Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Attributed to Nicholas Bernard (Carver, d. 1789)
ca. 1760-1780
United States: Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
North American
wood; mahogany; eastern white pine; Atlantic white cedar; yellow-poplar
Overall: 40 1/2 in x 23 1/2 in x 32 in; 102.87 cm x 59.69 cm x 81.28 cm
Miss Ella Parsons of Philadelphia; sold at American Art Association/Anderson Galleries, New York, Sale 4262, May 14-15,1936, Lot 362; the Westport, Massachusetts, dealer William H. Coburn; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
"III" incised on front and rear rails; engraved brass plate "The Personal Property/of/Ella Parson" rear seat rail; loan number "38-1928-38" from the Philadelphia Museum of Art painted on reverse of shoe, when Miss Parsons loaned chairs for exhibition, 1928-1936
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mrs. Elizabeth G. Schneider
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Related Objects

Chippendale Carved Mahogany Chair

Chippendale Carved Mahogany Chair

Bernard, Nicholas
ca. 1760-1765
wood; mahogany; yellow-poplar; Atlantic white cedar

Object Essay

This chair retains the overall configuration of the tassel-back design popular in Philadelphia, but differs in minor details of its carving, which is more elaborate in some areas and less well developed in others than on related chairs.1Conger and Rollins, Treasures of State, cat. no. 23 (Acc. No 71.140). These chairs were exhibited in the Girl Scouts loan exhibition (see Girl Scouts, no. 648), and are illustrated in Antiques 123, no. 5 (May 1983): 879. The ruffled vine ornament at the center of the crest rail, for example, is more contained within the shape of the crest than are the boldly scalloped shells carved on other examples. A third variation on this design incorporates latticework in place of either a shell or vines.2See Flanigan, no. 8. The acanthus leaves that descend along the outer straps of the interlaced splat are richly carved here. They are less rigid than the gadrooning found on other chairs, which converges at the center of the shoe and complements the lobed shell above. The molded stiles here were less costly to execute than the cabled fluting used on more expensive chairs, and their relative plainness contrasts with the elaborately carved banister. Finally, the beaded scrolls that converge at the center of the front seat rail undercut the mass of the wood, whereas the bold shell on other variants enhances the solidity of their stout mahogany rails. 

The same double scrolls appear on the front seat rails of chairs labeled by Thomas Tufft and by James Gillingham, as well as many other unattributed Philadelphia chairs, thus confirming the popularity of this design probably among several different cabinet shops.3See Hummel 1976, 67–68. An early owner of this chair, Ella Parsons, was a descendant of William Parsons, the surveyor general of Philadelphia, who succeeded Benjamin Franklin as head of the Library Company of Philadelphia.4Advertisement, Antiques 132, no. 5 (November 1987): 857. Although it is possible that Miss Parsons had inherited these chairs from their original owners, she was well known as a collector in her own right, and the chairs were exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1928 to 1936. Her collection was gradually dispersed in several auctions in the 1930s.

Thomas S. Michie

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.