An exceedingly rare survival of an early eighteenth-century American easy chair, this well-preserved example illustrates the development of the Boston William and Mary form with progressive designs that foreshadow the more streamlined aesthetic of the Queen Anne era. It is one of only twelve known with sawn cabriole legs (fig. 1), a design that was introduced in the mid-1720s and that coexisted but eventually replaced the block-and-turned leg of earlier William and Mary easy chairs, of which approximately twelve to fourteen examples survive.(1) Other stylistic elements that demonstrate the evolution of the form include the arched front seat rail, a tripartite ball-and-ring medial stretcher placed closer to the front, and baluster-turned side stretchers. These details were to supplant the scalloped front seat rail, a baluster-turned medial stretcher centered between the side stretchers and opposing columnar side stretchers. The designs seen on this easy chair were most likely employed by Boston chairmakers from about 1725 through the mid-1730s. Around that time, the form evolved into the full-blown Queen Anne style with vertical single-scroll arm supports and cabriole legs with pad feet replacing the double-scroll arm supports and Spanish feet seen on this chair.(2)
The development in designs seen in this easy chair has parallels in other Boston seating forms from the same era. Backstools or low chairs were occasionally made en suite with easy chairs and were also made with sawn cabriole legs, tripartite medial stretchers and baluster-turned side stretchers (for an example at Winterthur Museum, see Forman, p. 362, cat. 86). Sawn cabriole legs also appear on a few caned side chairs and, dating to 1720 or earlier, provide an immediate antecedent in the Boston area for the legs on the group of easy chairs represented by the example offered here.(3)
With all of its major components intact, this chair survives in remarkable condition. Like the vast majority of Boston William and Mary easy chairs, both those with block-and-turned legs and those with sawn cabriole legs, the crest of this chair has suffered a break due to a fall and its uppermost section has been patched; here and in many other cases, the patched piece has a serpentine profile. Originally, the center of the crest would have been a high scroll, with a half-round block applied in the rear to create a back-scrolling effect. Of those in the larger group that bear a scrolled, as opposed to arched, crest, only one is known to have its original crest in its entirety. This survival, a block-and-turned leg example now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrates the appropriate profile of the design and provides an accurate model for restoration (fig. 2).
Christie's would like to thank Robert F. Trent for his assistance with the preparation of this essay.
1. For the other eleven known examples of sawn cabriole leg William and Mary easy chairs, see Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630-1730 (New York, 1988), pp. 359, 367-370, fig. 189, cats. 90-92 (one illustrated here as fig. 1); Frances Gruber Safford, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I: Early Colonial Period The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles (New York, 2007), pp. 108-110, cat. 40; Dean A. Fales, The Furniture of Historic Deerfield (New York, 1976), p. 40, no. 69; Wendy A. Cooper, In Praise of America: American Decorative Arts, 1650-1830 (New York, 1980), p. 64, no. 81; Peter Easton, advertisement, The Magazine Antiques (July 1986), p. 36; Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack, Inc., vol. 1, p. 65, no. 207; H&R Sandor, Inc., advertisement, The Magazine Antiques (March 1970), p. 305; Blackwood March Fine Art and Antique Auctioneers, Essex, Massachusetts, October 15, 2008. For the block-and-turned leg group, see Christie's New York, October 8, 1998, lot 38.
2. Forman, pp. 369-370.
3. Glenn Adamson, "The Politics of the Caned Chair," American Furniture 2002, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Chipstone Foundation, 2002), pp. 194-195, 197, figs. 25, 27, 30.