The late 18th century typified an era of refinement and good taste. There was an appreciation of classical art spurred on by the Grand Tour. Publishing illustrated pattern books became quite popular as architects and craftsmen were eager to reach an educated, more affluent public. Goerge Hepplewhite was an apprentice with the firm of Gillow of Lancaster, and later started his own business. Although no furniture actually made by Hepplewhite survivies, his pattern book "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide", published after his death was eagerly received. As stated in the preface the book showed "the latest, or most prevailing fashion of the time". The guide had such a profound impact that all furniture made from his designs were known as Hepplewhite style.
Hepplewhite style is characterized by elegant, slender and graceful lines. Pieces are well proportioned and feature slender tapered legs, generally resting on spade feet. Favored wood was satinwood, although Mahogany was also used for living room and dining room pieces. Gilding was extensive, as was Japanning and Marquetry veneers. Marquetry featured foliated scrols, bowknots of ribbon and classical motifs. Chairs featured curved backs and shield and heart shaped chair backs.
Articles of Furniture
The "Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide" featured pieces for every room. Hepplewhite pieces are excellently proportioned and feature curved lines in backs, arms and seat rails of chairs, and curving lines for tops of settees. Bow fronts are common on chests of drawers, while sideboards feature serpentine fronts. Tables are generally oval shaped, and rest on slender, straight tapered legs. Upholstery was damask, silk, satin, linen and leather. Marquetry is used abundantly and feature rosees, feathers, radiating fans, and classical motifs. Beds are mainly mahogany and are supported by four slender, tapered posts which are reeded or fluted. Beds feature painted or carved cornices and stuffed headboards. Other pieces include gaming tables, toilet tables, and work tables. The outstanding example of Hepplewhite style, and the most popular, is the Shield-Back chair. The chair back features a shield or heart shaped back with decorative motifs including hearts, wheat, urns medallions, and the Prince of Wales emblem of ostrich plumes. Seat backs were not joined to the seat rail, but were supported by rear legs which rose above the seat rail. Upholstery was French tapestry, silk and satin, linen, leather and horsehair with plain, striped or checkered pattern. The bannister back chair features a series of three, four or five upright bannisters in the chair back. Caned seats and loose cushions are common. All chairs have straight, slender tapered legs.
Hepplewhite style pieces blend well with Adam, Sheraton, Phyfe and Chippendale, since all styles reflect the same prevailing taste in fashionable furniture of the time.
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