George Hepplewhite, who was he?
George Hepplewhite is the most enigmatic of the triumvirate of famous Georgian furniture designers (Chippendale and Sheraton being the others). Despite there being no known pieces of furniture by Hepplewhite's hand his fame stems from the posthomous publication of The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide in 1788, 2 years after his death in 1786.
The designs in The Guide are typified by a new grace and elegance in English Furniture design. The chair designs show the introduction of shield backs and heart backs. Legs are typically moulded or reeded and there is a more widespread introduction of inlay. However was Hepplewhite really the inventor of this new style.
A fine Hepplewhite period mahogany and satin birch veneered linen press.
In a recent article for Country Life John Martin Robinson has suggested most of the designs may actually be by James Wyatt (1746-1813). The closest similarities between Wyatt's designs and those in the The Guide can be seen in those for elegant shield-back chairs. The chairs Wyatt supplied to Appuldurcombe House (IoW) are very similar to Plate 5 of The Guide.
A pair of Hepplewhite hall chairs with shield backs.
Wyatt also supplied chair designs to the leading cabinet-making firm of Gillows. One such commission were the chairs for Heaton Hall (Lancs.) which became a stock design for Gillows.
Gillows is the principal link between Wyatt and Hepplewhite. Hepplewhite is believed to have worked for Gillows in London and this is where he may have come across the designs. Despite the publication of The Guide under Hepplewhite's name Robinson suggests that Wyatt is the real author.
An elegant French Hepplewhite period satinwood and rosewood veneered centre table.
Country Life, 4 July 2012