Near Pair of Chippendale Mahogany Serpentine-Front Chest of Drawers
Chests of drawers with canted corners, conforming ogee bracket feet, and serpentine fronts were a popular form in England. Both Chippendale and Ince and Mayhew published designs for what the latter called a “Comode Chest of Drawers.”Chippendale, pl. cxxx; Ince and Mayhew, pl. 43.1 Despite the availability of English models, this form was not copied frequently in America, although it was made in Massachusetts and New York as well as in Philadelphia (see Acc. No. 74.134).Another Massachuserts example of this form is illustrated in Ward 1988, no. 82: a New York chest of this type is at Winterthur (Hummel 1976, no. 17).2 Identified by their ample size and secondary woods, Philadelphia examples traditionally have been attributed to the cabinetmaker Jonathan Gostelowe (1744–1795) on the basis of two labeled chests of this type, as well as one he made for his second wife.3The labeled chests are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Comstock 1962, no. 294) and Cliveden (Hornor 1935, pl. 107): Gostelowe’s own chest is at the Yale University Art Gallery (Ward 1988, no. 66). In a recent article, however, Deborah Federhen has demonstrated that Gostelowe’s documented chests exhibit distinct construction methods that form a reliable basis for attributing undocumented examples.4Federhen, 1174–83. The construction features of the chest in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms are strikingly different from those used by Gostelowe, and Federhen grouped this chest with two others she ascribed to Gostelowe’s apprentice, Thomas Jones.5Ibid., 1178–80.
In the absence of a documented example of this form by Jones, an attribution can only be made very tentatively. Canted corners with ogee bracket feet were apparently part of the vocabulary of Philadelphia cabinetmakers from at least the 1750s, Hornor illustrated a chest-on-chest with canted corners and conforming ogee bracket feet that was owned by the cabinetmaker Joseph Armitt, who died in 1747.6Hornor 1935, 115–16, pl. 37. A small, straight-front chest of drawers with similar corners and feet may date about 1750.7Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, Sale 5001. January 27–29, 1983, Lot 313. The combination of this type of corner and foot with a serpentine front, however, may not have occurred in Philadelphia until the 1770s. Gostelowe’s documented chests of this type probably date as early as 1772 and as late as 1789.8The pair of chests made for Benjamin Chew may have been among the accounts Chew settled with Gostelowe on February 12, 1772 (Shepherd, 9); Gostelowe’s chest was made in 1789 at the time of his second marriage (Ward 1988, no. 66). The bail brasses originally used on the chest in the Department of State suggest a date within this range.
David L. Barquist
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.