More details, and a full programme is available on Eventbrite, where you can also make a booking.
Indulge your passion for rush-seated chairs at a two-day conference at Marchmont House near Berwick-on-Tweed during September, on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th. Marchmont House looks well worth seeing, and the conference is brings together an interesting range of topics including several regional chair traditions. Marchmont has several chairs by Clissett, and there will be a session tracing the origins and legacy of his well-known ladderback.
More details, and a full programme is available on Eventbrite, where you can also make a booking.
Some time ago, I saw this chair on the Antiques Atlas site, advertised as "by Philip Clissett". It's a very handsome chair but, while I will agree that the chair has many of the characteristics of Clissett's work (such as the general construction and the arm support turnings), there are several reasons for NOT accepting the attribution. The main reasons are as follows:
It's quite possible that Clissett didn't stamp all his chairs. Indeed, I'm aware of two very unusual chairs in the Hereford Museum where one is stamped "PC" and the other, which is identical, is not. But this doesn't mean that any chair that looks like it could be by Clissett can be attributed to him. As I said before, without the provenance, this is just misleading. As always... Caveat emptor!
When The English Regional Chair was published in 1990, Bill Cotton noted that “Although Clissett is reputed in many writings to have made rush-seated ladderback chairs, no initial stamped chairs made by him have been recorded, whereas numerous wooden seated spindleback chairs have”. This dichotomy is reflected, too, in the rather different styles of Clissett's spindleback chairs when compared with the more sophisticated form of his famous ladderback where the design was influenced by the architect, James MacLaren.
More recently, I've been recording rare chairs made by Clissett that cross over between these two styles. Most remarkable of these is the timber-seated ladderback found by Paul Shutler in 2016, and stamped PC on the tops of the back legs, just like Clissett's spindle backs. Now, here we have another, up for sale at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood of Exeter.
I should be wary, by now, of making definitive statements about Clissett, he has so often proved us wrong. But this chair probably does deserve to be called unique. It's interesting for several reasons, not least because it's a rare four-rung chair, and the first I've seen in an adult size. There are several other reasons to suggest this chair was a one-off special order. The seat is deeper than normal, the deepest seat I've seen on one of Clissett's chairs. And the feet! Instead of the usual vase-shaped turning that Clissett used on his spindlebacks, or the simple tapered plain feet on the ladderbacks, both turned down from the legs, these feet are a full half-inch wider than the legs. Why would this be? The bottom of the legs have shallow holes in a pattern that suggests the chair has been fitted with plate castors, with three screws around the perimeter of each. These have been removed and, I think, a little of each foot sawn off. The castors are a good enough reason for the wide foot, and we can conclude fairly safely that they were an original fitting.
Otherwise, the chair follows pretty much the pattern of most of Clissett's spindleback armchairs in respect of other features such as the arms, arm support turning, and stretcher pattern (which is the less common of the two patterns he used). So, aside from the feet, it's a rare hybrid between the ladderbacks and spindlebacks. And, of course, most importantly, it's stamped with Clissett's initials on the tops of both back legs.
The Clissett ladderback chair, designed by James MacLaren, was an important element of the Arts & Crafts Movement in the late 19th century. It has figured prominently in recent publications about the period. Usually, the accompanying text is short on detail and sources, so I've been keen to create a clearer picture of how Clissett's chairs were seen at the time. Some things are obvious, such as the superb collection of Clissett's chairs at the Art Workers Guild in London - that's one of their chairs on the left. But there's a lot more information if you look for it.
So, at long last, I've more or less completed the work on Clissett and the Arts and Crafts Movement. The aim has been to test some of the statements made in the past about Clissett, and to find and publish evidence of his chairs in use in the early days of their popularity. It's possible to show the famous ladderback being used by well known artists and architects. The real surprise has been the extent of their use by the Garden City architects, and the extent to which the chairs were copied, or at least used as the basis for "new" designs. I wrote some time ago about their possible use by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and that text has been taken down and incorporated (in shortened form) in the new piece.
This new section of Philip Clissett's biography can be found on the biography page as Part 4.
The rate of discovery of new Philip Clissett chairs seems to have slowed, but I came across this one because of a photograph of a William Cole chair in Christopher Gilbert's book English Vernacular Furniture 1750-1900. Enquiries at Leeds led to this unusual armchair also owned by the Gallery.
