The Farm Antiques, Wells Maine

George Hepplewhite and His Widow Alice

George Hepplewhite and His Widow Alice
By Hannah Crouthamel on Jul 21 in Furniture Designers

Had it not been for Alice Hepplewhite, the widow of George, it is doubtful that anyone would be aware of this 18th century English cabinetmaker.  After George’s death in 1786, Alice complied a catalog of the taste of the era The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide; or Repository of Designs for every Article of Household Furniture in the Newest and Most Approved Taste.  It was first published in 1788, re-issued with minor changes in 1789 and “improved” and republished in 1794.  It not only catalogued tastes, but guided them down the road of more delicate, inlaid furniture and accessories.

Self-proclaimed arbiter of style and taste
The full title of The Guide tells us quite a bit. Alice reinforces the thrust of the title in her preface, Hepplewhite Mirrors, Hepplewhite Chests, Other Case Pieces, Hepplewhite Period Furniturewhere she makes no claim for originality of design. She catalogs the tastes of the last quarter of the 18th century, and by what she chooses to include she creates the ‘Hepplewhite style’.  She used designs from other cabinetmakers of the period, as well as sketches, drawings and possibly even models of her husband’s furniture. Many of the forms which she chooses come to be known as  ‘Hepplewhite,’ even though it is highly likely that someone else created the design. Rightly or wrongly the Hepplewhite label has stuck.

As with Chippendale’s Director, this catalog had a far-reaching influence on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, cabinetmakers did not slavishly follow The Guide, but did use it for inspiration. For example, they would regularly substitute inlays that were more relevant to the American experience (Eagle and Stars instead of Britannia and Lion) or use timber that was more easily attainable and locally sourced for contrasting inlays. However, the inspiration of The Guide is evident in the move from more heavily carved Chippendale furniture to the more feminine Hepplewhite style. (more…)

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