George Hepplewhite

George Hepplewhite

[hep-uhl-hwahyt, -wahyt]
Hepplewhite, George, d. 1786, English cabinetmaker and furniture designer. His style is characterized by light, curvilinear forms, painted or inlaid decoration, and distinctive details such as slender tapering legs (plain, fluted, or reeded) and the spade foot. Decorative motifs include designs introduced by Robert Adam and his brother James, ribbons, rosettes, prince of Wales feathers, ears of wheat, and the lyre. He is noted for distinctive chair backs in shield, oval, interlaced hearts, ladder, and wheel forms and for the use of much satinwood and painted beechwood as well as mahogany. His small pieces, e.g., inlaid work tables, fire screens, knife boxes, and tea caddies, are especially prized by collectors. Hepplewhite's firm was continued by his widow, who published in 1788 his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide (repr. 1969).
George Hepplewhite (1727? - June 21, 1786) was a cabinet and chair maker. He was one of the "big three" English furniture makers of the 18th century, along with Thomas Sheraton and Thomas Chippendale. There are no pieces of furniture made by Hepplewhite or his firm known to exist but he gave his name to a distinctive style of light, elegant furniture that was fashionable between about 1775 and 1800. Reproductions of his designs continued through the following centuries. One characteristic that is seen in many of his designs, but not all of them, is a shield-shaped chair back, where an expansive shield appeared in place of a narrower splat design.

Life and work

Very little is known about Hepplewhite himself. Some established sources list no birth information; however a "George Hepplewhite" was born in 1727 in Ryton Parish, County Durham, England. He served his apprenticeship in Lancaster and then moved to London, where he opened a shop. After he died in 1786, the business was continued by his widow, Alice. In 1788 she published a book with about 300 of his designs, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Guide. Two further editions were published in 1789 and 1790.

Many are quick to praise the designer George Hepplewhite and few notice the in discrepancies of his sudden fame. The published guide books, that claim George Hepplewhite as their author, were released after his death. It was not until years after his death that his designs started to receive recognition. Alice, his widow, was responsible for publishing the books. Later editions of his book were released by Alice multiple years after his death. Little is known about the man George Hepplewhite. His death certificate seems to offer the only evidence of his existence. The question rises if “George Hepplewhite” was a man or just a name for Alice Hepplewhite to publish under?

With contemporaries such as Thomas Chippendale producing pieces in a variety of styles Hepplewhite’s famed style is more easily identifiable. Hepplewhite produced designs that were slender, more curvilinear in shape, and well balanced. There are some characteristics that hint at a Hepplewhite design. Look for shorter more curved chair arms, straight legs, shield- shape chair backs, all without carving. The design would receive ornamentation from paint and inlays used on the piece.

The book influenced cabinet makers and furniture companies for several generations. The work of these generations influenced in turn copies of the original designs and variants of them through the 19th and 20th centuries.



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