George Hepplewhite shield back chairs in very elegant styles. The area within the shield has a central splat of a very ornate, decorative form, often with interlocking designs and featuring classical motifs such as urns, festoons of drapery, the Prince of Wales´ feathers, wheat-ears, rosettes, pendent husks, and flower petals and calyces. The base of the shield is raised above the seat by a few inches.
Examples with upholstered backs (Hepplewhite inexplicably calls these "cabriole chairs") proved to be the most popular among furniture makers although plain wood backs were often used in rustified country versions of Hepplewhite chairs.
After publishing his shield back chair designs Hepplewhite's reputation suffered gibes from competitors such as Thomas Sheraton that the chairs were of outmoded taste and, in later editions of the Guide, were produced some square back designs as seen below.
Hepplewhite chair legs were usually straight and tapered, either round or square, and often had outward turning feet. Legs customarily had carving of pendent husks or mouldings of a very delicate nature, all once again in the neoclassical style of the late 18th century.
The chairs have no stretcher bars joining the legs except in the case of the easy chair. Country furniture makers often did however add stretchers to these Hepplwhite designs for obvious strengthening purposes.
Seats were straight fronted or bow/serpentine shape. Hepplewhite recommends cane as a seat base in some cases and in practice cane chairs had cushions placed on them that had coverings matched to the curtains in rooms. Fine mahogany chairs had the front surfaces of the seat framework and filling decorated with ornate mouldings.
The use of japanning or lacquering is also encouraged. Such lacquered chairs were usually lightly made of beech and were caned.
In the designs for chair backs we see medallions of printed or painted silk, painted silk, painted taffeta, being a fairly new practice in England.
In hall chairs Hepplewhite makes some bold moves including a wooden chair back designed entirely as a vase with cover, the body carved and festooned with drapery. This design has not stood the test of time.
¶ The general dimension and proportion of chairs are as follows : Width in front 20 inches, depth of the seat 17 inches height of the seat frame 17 inches, total height about 3 feet 1 inch. Other dimensions are frequently adapted according to the size of the room, or pleasure of the purchaser.
¶ Chairs in general are made of mahogany, with the bars and frame sunk in a hollow, or resting in a round projection with a band or lift on the inner and outer edges. Many of these designs are enriched with ornaments proper to be carved in mahogany as the designs A B, plates 1, 2, etc.
¶ Mahogany chairs should have the seats of horse hair, plain, striped, checquered, etc. at pleasure, or cane bottoms with cushions, the cases of which should be covered with the same as the curtains.
Japanned & Painted Chairs
¶ For chairs, a new and very elegant fashion has arisen within these few years, of finishing them with painted or japanned work, which gives a rich and splendid appearance to the minuter parts of the ornaments, which are generally thrown in by the painter. Several of these designs are particularly adapted to this style, which allows a framework less messy than is requisite for mahogany; and by affording the prevailing colour to the furniture and light of the room, affords opportunity, by the variety of grounds which may be introduced, to make the whole accord in harmony, with a pleasing and striking effect to the eye. Japanned chairs should have cane bottoms, with linen or cotton cases over cushions to accord with the general hue of the chair.
¶ Plate 9.* Two designs for chairs with cane bottoms; these may be of mahogany or japanned, and should have cushions of linen, leather.
Chairs with Stuffed Backs
¶ Are called cabriole chairs. The designs E and F in plate l0 are of the newest fashion; the arms to F, though much higher than usual, have been executed with good effect for his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The designs in plate 11 are also quite new.
¶ Plates 12 and 13, exhibit twelve designs for chair backs, proper to be executed in mahogany or japan; some of them applicable to the more elegant kind of chairs with backs and seats of red or blue morocco leather, in these backs which are sometimes made a little circular, are frequently inserted medallions, printed or painted on silk of the natural colours; when the backs and seats are of leather they should be tied down with tassels of silk or thread as shown in several of the preceding designs.
¶ Plate 14 shows three designs for hall chairs, which are made all of wood, either carved or painted. The designs with vase backs are new, and have been much approved.
Plate 15 shows a design for a Saddle Check, or easy chair; the construction and use of which is very apparent: they may be covered with leather, horse hair; or have a linen case to fit over the canvas stuffing as is most usual and convenient. On the same plate is shown the mechanism of a Gout stool; the construction of which, by being so easily raised or lowered at either end, is particularly useful to the afflicted.
Next Page: Upholstered Stools.