Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Object Details

Maker
Attributed to Joseph Delaveau (Cabinetmaker, active Philadelphia 1774 and afterward) and carving to Garvan Carver (American or British, active Philadelphia 1745-1780)
Date
ca. 1760-1780
Geography
United States: Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
Culture
North American
Medium
wood; mahogany; southern yellow pine; eastern white pine; yellow-poplar; Atlantic white cedar
Dimensions
Overall: 97 3/4 in x 45 1/8 in x 22 3/8 in; 248.285 cm x 114.6175 cm x 56.8325 cm
Provenance
The Wilmington, Delaware, dealer David Stockwell to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
"Botum" in chalk in an 18th-century hand on the upper surface of the upper case's bottom board
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. O. Ray Moore
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1978.0009

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Object Essay

Household textiles and clothing were so valuable during the colonial period that Philadelphians generally stored them in the most elaborate and expensive piece of furniture they owned. High chests had been used for this purpose since the city was settled in 1682, but the classic, scroll-pediment high chest with applied carving was developed after 1750.1See McElroy 1970, 51–54, for documentary references to chests of drawers prior to 1730. A Philadelphia high chest in the Chippendale style, dated 1753 and signed by its makers, Henry Cliftfon and Thomas Carteret, is illustrated in Sack 1988, 1125. High chests were rarely made in England after 1740; thus, the popularity of the form among wealthy Philadelphians was a departure from their customary close adherence to current English fashion.2Montgomery “Regional Preferences,” 60. The monumental, architectural quality of the best high chests clearly was (and remains) irresistible to Americans, even when a “Chest on a frame Claw feet & Leaves on the knees & shel drawer in ye Frame . . . Scroul pedement hed” cost £21 in mahogany, a price matched only by a desk and bookcase in the price list of 1772.3Weil, 181. The carving lavished on high chests like this one is ample evidence that they were intended to rival the fully draped bed as the showpiece of the bedchamber. 

This high chest and at least three other high chests and a double chest were made in the same unidentified shop.4The related high chests are at Yale (Ward 1988a, cat. no. 147) and Winterthur (Downs 1952, cat. no. 197); and illustrated in Hornor 1935, pl. 141. The double chest descended in the Richardson family of Wilmington and is privately owned. The chests are identical in overall design and construction, but the most striking similarity lies in their carved ornament, which was executed by the same unidentified craftsman. This carver favored long, sinuous leaves with turned-over ends and used parallel chisel cuts for shading; he also carved a tea table in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.5I am indebted to Luke Beckerdite for sharing his research on this individual, whom he calls the “Garvan carver.” This high chest’s original flame finials and central cartouche—known as the “blazes” and “shield” in contemporary documents—are also characteristic of this craftsman. William MacPherson Hornor described one of the related high chests as the work of the cabinetmaker Joseph Delaveau, about whom nothing else has been published.6Hornor 1935, pl. 141. The Delaveau high chest has a peanut-shaped cabochon carved on its skirt similar to the one on the chest in the Collection.

David L. Barquist

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.