"I dined yesterday with Mr. Cadwallader whose furniture and house exceeds anything I have seen in this city or elsewhere"
Silas Deane, Connecticut member of the Continental Congress, 1774
Commissioned for the grand home of General John Cadwalader at 164 South Second Street in Philadelphia, this exceptional chair is part of two suites of the most ambitious and well documented furniture made at the acme of Philadelphia's best cabinetmaking shops. No American furniture has been subjected to more inquiry and scholarship, and none is generally thought to surpass the level of refinement and grandeur achieved by Cadwalader's furnishings. Virtually every known object from this commission is in a museum collection, and the sale of this chair offers a unique opportunity to acquire part of this remarkable suite.
This chair is one of five known examples that survive from a set that likely numbered 10 chairs when it was made for Cadwalader. The other four are in the collection of Winterthur Museum (see figure 2). A pair of card tables were made en suite with the set, one of which is also at Winterthur, and the other is a promised gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see figure 3). This suite was part of the furnishings commissioned by Cadwalader, an unprecedented order that demanded the collective efforts of the city's top cabinetmakers, carvers, and upholsterer. Extensive documentation of Cadwalader's commission includes bills of sale from cabinetmakers Benjamin Randolph, Thomas Affleck, and William Savery; carvers Hercules Courtenay, James Reynolds, Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez; and the upholsterer Plunkett Fleeson. Rich fabrics covered the seating furniture, and elaborate carved architectural interiors created a lavish and cohesive setting for the furnishings of Cadwalader's home.
The suite that includes this chair was likely intended for the back parlor of the house, where it echoed the more fully furnished front parlor (see Philip Zimmerman, "A Methodological Study in the Identification of Some Important Philadelphia Chippendale Furniture," in Winterthur Portfolio 13 (Winterthur, 1979) pp. 193-208). Fleeson upholstered 32 chairs for Cadwalader, billing him 13 pounds and 13 shillings for "covering over rail finished in canvas 32 chairs." These 32 chairs were likely comprised of a set of saddle-seat chairs intended for the front parlor (seven of which are currently located, see figure 4) and a set for the back parlor, of which the chair offered here is one. It is not clear how large these sets were, or if a third set was also part of the 32 chairs. This chair is probably among those made by Benjamin Randolph, but the bill of sale for this suite is now lost.
There are several links from this chair to the Cadwalader suite. For instance, the construction of the chair compares closely to that of the examples that survive from the front parlor. These details include the unusual gadrooned shoe at the base of the splat, the pinning sequence that fixes the legs to the rails, measurements of the rails, and the choice of secondary woods (Zimmerman, pp. 196-197). Carved hairy paw feet occur rarely in Philadelphia, and most of the examples that include this detail are linked to the Cadwalader commission. Furthermore, this chair (and the card table at Winterthur) was acquired from Joe Kindig, who acquired it from a Cadwalader descendant.
This chair is distinguished from the other four known examples by the fact that it retains its original gadrooned shoe, which was the basis for the replacement shoes for the other four chairs. Furthermore, the Winterthur chairs have had the top surface of the rear rails reduced slightly, which removed the stamped numeral that would have corresponded to the numeral III that appears on the top of the rear rail and the underside of the shoe of this chair. All five chairs are missing the gadrooning from the side rails, and the side knee returns on this example are replaced. This chair also retains an original finish layer, and only one other chair from the set retains traces of this rich, original surface. This fact is confirmed by the detailed analysis undertaken in the exhaustive "Cadwalader Study" undertaken by Mark Anderson, Gregory Landry and Philip Zimmerman at the Winterthur Museum. This original surface layer further links the chair to other objects from the Cadwalader suites (see Anderson, p. 20).
The the popular design of the "Gothic" splat of this chair was likely derived from the 1762 edition of Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director, plate X, and represents the "fullest development of the Gothic-splat pattern in Philadelphia" (Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York, 1985), p. 104). A chair with over-the-rail upholstery and a nearly identical splat is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Heckscher, cat. no. 58), and another chair with a nearly identical splat and over the rail upholstery but ball-and-claw feet rather than hairy-paw feet was sold at Christie's, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eddy Nicholson, June 1995, lot 1085.