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Front seat frame marked I; with its original slip-seat frame marked I; knee returns replaced
38 in. high
Nicholas (1729-1791) and Rhode (Jenckes) Brown, Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1762
Hope (Brown) Ives (1773-1855), daughter
Thence by descent in the family
Sotheby's, New York, 19-21 January 2007, lot 592
Leigh Keno American Antiques, New York, 2007
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "Discoveries in Newport furniture and silver," The Magazine Antiques (July 1955), pp. 45-46, fig. 4.
Helen Comstock, American Furniture: Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century Styles (Exton, Pennsylvania, 1962), no. 396 (on left).
Newport, The Hunter House, circa 1955.

Lot Essay

"the neatest workman in America"t examples of eighteenth-century Rhode --Nicholas Brown, 1766

Masterful in design, execution and provenance, this side chair and the example in the following lot represent the most elaborate set of chairs made by John Goddard (1724-1785) and are icons of Newport craftsmanship. This set of chairs was made for Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), one of the renowned Brown brothers, merchants of Providence, and dating from the early 1760s, illustrates part of one of the most significant series of commissions in colonial America. As penned by Nicholas Brown himself, Goddard was "the neatest workman in America," an accolade most likely bestowed after he had received such masterpieces by Goddard, such as a six-shell desk-and-bookcase, a card table and this set of chairs (letter, Nicholas Brown to Captain Jacob Bogman, 20 June 1766, Brown Family Papers, Brown University, folder 8, as cited by Leigh Keno American Antiques, 2007; Christie's, New York, 3 June 1989; Sotheby's, New York, Property from the Goddard Family, 22 January 2005, lots 809, 827, 828).

With expertly carved shells, refined cabinetwork and sculptural ball-and-claw feet, these chairs indicate the assured and confident workmanship of John Goddard, while their molded stiles, pierced crest shells, double-scrolled splats and shaped stretchers distinguish the set as the most ornate of Goddard's oeuvre. The most successful Newport cabinetmaker of the 1750s and 1760s, Goddard was the city's leading innovator in furniture design at the time the chairs were made. As seen in the marble slab table made by Goddard in 1755, Goddard is credited with introducing a new style and the table's weighty and rounded cabriole legs were the precursors to those on these chairs (fig. 1). The feet are in Goddard's signature style, with rounded and evenly spaced knuckles, "relaxed birdlike claws," and a pronounced bulb at the top of the rear talon. Closely related feet are seen on other examples of Goddard's furniture, such as the tea table made for Jabez Bowen in 1763 (fig. 2). The fastidiousness of construction is seen in the numbering of component parts before assembly in the workshop. Not only are the chairs' seat frames and slip-seat frames numbered, but, with one exception, the same number for each chair is also applied to the crests, splats, shoes and rear medial rails. While this chair is marked I consistently, the chair in the following lot is marked IIII in all locations except the crest, which is marked VII. With original pins and the undisturbed joint, this crest was undoubtedly the first and only attached to the chair, suggesting that the numbering system was not always adhered to and was more of a guide (Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker (New Haven, Connecticut, 2005), p. 75; Philip Zea, "The Serpentine Furniture of Colonial Newport," American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1999), pp. 254, 262-265; Liza and Michael Moses, "Authenticating John Townsend's and John Goddard's Queen Anne and Chippendale tables," The Magazine Antiques (May 1982), p. 1132; Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, New Jersey, 1984), p. 210).

Other chairs attributed to or possibly by John Goddard comprise two distinct models, both of which lack the full range of ornament seen on this set made for Nicholas Brown. Both designs include closely related backs, but with sold shells, plain stiles and single scrolls as well as standardized block-and-turned stretchers. Whereas the first has squared trapezoidal seat with petal-carved knees, the second feature compass seat frames and uncarved knees, the basic version of the chairs offered here (see The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF1 (same chairs are in Christie's, New York, 5 October 2000, lots 95, 96) and RIF949, for illustrations of the first and second models respectively). While most of the added refinements appear to be of Goddard's invention, he may have learned the practice of using "flat" stretchers from his master, Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1765). Similar scalloped lines are seen on stretchers on sets of chairs made for the Eddy and Wanton families, both of which have been attributed to Townsend, Sr. However, Goddard appears to have improved on his teacher's practices and contrast to the Eddy and Wanton sets, the stretchers on this set are beautifully scalloped and rounded and the rear stretcher is similarly embellished. The exquisite profile of the side stretchers demonstrates the beauty of Newport's restrained style and is reminiscent of the shaping recently revealed on the stiles of an armchair probably owned by Abraham Redwood, most likely made slightly earlier than the Nicholas Brown chairs (for the Eddy and Wanton chairs, see The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF214 and RIF1231; Christie's, New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph K. Ott, 20 January 2012, lot 138).

The original set most likely comprised a set of at least eight chairs and besides the two offered here, four others are known, similarly numbered II, V, VI and VIII. All of these are thought to have been made around the time of Nicholas Brown's marriage to Rhode Jenckes in 1762. Upon his death, three sets of mahogany chairs are listed in his inventory, variously upholstered in red damask, yellow damask and leather. It is possible that two chairs had left the household prior to the taking of the inventory; alternatively, the original set may have comprised twelve chairs, which were variously upholstered according to the room they furnished (Estate inventory of Nicholas Brown, 1791, Rhode Island Historical Society). All six chairs descended to Nicholas' daughter, Hope Brown (1773-1855) who in 1792 married Thomas Poynton Ives (1769-1835). The chairs stood in the couple's large brick mansion (fig. 4) on Providence's Power Street and descended in the family, with the pair offered here separated into a different branch of the family from the four previously sold prior to 1955, when those in lots 114 and 115 were exhibited at Newport's Hunter House (fig. 3) and around the same time discussed by Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr. (Sotheby's, New York, Property from the Goddard Family, 22 January 2005, lots 827 and 828; Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "Discoveries in Newport furniture and silver," The Magazine Antiques (July 1955), pp. 45-46, fig. 4.).

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