Object Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eighteenth-Century American Arts No. 78
Overall: 108.6 x 51.4 x 40.6 cm (42 3/4 x 20 1/4 x 16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Walnut, white pine
Regional Styles in Middle Colonies Gallery (Gallery 134)
Unlike the rectilinear lines of the early Baroque style, the late Baroque embraced curves. This undulating Philadelphia side chair is sculptural in form with a sweeping arched crest rail and a bulbous rounded seat. Some scholars have argued that these curves came into fashion precisely because they were more expensive to make. Craftsmen on both sides of the Atlantic had learned how to mass-produce the straight, turned elements of the early style. Larger quantities made such chairs less expensive and therefore available to more people. In their effort to offer novel and more exclusive designs, craftsmen serving the wealthy began to create curved furniture that had to be carved by hand, thus slowing down production and greatly increasing costs.
The most boldly shaped American late Baroque chairs, such as this example, were made in Philadelphia. The city was becoming increasingly important-in both wealth and political power-just as this curved style was gaining popularity in the American colonies. Philadelphia’s new prominence further attracted immigrant British craftsmen who brought the latest styles.
This chair’s striking profile is enhanced by carving that emphasizes the piece’s curves. Leafy tendrils flowing out of a carved shell stream down each leg, while a large, looser shell spreads over the crest rail between two dynamic volutes. A highly unusual flamelike motif creeps up the center toe of the trifid feet. Few chairs of this style surpass the opulence of this example, either in form or decoration.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Mrs. Charles O. Richardson, Weston, Massachusetts, to Maxim Karolik, 1929. Gift of Maxim Karolik, 1929.
The M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts