It could well be the most delicate and exclusive piece of removals work Leeds has ever seen.
This week at Temple Newsam House, curators began the daunting task of relocating a number of historic pieces of furniture created by world-renowned mastercraftsman Thomas Chippendale ahead of a new exhibition at Leeds City Museum in February.
Among the pieces making the trip was a breathtakingly ornate lady’s secretaire, made in 1773 and fashioned from specially-imported Chinese lacquer panels.
Originally made for the State Bedroom at Harewood House, the spectacular cabinet cost £26 when it was created and was part of Chippendale’s 30 year commission at Harewood, for which he was paid £10,000, a staggering sum at the time.
The piece was saved for the nation by a number of funders in 1999, after it was the subject of an export ban preventing its sale to a private individual in New York.
The secretaire will be among a huge selection of pieces illustrating the extraordinary breadth of Chippendale’s work which will go on display at the museum from February 9 as part of national celebrations to mark 300 years since his birth.
Other key pieces will include loans from the Royal Collection, Paxton House, Newby Hall, and Dumfries House, which has around 10 per cent of known Chippendale furniture in the world in a collection handpicked by the fifth earl from Chippendale’s workshop.
The exhibition will include objects from Chippendale’s early life, alongside beautiful hand-drawn designs and some of the best examples of his work, many on public display for the first time.
But the museum will also aim to tell the story of the man behind the famous furniture, looking at some of the lesser-known details of Chippendale’s life, family, and career.
Ruth Martin, Leeds City Museum’s curator of exhibitions, who has been bringing the exhibition together said:
“Chippendale is a man whose name will forever be inextricably linked with the truly exceptional quality of his craft, and it is that remarkable professional skill which has made his work so famous and sought-after across the world.
“But it’s likely that very few people know much about the man himself and how he rose from relatively humble beginnings in Leeds, honed his craft in London and worked tirelessly and innovatively to become a successful businessman as well as a mastercraftsman.
“Understanding more about how Chippendale strove to become the household name we know today adds an extra dimension to his work and helps us to build a deeper appreciation of the man behind these stunning pieces.”
Born in Otley in 1718, Chippendale was only child of John Chippendale, a joiner, and Mary, whose father was a stonemason.
He probably received training as a joiner and carpenter in the family workshop, and received an elementary education at Otley Grammar School.
By the 1740s, Chippendale was almost certainly working in York as a cabinet-maker before making his name in London, becoming the most sought after furniture maker of the 1700s and working in some of the greatest and most fashionable houses in the country.
Outside of his work, Chippendale fathered 12 children and had two marriages before his death in 1779.
But correspondence in the exhibition also reveal some of the financial difficulties experienced by Chippendale and despite the high value of his work he never made his fortune. The inventory of his property taken after his death showed that his possessions were valued at less than £30.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries said:
“Chippendale clearly led a fascinating life and it’s a privilege for Leeds to be playing such an important part in telling his story.
“A self-made Leeds man, it’s clear he had a real passion and determination to succeed and I’m sure that, 300 years after his birth, he would be proud to know that we are celebrating his incredible legacy here in the city where it all began.”
Thomas Chippendale: A celebration of craftsmanship and design, 1718-1779 runs from February 9, 2018 until June 9, 2018 and is free to attend.
For more details, please visit: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries