The height of urban sophistication, this side chair is a Boston-made rendition of the au courant fashions of mid-eighteenth century Britain. Based on plate 12 of the 1754 edition of Thomas Chippendale’s Director, the elaborately carved splat, along with the stop-fluted stiles, over-upholstered seat, asymmetric C-scroll knee carving and hairy-paw carved feet are a testament to the talents of a highly skilled chair maker and an accomplished carver. This design is a close copy of British examples, two of which are known to have been owned in Boston during the era. These comprise a side chair at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that was reputedly brought to Boston by William Phillips in the 1750s and an armchair at Winterthur Museum that was owned by the Beck family of Brookline in about 1900 (Paul Revere’s Boston: 1735-1818 (Boston, 1975), p. 50; Nancy E. Richards and Nancy Goyne Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (Winterthur, 1997), p. 106, fig. 2; for other English examples, see Luke Beckerdite, “Carving Practices in Eighteenth-Century Boston,” Old-Time New England: Essays in Memory of Benno M. Forman, vol. 72 (Boston, 1987), fig. 7, p. 129 and fn. 3, p. 160). Furthermore, the chair offered here and others from the same shop have oak rear rails veneered in the back with mahogany, a technique favored in Britain and an unusual feature in American-made chairs indicative of this prolific Boston shop. Differences in secondary woods and execution of carving between these British examples and this chair, however, confirm their disparate origins and production by different individuals. The British chairs all have beech secondary woods whereas this chair and others made in the same shop employ American woods, such as oak and maple. Thus, the maker of the chair very possibly trained in Britain and after establishing a shop in Boston, continued to work with familiar designs and construction methods. For more on the carved ornament, see Mary Ellen Hayward Yehia, “Ornamental Carving on Boston Furniture of the Chippendale Style,” Boston Furniture of the Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville, 1974), pp. 201-204; Beckerdite 1987, pp. 123-135.
Recent research by Kemble Widmer indicates that this chair maker was Scottish immigrant, James Graham (1728-1808), who had arrived in Boston by 1754. The “loop and diamond” splat seen on this chair was the most intricate of Graham’s designs and appears on four distinct sets all attributed to Graham’s shop. These sets comprise those made for Moses Gill (1734-1800), Jonathan Belcher (1681/2-1757) and Elias Haskett Derby (1739-1799) and a fourth with unknown early history comprising this chair and one other known survival (Israel Sack, Inc., P6991). With an over-upholstered seat and hairy-paw feet, the set represented by the chair offered here illustrates the most elaborate of this chair maker’s oeuvre. Widmer’s study on Graham is the subject of a forthcoming article in Boston Furniture, 1700-1900 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts), due to be published in 2016.