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  • Artist/Maker
  • Date Madec. 1980-1800
  • Place MadeUSA: New England, probably Massachusetts
  • MaterialsWood; Mahogany; soft maple, black walnut, mahogany
  • Measurements36 x 22 x 19 5/8 in.
  • Gift of Mrs. Lawrence Mills
  • RoomThe Walter Thurston Gentlemen's Lounge
  • Accession #1973.0111.1-6

Side Chair

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a new chair-back design with hints of neoclassical ornamentation became popular in several regions of the United States.  Based upon the backs of English chairs (one of which was owned in Newbury, Massachusetts, by the first decade of the nineteenth century), this back consisted of two or three horizontal, serpentine slats pierced at the center with a crowned honeysuckle, or anthemion, the most popular floral motif of the recently revived classical vocabulary.[1] Nevertheless, the chairs as a whole still remain close in spirit to Chippendale-style chairs of the mid-eighteenth century in the shape of their crest rails, straight molded legs, and molded stiles capped by carved acanthus leaves.

The Journeyman Cabinet and Chair-Makers Philadelphia Book of Prices for 1795 lists a "splatt back Chair, honey suckle pattern made for stuffing over the seat rail."[2]  This chair, one of a set of six in the Department of State collection, has unusual, fully pierced honeysuckle flowers, like English examples, and yet the consistent use of soft maple for the front seat rails supports an American attribution. On other American chairs, the honeysuckle motif at the center of the slats was generally left solid; many have simplified piercings, and some are uncarved .[3]

The attribution of this set to Essex County, Massachusetts, probably follows from the Newbury chairs, long believed to have been made locally, owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. A second chair at Winterthur branded by William Porter may also have been made or owned in Massachusetts, where this design seems to have been particularly popular. [4]

Thomas S. Michie

Notes
1. The English chairs owned in Newbury are discussed in Jobe and Kaye, cat. no. 130.

2. Quoted in Montgomery 1966, cat. no. 11.

3. Compare, for example, another chair in the Department of State collection (74.89, a gift of the family of Mrs. Janet Barker Hope).  For simplified versions, see Randall 1965, cat. nos. 156–57.

4. Montgomery 1966, cat. no. 12.


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