Displaying exquisitely controlled modelling, London-inspired designs and an old surface, the carved ornament on this side chair demonstrates the hand of John Pollard (1740-1787), an émigré carver of exceptional talent. From the raised cabochons set against leafy clusters in the ears to the pendant bellflowers on the splat and the overlapping acanthus tendrils on the knees, the passages seen in this chair closely echo work on related forms attributed to Pollard. These include the set of chairs made for Charles Thomson, which while displaying a different splat design, feature closely related carved ears and knees. Furthermore, both sets of chairs are over-upholstered and their splats sit behind the shoe and fit directly into the rear rail, a not uncommon practice but one that varies from the more typical method of fitting the splat directly into the shoe. Pollard’s oeuvre includes the Deshler suite of furniture, which was probably made in late 1769. The Deshler chairs’ cabochon ears, pendant bellflowers on the knees, and two-part scrolling clusters on the knee returns are all seen in closely replicated form on the chair offered here, suggesting that it was made around the same time. See Christie’s, New York, 28 September 2011, lot 13; Christie’s, New York, Philadelphia Splendor: The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Max R. Zaitz, 22 January 2016, lots 173, 174; for more on Pollard, see Luke Beckerdite, “Pattern Carving in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” American Furniture 2014, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2014), pp. 114-129; Luke Beckerdite, “Thomas Johnson, Hercules Courtenay, and the Dissemination of London Rococo Design,” American Furniture 2016, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2016).
From his arrival in Philadelphia in 1765 to the establishment of his own business in 1773, Pollard worked in the shop of Benjamin Randolph and after the departure of Hercules Courtenay in the summer of 1769, was the shop’s leading carver. Thus, chairs with carved ornament by Pollard made before 1773 were likely made in Randolph’s shop. The renowned hairy-paw saddle-seat side chairs firmly ascribed to Randolph’s shop and made for John Cadwalader in 1769-1770 also feature splats joined like those on this chair and the Thomson set, adding more evidence to a possible Randolph attribution. For more on Randolph, see Andrew Brunk, “Benjamin Randolph Revisited,” American Furniture 2007, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2007).
Four other chairs from this set are known: A single chair at Winterthur Museum (Joseph Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (New York, 1952), no. 131); a pair of chairs at Colonial Williamsburg, acc. no. 1930-173,1 (Milo M. Naeve, “The American Furniture,” The Magazine Antiques (January 1969), p. 132); a single chair illustrated in Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack, vol. I, p. 175, no. 459.