s Chipstone | Side chairs

Side chairs

New York, New York
Mahogany with pine
38 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 22 in. (97.79 x 59.69 x 55.88 cm)
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Side chairs, 1760-1775
Mahogany with pine
38 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 22 in. (97.79 x 59.69 x 55.88 cm)
The Chipstone Foundation 1948.4.1-2

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The serpentine crest rail with scroll ears is supported by serpentine stiles with rounded backs. The pierced, overlapping strapwork splat is flat on the face and rounded on the back. The splat, composed of three pairs of opposing C-scrolls with a lozenge in the center, is mounted in a molded shoe. The tops of the seat rails are molded, and the front rail has a gadroon molding applied to the bottom. The square rear legs are chamfered on the inner edges; the front cabriole legs have ogee returns and claw feet. The trapezoidal slip seat is upholstered.

The many English Rococo side chairs having an identical pierced, interlaced splat centered with a lozenge or diamond suggest that perhaps imported chairs or immigrant cabinetmakers from England and Ireland introduced the design in the colonies.[1] Chairs with this splat were made in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and by Eliphalet Chapin in East Windsor, Connecticut, who may have learned the design while training as a cabinetmaker in Philadelphia.

Advertisements for over twenty cabinetmakers and chairmakers were recorded in New York City newspaper between 1740 and 1775, along with makers of Windsor chairs and other specialized forms.[2] This number was probably not sufficient to satisfy all the furniture needs of New York customers for high-quality, stylish furniture. These craftsmen competed with other craftsmen and with furniture importers, as is shown by the 1772 advertisement for the sale of furniture “. . . lately purchased new from the makers and importers” by Richard Vassal who was moving to Jamaica.[3] The relatively large number of New York chairs with lozenge splats show the popularity of the design there, which is perhaps evidence of the conservative tastes of cabinetmakers and their customers. Another feature that points to the chair's origin is the gadrooned molding applied to the bottom of the front seat rail. Gadrooning also appears on English and Philadelphia chairs, but gadrooning was employed much more consistently on chairs and case pieces by New York craftsmen than elsewhere.

A final identifying characteristic of this chair is its claw feet. New York chairmakers often raised the height of the first knuckle of the three toes to the same height, giving the feet a squared appearance when viewed from the top or side. However, the manner in which the lozenge splats, gadrooning, and squared claw feet became common features of New York seating furniture is not yet fully understood. Gadrooning appears on designs in Thomas Chippendale's Director, a pattern book that influenced American cabinetmaking designs; but lozenge splats and squared claw feet do not. An immigrant cabinetmaker may have introduced the lozenge splat in New York and, over time, the claw feet and gadrooning were innovated and copied, resulting in an identifiable local style that well-to-do New Yorkers embraced for a decade or more.

[1] John T. Kirk, American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830 (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 256. [2] New York Historical Society, Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1936 (1938; reprinted as The Arts and Crafts of New York, New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), 109-120. [3] Ibid, 126.

Richard Miller, 2018

This information is subject to change as the result of ongoing research.

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