The chair is unusual chiefly because it is a spindleback with tapered arm supports, and the broad flat arms - these are exactly the type seen on most of Clissett's well-known ladderbacks. They contrast sharply with the bulbous arms support and the deeper light or heavy arms usually seen on the spindlebacks. This cross-over could indicate that this spindleback is later in date, with a customer demanding these elements from the ladderback. Alternatively, it's equally possible that these elements always existed in Clissett's repertoire, but were rarely used. Unfortunately, in the absence of perfect provenance for the spindleback chairs, we cannot date them to any particular phase of Clissett's life.
The use of these elements from the ladderback links this chair with an unstamped hybrid chair discussed in an earlier post. That chair has pretty good provenance, and the existence of this very similar chair with Clissett's stamp makes it even more likely that it is one of his.
The Leeds chair is also unusual in having a crest rail made from sycamore. Clissett often used cherry for the crest rail and the arms; walnut and laburnum have also been recorded.
A photograph of this chair also appears in Christopher Gilbert's Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall.
I am very grateful to Adam Toole of Lotherton Hall for all his help with this chair, and for providing the photograph.
I've just received this wonderful catalogue for an exhibition currently being held at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid; titled (in English) William Morris and company: the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain. A Philip Clissett ladderback chair is item number 219 in the exhibition, and features in two further photographs in the catalogue, a shot of the meeting hall at the Art Workers Guild, and a fabulous, full-page c1903 image of Emery Walker's house in Hammersmith Terrace, London. This exhibition comes hot on the heels of the 2014-15 National Portrait Gallery exhibition Anarchy and Beauty. William Morris and his Legacy 1860-1960, which also featured Clissett's chair several times in its catalogue, as well as on display.
The catalogue for the Madrid exhibition is an extremely well illustrated overview of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and runs to nearly 500 pages. Judging by the website, the exhibition would be well worth a visit if you're in Madrid any time up to 21 January 2018. After that, it will be in Barcelona at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya from 22 February to 21 May 2018.
I've just uploaded a revised version of the section on "Philip Clissett's Workshop and Working Methods". It includes some new discoveries, and a few corrections. As usual, if anyone spots any errors or inconsistencies, or if anything doesn't make sense (particularly to anyone with practical experience of chairmaking), please let us know.
I'm told that Tinsmiths of Ledbury, Herefordshire is staging an exhibition during July 2017 of handmade chairs. Tinsmiths hold annual craft exhibitions, and the subject this year is to celebrate the legacy of Philip Clissett in his bicentennial year. Currently, the chairmakers taking part will be Mike Abbott, Sebastian Cox, Gudrun Leitz, Koji Katsuragi, Neil Taylor and Lawrence Neal. Lawrence, of course, still makes a version of the famous Clissett ladderback chair.
The exhibition will run from 30th June until 30th July. I don't know more about it, but you can get further information by emailing email@example.com, or keep an eye on the Tinsmiths' Facebook page.
This photograph was given to me ages ago by Bill Cotton, to whom I'm eternally grateful for this record of the only known stool by this chairmaker. Yet another example of the country craftsman's willingness to produce whatever his customer's wanted.
It's possible that Clissett made many of these, but this is the only one that's turned up so far. How do we know it's by Clissett? Well, I have Bill's word for it, and the style is exactly right. The turnings on the top and feet of the legs are exactly those used by Clissett on his ladderback side chairs. I'd still like to handle the stool myself though, and I'm sure that there would be other clues not visible in the photograph. Unfortunately, we have no idea of the stool's whereabouts. If you know, or think you have a stool made by Clissett, then please contact us.
I've included the stool on the Special Chairs page of the website.
This year we celebrate Philip Clissett's birth two centuries ago in January 1817. He was born on the 8th, according to family sources and, as we can see from the Birtsmorton parish register entry shown here, baptised on the 26th, a Sunday.
Born shortly after the battle of Waterloo, in the Regency times of George III, he saw no less than six monarchs on the throne, and lived to ride in a motor car and wonder at aeroplanes. He outlived three wives and all his children. His family involvement in chair-making dated to at least the mid-18th century, and he brought their simple methods into the 20th century with little or no modernisation. He had resisted the industrialisation of his craft in a way that was, perhaps, only possible in a quiet rural area like Herefordshire. This resistance to change, the simple fact of his longevity, and his late renaissance under the Arts & Crafts movement are a unique combination. He died in 1913, just before the start of World War I (1914).
Philip's long life, and his work as a chairmaker, are recorded on this website. Please take some time to look over the details and, if nothing else, examine the great range of chairs he made with his own hands and a few simple tools. Celebrate, with us, a simple craftsman with a unique legacy.
This blog is copyright, and the intellectual property of its author.
© T.A. Rowell 2020