Chippendale Carved Walnut Dressing Table
For many years, those interested in the study of American furniture have been trying to distinguish the characteristics of pieces made in colonial Maryland from those made in neighboring Pennsylvania. The problem has been compounded by several factors, such as the importation of Pennsylvania furniture during the period, the Philadelphia training of Baltimore’s two principal pre-Revolutionary cabinetmakers, and the frequent intermarriage of Maryland and Pennsylvania families. Since the early 20th century, antiques dealers have commonly purchased pieces from Maryland families and sold them as manufactured in Philadelphia, ignoring or even obscuring the provenance. Analyzing furniture with definite local histories of ownership, modern scholars have identified supposedly Maryland characteristics.1See Elder, passim. This high chest was reattributed from Philadelphia to Maryland several years ago because the high broken-scroll pediment, chamfered corners ending in a point or lamb’s tongue, broad carving, drawers of equal width across the bottom, and pendant shells were believed to point to a Maryland origin.
Current scholarship, however, is reevaluating these criteria, and it is now thought that this high chest was made in Philadelphia because all the “Maryland” characteristics mentioned can also be found, if less frequently, on Philadelphia objects.2For example, see Beckerdite 1986, 12:21–65. More important, certain similarities—specific construction techniques, materials, design, and carving—relate this chest to furniture associated with the noted Philadelphia cabinetmaker, John Elliott. In particular, the high chest in the Corbit-Sharp House in Odessa, Delaware, is virtually another version of the Collection’s high chest, sharing the design and wood types.3For related pieces, see Hornor 1935, pls. 65, 66, and 68; and Warren 1975, pl. 120; the Sill high chest in the Baltimore Museum of Art; and a dressing table in the St. Louis Art Museum. I am greatly indebted to Alan Miller for this information. Miller undertook the conservation of the chest in 1989, basing its new plinths and finials on the Corbit-Sharp high chest.
Gregory R. Weidman
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.