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appears to retain its original surface; the chair frame numbered IIIIV with its original slip-seat frame also numbered IIIIV
38 in. high
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr. (1909-2009), Scarsdale, New York and Newport, circa 1955
For both the chair offered here and its mate:
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "Discoveries in Newport Furniture and Silver," The Magazine Antiques (July 1955), p. 45, fig. 2.
James Biddle, American Art from American Collections: Decorative Arts, Paintings, and Prints of the Colonial and Federal Periods from Private Collections (New York, 1963), p. 8, nos. 12, 13.
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "Mowbra Hall and a Collection of Period Rooms: Part 2," Connoisseur (August 1972), p. 86, fig. 9, 10.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker (New York, 2005), pp. 99-101, no. 13.
Laura Beach, "The Past Is Present in Newport: A Couple's Lifelong Love of Antiques," Antiques & Fine Art (Summer 2005), pp. 118, 119, 121.
The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at The Yale University Art Gallery, RIF7001 (chair IIIIV, forthcoming) and RIF4038 (chair VV).

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Lot Essay

Surviving with its original surface and expertly crafted by one of colonial America's most celebrated cabinetmakers, this side chair is a powerful expression of the Newport aesthetic during the Chippendale era. In his seminal catalogue on Newport cabinetmaker John Townsend (1733-1809), Morrison H. Heckscher notes that this chair's primary wood, "the heavy purplish mahogany, now turned a tawny brown, has its original surface." He also firmly attributes this chair and its mate, in a private collection, to Townsend as virtually identical designs, workmanship and construction methods are seen on a pair that descended in the cabinetmaker's family (fig. 3). Although the chair offered here and its mate display different splat designs and pad feet, they feature "the same solid, ground-hugging design and crisp, angular handling of densely textured mahogany." Both pairs, as described by Heckscher, feature diaper-incised ornament in the crest rail, rear stiles that are rounded in back above the seat and fully squared below the seat, cabriole front legs that are rounded in front and form a right angle in back, small round pins securing mortise-and-tenon joints, rounded chestnut front glueblocks with chamfered edges, triangular white pine rear glueblocks, maple slip-seat frames and incised numbering on the seat frames front rabbets. Case furniture and tables by Townsend survive in comparatively large numbers, but very few seating forms are attributed to his shop. Representing four sets, only seven side chairs with cabriole legs are ascribed to Townsend in the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at The Yale University Art Gallery. Aside from the two pairs represented by the chair offered here and that illustrated in fig. 3, the other three chairs comprise a single example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a pair advertised in 1996 (Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker (New York, 2005), pp. 96-101, cats. 11-13; the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at The Yale University Art Gallery, RIF nos. 380, 1196, 4005, 4038). The ornamental diaper incising on the crest rail was also used by Townsend on other furniture forms. Related cross-hatched embellishment appears within the C-scroll centers of the shells on some of Townsend's block-and-shell furniture, as well as on the skirts of some of his tables (for labeled examples, see Heckscher, pp. 114-123, 142-149, cats. 19-21, 32-34).

Of the cabriole leg chairs ascribed to Townsend, this example and its mate are the only ones with the more complex scrolled and pierced splat design. This design was loosely based on a pattern published in 1765 by London designer Robert Manwaring (fig. 1), but as argued by John T. Kirk, American versions of the design were probably inspired by imported chairs (John T. Kirk, American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830 (New York, 1982), p. 267). It is also possible that the direct antecedent for Rhode Island manifestations of the design were chairs made in Philadelphia. A chair with this splat design (fig. 2) may be one of four ordered from Philadelphia by Providence merchant John Brown (1736-1803) in 1767. Through his kinsman and primary competitor, John Goddard (1724-1785), who provided furnishings for the Brown family, Townsend may have been aware of this set or similar chairs. Tellingly, the glueblocks on the chair offered here, with two-part quarter-round blocks with vertical grain placed in front and triangular blocks with horizontal grain in back, emulate the configuration favored by Philadelphia chair makers and seen on the chair in fig. 2 (Wendy A. Cooper, "The Purchase of Furniture and Furnishings by John Brown, Providence Merchant," The Magazine Antiques (February 1973), pp. 328, 330, 331-332, fig. 2 and caption under fig. 6).

The chair offered here was originally part of a set of at least ten chairs. Its chair frame and original slip-seat frame are marked IIIIV (or 9) and its mate is similarly marked VV (or 10). Small differences between the two chairs point to variations within the John Townsend shop. On the chair offered here, the punchwork detailing of the splat and incising on the crest were created with tools that were smaller than those used for the same details on the chair marked VV (for a detail of the latter chair, see Heckscher, p. 101). This could indicate that the same craftsman used different tools or, as Heckscher argues, the presence of multiple workers within the John Townsend shop (Heckscher, p. 99). The same splat pattern appears with considerable frequency on Rhode Island chairs with stop-fluted legs, which are thought to date after 1780. Of these, chairs representing three different sets are attributed to Townsend, yet all lack the diaper-incised ornament and are instead decorated with leafy motifs carved in relief (See RIF nos. 4942, 865, 1471, 1100).

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