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Please note lots marked with a square will be move… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE WUNSCH COLLECTION


Appears to retain their original surfaces; one chair frame numbered IIIIV with its original slip-seat frame also numbered IIIIV; the other chair frame numbered VV with its original slip-seat frame also numbered VV
38 in. high (each)
Teina Baumstone, New York
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr. (1909–2009), Scarsdale, New York and Newport, circa 1955
Roberta Carpenter (1938–2019), Newport, widow
Christie's, New York, 22 September 2014, lot 33 (chair IIIIV only)
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.
Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 (New Haven, Connecticut, 2016), p. 376, fn.6.
Glenn Adamson, "Collector Profile: Make Americana Great Again, The Wunsch Family Has a Plan," The Magazine Antiques (November/December 2016), p. 46.
The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at The Yale University Art Gallery, RIF7001 (chair IIIIV) and RIF4038 (chair VV).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, 6 May-25 September 2005.
Special notice

Please note lots marked with a square will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) on the last day of the sale. Lots are not available for collection at Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services until after the third business day following the sale. All lots will be stored free of charge for 30 days from the auction date at Christie’s Rockefeller Center or Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Operation hours for collection from either location are from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, Monday-Friday. After 30 days from the auction date property may be moved at Christie’s discretion. Please contact Post-Sale Services to confirm the location of your property prior to collection. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information.

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Sallie Glover
Sallie Glover Associate Specialist, Americana

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Lot Essay

Surviving with original surfaces and expertly crafted by one of colonial America's most celebrated cabinetmakers, this pair of side chairs 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 the chairs' primary wood, "the heavy purplish mahogany, now turned a tawny brown, has its original surface." He also firmly attributes the chairs to Townsend as virtually identical designs, workmanship and construction methods are seen on a set that descended in the cabinetmaker's family (see the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery (RIFA), RIF380, RIF1196, RIF6104). Although the pair offered here have different splat designs and pad feet rather than ball-and-claw feet, they display "the same solid, ground-hugging design and crisp, angular handling of densely textured mahogany." The pair offered here and the Townsend-family set, 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. Aside from the pair offered here and the Townsend-family set, only one other chair with cabriole legs is ascribed to Townsend in the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at The Yale University Art Gallery (RIF4005). 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 pair is the only 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, 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 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 chairs 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 Philadelphia chair ordered by Brown (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 chairs offered here were originally part of a set of at least ten chairs as the chair frames and original slip-seat frames are marked IIIIV (or 9) and VV (or 10). Small differences between the two chairs point to variations within the John Townsend shop. On the chair IIIIV, 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. 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 RIFA, RIF4942, RIF865, RIF1471 and RIF1100).

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