Distinguished by boldly executed rococo carving and superb proportions, this exceptional pair of chairs embodies the best of elements from the Chippendale period in Philadelphia. The influence of Thomas Chippendale's published designs are readily apparent in these chairs, which include "Gothic" and "Chinese" design elements that are clearly indebted to his designs, such as Plate XIII of the 1754 Director. While these design elements demonstrate the carver's knowledge of the current English designs of the period, details of the chairs' construction such as the quarter-round glue blocks and through-tenons of the side rails are hallmarks of Philadelphia craftsmanship.
These chairs could have been made in a number of the most accomplished Philadelphia workshops. A pair of chairs with nearly identical splats, crest rails, and central skirt motifs are labeled by Thomas Tufft (see Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (New York, 1952, plate 134). These chairs could well be from Tufft's shop, or perhaps the same carver that Tufft employed was utilized by another cabinet shop. Other similar examples that survive have been attributed to makers such as James Gillingham and Benjamin Randolph (see for example Kindig, The Philadelphia Chair (York, P.A., 1978, plates 51, 55-59). However, the popularity of the design elements of these chairs, particularly the "Gothick" splats, and the lack of well documented examples, excludes a firm attribution to any of these makers. However, the success of both form and ornament place these chairs among the best examples from one of Philadelphia's most skilled shops.
Of the related chairs that survive, that illustrated by William McPherson Horner in his Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture (Washington, D.C., 1935, plate 354) is the most similar. Close examination suggests that these chairs are almost identical, and likely from the same set. Horner indicates that the illustrated chair is "From the Sommers Family" and the chairs offered here may well have a history in that family as well. They may have descended through the family of Hans George Sommers or one of his 8 children, who arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1752.