A superb example of late eighteenth century craftsmanship, this chest is a testament to the fluidity of Chippendale and Federal styles as well as to the open communication between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Although the chest is Chippendale in form and proportion, its inlaid decoration throughout relates it to Federal furniture. The pendant fan, a favored carved element in the Chippendale tradition, appears in this chest as an inlaid ornament. The top, typically molded in Chippendale case furniture, is in this example decorated with a rare fine-line box inlay. While a strikingly similar chest exhibited in the John Brown House Loan Exhibition employs carved quarter column stiles, this chest adheres to the Federal method of ornament by using inlay to simulate columns (Ott, The John Brown Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture (Providence, 1965), pp. 78-79, fig. 53). The only carved decorative features are the ball-and-claw feet, which are rarely found in a piece with such liberal use of inlay. During the last years of the eighteenth century, carved feet would have been available, but perhaps would have been a more conservative and certainly a more expensive option to Federal bracket feet.
Not only does the chest straddle two time periods, but also two geographical regions: Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The juxtaposition of regional styles is unsurprising given increased transportation and communication within the Northeast center. While the shape of the top is very similar to a Massachusetts Chippendale chest (see Sotheby's New York, June 19, 1998, lot 2103), and while the fan pendant is also characteristic of Boston work, the icicle and simulated stop-fluting inlay signal the chest's Newport origin.