Probably created en suite with a set of four related chairs, this pair of chairs is an exceptional example of the refined craftsmanship in practice in Federal period Baltimore. The neoclassical oval adapted as a chair back was introduced into England in the 1760s by Robert Adam, and it remained popular there through the 1770s and 1780s. In Federal America, the style was not widely used outside of Baltimore, where the form thrived and was produced in large numbers in local cabinet shops. Documented oval- and heart-shaped chairs were made in Baltimore by 1794 and the history of certain examples suggests that they were available as early as the 1780s (Weidman, p. 105. No. 48).
With their the broad backs with double-beaded edges, three curved bannisters atop a shaded fan inlay, pierced fans and eagle-inlaid decoration, these chairs are exceptional examples of the archetypical Baltimore form. This pair of chairs are presumably part of a larger set now in the permanent collection of the Department of State in Washington, D.C. (Conger, p. 192). The present lot was lent to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms in 1968 and remained in the Monroe Reception Room with the rest of the set until they were returned to their present owner (Guidebook to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, p. 45). Until now, the location of this pair has been unknown (Conger, 192).
The set of chairs is attributed to Baltimore cabinetmaker William Singleton because the initials W.S. are branded into the rear seat rail of one chair in the present lot. Singleton was a prominent member of Baltimore's cabinetmaking community and is the only one known with these initials. After working independently for at least a year, Singleton began a partnership with William McFadon from 1790 until 1795. The two advertised in the Maryland Journal on May 18, 1790, "From the experience one has had in Europe and the different parts of this continent, and the ability of both, they flatter themselves to be able to give general satisfaction" (Conger, 192).
The original set of chairs was recorded in the inventory of the Haxall-Hall-Moncure families of Richmond, Virginia. The family patriarch, Philip Haxall, immigrated to the new American Republic in 1780 and settled in Richmond. Singleton's shop welcomed commissions from out-of-state clients like Haxall, advertising, "Orders from any part of this, or any neighboring States, will be thankfully received and duly attended to" (Conger, 192).