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42½ in. high
John Walton, Inc., New York, 1972

Condition Report

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Lot Essay

Displaying details relating to the work of cabinetmakers Henry Cliffton (d. 1771) and Thomas Carteret and carvers Samuel Harding (d. 1758) and Nicholas Bernard (d. 1789), this side chair illustrates the refined craftsmanship available in Philadelphia during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. The execution of the shells and trifid feet is similar to those seen on a marble-top table (fig. 1), which is attributed to the Cliffton/Carteret shop as the shaping of its side rails is identical to that seen on the signed high chest now at Colonial Williamsburg. On both this side chair and the table, the shells are rendered with severely tapering stems and lack the triangular shaped ears at the base while the trifid feet are distinguished by their raised central panels with squared tops flanked by two scooped recesses that extend above the central panels. Similar details are seen on a dressing table formerly in the Robb Collection that while not published as attributed to the Cliffton/Cateret shop also bears the same side rail shaping seen on the signed high chest. Also, the dressing table and the chair offered here feature similar deeply carved volute scrolls with spirals that complete two full rotations, a more elaborate than usual rendition of this detail. Though possibly referring to the drawer embellishment, Luke Beckerdite has noted that carving on the Robb dressing table closely relates to the work of Samuel Harding and the architectural carving of the Philadelphia State House (now Independence Hall), which is documented to Harding, includes a frieze appliqué in the first floor chamber with similarly rendered scrolls. Furthermore, the same carved details are seen on another dressing table, which sold at Skinner, Inc. in 2005, also attributed to the Cliffton/Carteret shop but with carving attributed to Nicholas Bernard, who is believed to have trained under Harding or worked closely "in his shadow." Thus, if not carved by Harding or Bernard themselves, the ornament on this chair was rendered by a craftsman highly familiar with their work; and, while no known chairs are signed by or documented to the Cliffton/Carteret shop, the above examples as well as several other high chests and dressing tables, including the signed high chest example at Colonial Williamsburg, which has carving attributed to Bernard, demonstrate a close working relationship between this shop and these carvers, raising the possibility that this chair was also a product of such a collaboration (for the table in fig. 1, see also R. Curt Chinnici, "Pennsylvania Clouded Limestone: Its Quarrying, Processing, and Use in the Stone Cutting, Furniture, and Architectural Trades," American Furniture 2002, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2002), p. 110, fig. 30; for the signed high chest, see Eleanore P. Gadsden, "When Good Cabinetmakers Made Bad Furniture: The Career and Work of David Evans," American Furniture 2001, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2001), p. 66, fig. 1; for the Robb dressing table, see Luke Beckerdite, "An Identity Crisis: Philadelphia and Baltimore Furniture Styles of the Mid Eighteenth Century," Shaping a National Culture: The Philadelphia Experience, 1750-1800, Catherine E. Hutchines, ed. (Winterthur, Delaware, 1994), p. 259, fig. 16 and Edith Gaines, "The Robb Collection of American Furniture, Part II," The Magazine Antiques (April 1968), p. 486, fig. 5; for the Pennsylvania State House frieze appliqué, see Beckerdite 1994, p. 264, fig. 22; for the dressing table with carving attributed to Bernard, see Skinner, Inc., 5 June 2005, lot 81; for more on Bernard and the Cliffton/Carteret shop, see lot 123 in this sale and Christie's, New York, 25 September 2008, lot 31).

Other related furniture suggests that the shop that produced this chair was operating from the 1730s and was the source of some of the most important commissions in mid-eighteenth century Philadelphia. The shells on the chair have particularly pronounced tapers, as do the shells on a pair of compass-seat side chairs dated by Alan Miller to circa 1735 (Sotheby's, New York, 13 October 2000, lot 253; Miller's comments recorded in the Maine Antique Digest Prices database). This side chair also relates closely to a renowned set of eight armchairs, most recently proposed as being made for the Loganian Library in about 1755, one of which is shown in fig. 2. In addition to displaying similar shells and volute scrolls (though different trifid feet), the armchairs are noted to bear original wrought-iron braces reinforcing the backs of the joints of the stiles and crest and applied seat rail rims with rough kerf marks on the interior surfaces, features also present on this side chair, strongly suggesting that all were made in the same shop (see Sotheby's, New York, 7 October 2006, lot 318).

At least six other chairs exhibiting the same outward design are known and with the slip-seat on the chair offered here numbered XII (as well as IV), it is possible that all seven were part of an original set of twelve. However, the chair offered here is numbered IV on the chair frame, the same number found on the chair frame of an example that sold in 2010, raising the possibility that these survivals represent more than one set. The other chairs comprise: an example at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (Christopher P. Monkhouse and Thomas S. Michie, American Furniture in Pendleton House (Providence, 1986), no. 106; an example at Chipstone (Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack, vol. 6, p. 1531, P4604, illustrated along with five from another set); and four in private collections or whereabouts unknown (Sotheby's, New York, 22 January 2010, lot 450; Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack, vol. 7, p. 1716, P4878; Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., 22-23 January 1954, lot 369; Seven Gables advertisement, The Magazine Antiques (February 1976), p. 285).

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