Joined great chair
Object Place: probably Ipswich-Rowley area, Essex County, Massachusetts
Overall: 103.5 x 57.8 x 42.2 cm (40 3/4 x 22 3/4 x 16 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Brown-Pearl Hall (Gallery LG35)
A wainscot chair, with the upper panel of the two-paneled back carved with a bold guilloche containing three rosettes. The guilloche bands are sharply incised with pairs of parallel lines, and the twelve petals of each flower are similarly cut with a simple leaf design. The borders of the guilloche are filled with broadly cut foliage. On the stiles are carved S-scrolls against a punch-roughened ground, and the rail extends beyond the stiles and is carved with a double arcade incised with crosshatching. The front posts are square in section, tapering upwards both above and below the seat; while the back posts, of rectangular section, taper in the front plane on both directions from the seat. The arms are shaped with a slight belly, and droop forward to a half-moon finial. The seat is of two oak planks notched at the sides, and the stretchers are rectangular.
The chair was restored in 1937 on the basis of the chair in the Danvers (Mass.) Historical Society. The plank seat is a replacement, the rear legs are spliced, the lower square section of the front legs replaced, and the side and front stretchers renewed. There have been some repairs to the crest rail, especially at the proper right corner, and there are traces of black paint throughout.
Like the leather great chair (1977.711), this armchair was a symbol of hierarchy and authority in a seventeenth-century home. Framed with mortise-and-tenon joints like a chest of the period (see 29.1015), it is decorated with crisp, low-relief carving, including a back panel with a bold guilloche band, formed of interlaced circles with rosettes at their openings. The front legs and arms are not turned, but are square in section, sawn to shape and then refined with tools such as a drawknife, plane, or carver’s gouge.
The chair is one of at least six related examples now known; two others were also recovered in Essex County. All derive their form and ornament from East Anglian furniture of the period. Like many seventeenth-century objects, it has suffered losses and alterations over time. After the Museum purchased the chair in 1937, it undertook a restoration treatment designed to return it to an approximation of its original appearance, using a closely related chair at the Danvers (Massachusetts) Historical Society as a prototype. A later seat was replaced with the current oak planks, and repairs were made to the lower parts of the legs and the stretchers.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
The chair was first known in the Henry F. Waters (1833-1913) collection in Salem, as early as ca. 1883, and a photograph which Waters gave to Irving Lyon in 1883 bears the inscription "oak chair picked up in Essex Co[unty]." It descended to his grand-nephew, Mr. William Crowninsheild Waters, Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts; later purchased by the Museum in April 1937 from either Francis M. Nichols, The Antique Galleries, 22 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts, or from Hyman Kaufman, for $500 (Accession Date April 1, 1937)
Samuel Putnam Avery Fund