Comprising all of its original twelve chairs, this set of chairs is an extremely rare survival of one of the most extravagant furnishing options available to late eighteenth-century Americans. It is the only American Chippendale set of twelve with cabriole legs known to survive today. Confirming their original manufacture as a set, each chair bears an incised roman numeral, I to XII, on the inner seat frame that corresponds with that on its slip-seat frame. Beyond their en suite descent to the present, the chairs are in remarkable condition. All retain their original slip-seat frames and glueblocks, features most often replaced on chairs of similar age.
Closely following a 1762 design by Thomas Chippendale (see fig. 1) and displaying broad proportions, these chairs exhibit the tendency of New York furniture makers to faithfully emulate English designs and forms. Many chairs with the same splat design survive from eighteenth-century New York City; while most feature straight, sometimes molded, legs, only a few employ cabriole legs with ball-and-claw feet. Other such chairs with the cabriole legs include three from a set made for the Cox family, two of which are in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York and a third in the collection of the Metropolitam Museum of Art, a pair from another set made for the Thompson family of Brooklyn and also in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York (see fig. 2; Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985), p. 72, cat. 30).
The chairs descended in the Clarkson family of New York and were known as the "Matthew Clarkson" chairs. Believed to be a direct ancestor of the chairs' owner in the twentieth century, the famous Revolutionary War General, Matthew Clarkson (1758-1825) was also thought to be the chairs' first owner. However, C. Blackburn Miller, the last family member to own the chairs, was a direct descendant of the General's uncle, also called Matthew Clarkson (1733-1772). Though the chairs could have descended across different branches of the family, the elder Matthew Clarkson stands as the most likely first owner.
He married Elizabeth De Peyster (1737-1775) in 1758 and resided in Flatbush, Long Island. He was active in the running of Trinity Church in New York City and served as a vestryman from 1765 to 1769 as was his son, David Matthew (1759-1815) who held the positions of both vestryman and warden. David Matthew Clarkson was a successful merchant in New York City and, in 1785, established with his brother-in-law the mercantile firm of Van Horne and Clarkson. The chairs appear to have descended along the male lines to his great-granddaughter, Pauline Rives Clarkson Miller (1856-1932) and then to her son, C. Blackburn Miller (b. 1885). For further information on the Clarkson family, see J.R.T. Craine, comp., The Ancestry and Posterity of Matthew Clarkson 1664-1702 (published by the author, 1971).