Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Object Details

Maker
Attributed to Nicholas Bernard (Carver, d. 1789)
Date
ca. 1760-1765
Geography
United States: Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
Culture
North American
Medium
wood; mahogany; yellow-poplar; Atlantic white cedar
Dimensions
Overall: 4 1/4 in x 24 in x 23 1/2 in; 10.795 cm x 60.96 cm x 59.69 cm
Provenance
Louis Richmond of Freehold, New Jersey; to Mrs. J. Armory Haskell of Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1940; to Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, sale 570, May 17-19, 1944, Lot 743; to Israel Sack, Inc., New York; to Cornelius C. Moore of Newport; to Parke-Bernet Galleries, sale 3259, October 30, 1971; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
"IIII" chiseled into the top of the front seat rail and "IX" (or "XI") and "45" in white chalk on the inner surface. A more recent label affixed to the rear seat rail is inscribed "Brought from L. Richmond Aug. 1940. It came from round Freehold, N.J"
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. George M. Kaufman
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1971.0140

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Object Essay

This chair belongs to one of at least three different sets of chairs with similarly scrolled strapwork backs and carved pendant tassels that were evidently popular among wealthy Philadelphians prior to the American Revolution. The three sets can be differentiated by the varied heights of their banisters and the number of lobes on their carved and applied shells. This chair belongs to the tallest set, of which others are in the Kaufman, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Henry Ford Museum collections.1Published in Montgomery and Kane, 155; Fairbanks and Bates, 148. Also see Flanigan, no. 7; Hipkiss, no. 86; and Comstock 1962, no. 263. Chairs from the two related sets are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; see Heckscher 1985, no. 50; Downs 1952, no. 125; and Hipkiss no. 85.

The design derives from plate 14 of Thomas Chippendale’s Director, the 1762 edition, and yet, compared to contemporary English chairs, the Philadelphia interpretation of Chippendale’s design is relatively restrained. For example, the stop-fluted stiles with deeply scrolled ears, the matching symmetrical shells, and the depth of the seat rails all recall earlier Georgian chairs rather than the lightness and asymmetry of the rococo style popularized by Chippendale. A close variant of this design replaces the shell at the center of the crest rail with low-relief diaper-work; more unusual variants have carved embellishments above the knees, gadrooning, and applied leaf carving across the front seat rails.2See, e.g., Flanigan, no. 8; Rodriguez Roque, no. 61; and Hummel 1976, 71, fig. 64.

An armchair of the same pattern and with similar carving that descended in the family of the Philadelphia cabinetmaker, Jonathan Shoemaker (1726–1793), traditionally has been attributed to him.3Philadelphia: Three Centuries, no. 66. According to Luke Beckerdite and Alan Miller, the carving on the Collection’s chair was probably executed by the same shop that produced a Philadelphia high chest (see Acc. No. 78.9) and tea table (see Acc. No. 82.71) in the Collection, as well as a high chest, matching dressing table, and the base of a high chest in the Garvan Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery.4Ward 1988, nos. 116, 147, 148. Beckerdite and Miller’s observations are unpublished. There are more members of this related group in other collections. Although the carver and his shop assistants have yet to be identified, their work can be distinguished by the quick turn or the tips of the leaves and by the deeply incised chisel strokes near their ends.

Thomas S. Michie

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.