These extremely rare William and Mary Spanish foot side chairs stand with tall, lean proportions and a prominent narrow groove down the center ridge of each foot. Each of this assembled pair boasts an elaborately carved crest rail that is highly similar to that of another example of the form, as illustrated in Frances Gruber Safford's American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: I. Early Colonial Period, The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles, (New York, 2007) pp. 83-84, no. 30. The present lots and the Metropolitan Museum's chairs share provenance, both sets having once been owned by Katherine Prentis Murphy. Her exquisitely curated collection of early American furniture at her "Candlelight Farm" was formerly highlighted in The Magazine Antiques (June, 1950, No. 6, p. 435) (fig.1).
As opposed to the typical construction in which laminates are applied to the leg to create the toes of the Spanish feet on chairs of this form, the feet here are carved from the same stock as the front legs. This unusual construction is often associated with the Portsmouth, New Hampshire shop of John Gaines III. However, as the recent scholarship of Robert Trent, Erik Gronning, and Alan Andersen demonstrates, this method was not exclusive to the Gaines production and is apparent in the work of other Portsmouth makers.
Within their 2010 article entitled "The Gaines Attributions and Baroque seating in Northeastern New England," Trent, Gronning, and Andersen specifically cite the Metropolitan Museum's side chair with the nearly identical crest rail as possibly carved by Joseph Davis of Portsmouth, the work of whom has been extensively discussed by scholar Brock Jobe: "the crests of these chairs are unusual in having leaves that drop from the volutes of the C-scroll in the center and rise from intersecting scrollwork on either side. The descending leaves bear a strong resemblance to carving attributed to Joseph Davis of Portsmouth." Interestingly, the authors also note that similarities in carving on the feet of the Metropolitan Museum chair and several chairs attributed to John Gaines may indicate that Gaines subcontracted carving to Davis (American Furniture, 2010, p. 159-160).
See related Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, Volume II, (New York, 1926) p. 42, fig. 465; Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury, Vol. I and II (New York, 1976), no. 1923; Richard H. Randall, Jr., American Furniture: in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Boston, 1965), fig. 125; David B. Warren, Bayou Bend: American Furniture, Paintings and Silver from the Bayou Bend Collection (Houston, 1975), p. 9, fig. 11; Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett "Living with Antiques: Ayrshire, the Franktown, Colorado, Residence of Mr. and Mrs. David Ayres", The Magazine Antiques, p. 1350 and illustrated on the cover; Advertised by Peter Eaton in The Magazine Antiques (October, 1986); Brock Jobe, ed., Portsmouth Furniture: Masterworks from the New Hampshire Seacoast (Hanover, 1993), pp. 295-297, no. 77.