
Blind Fretwork and Dentil to Cornice
I just paused for breath and to show a client around the showrooms, he admired this press as well since it is on show in my shop here in Witney. I have returned to this newsletter/blog and am so very pleased to have this press in stock. I am going to enjoy doing the research on this over the next few days as I know this is an important piece not just a Gentleman's Press. There are other pieces which may well come my way from the same home in the future so lots more excitement to come. I have finished this article with a poor picture of a fine piece, I apologise for my photography and I will be publishing a better picture as soon as it is to hand but I hope you will agree that this is about as good as it gets for a "cloaths press".
Chippendale Mahogany Gentleman's press.