Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Townsend-Goddard School (Cabinetmakers, 18th and 19th century)
ca. 1765-1800
United States: Rhode Island: Newport
North American
wood; mahogany; mahogany veneer; chestnut; southern yellow pine; yellow-poplar
Overall: 81 7/8 in x 41 in x 20 7/8 in; 207.9625 cm x 104.14 cm x 53.0225 cm
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, sale 4211, January 31, February 1-3, 1979, Lot 1283; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
In chalk across the middle board of the upper section: "John" (?); also in pencil, script letters "A" and "B" inside the bottoms of the small drawers on either side of the lower case
Credit Line
Funds donated by the Rockwell International Corporation
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

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Object Essay

In the second half of the 18th century, the high chest of drawers enjoyed a popularity in America unprecedented in any other country. Newport cabinetmakers and patrons preferred a version emphasizing strong, bold outlines, little surface ornamentation excepting minimal carving, and the visual excitement of high-quality mahogany. This high chest is characteristic of the Newport type, its most prominent feature being the superb figured mahogany used in the drawer fronts and the two applied plaques of the pediment.

The applied plaques, drawer configuration, attachment of the mid-molding to the upper case, and excessive height of the lower case in proportion to the upper case are all typical of this group of related high chests.1For six other closely related examples, see Ward 1988, 265–68, fig. 140, and 270–72, fig. 142; Rodriguez Roque, 26–28, fig. 12; Flanigan, 80–81, fig. 27; Heckscher 1985, 247, fig. 161; and Hipkiss, 56–57, fig. 32. The Collection’s high chest, however, has the less unusual aspect of a closed bonnet and plinths with finials (replaced) at the outer corners of the cornice, both features for which the customer would have paid extra.2The Curator’s office thanks Edward S. Cooke, Jr., Associate Curator, American Decorative Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; William Woodhead, Furniture Restorer, Charlestown, Massachusetts; and William Young, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities Conservation Lab, for their assistance in researching and reproducing the finials. The eleven-lobed, concave shell is carved from the skirt, with an incised surround and incised scrolls at each end similar to the concave shell on the chest of drawers (see Acc. No. 71.86). The uncarved legs are characteristically square in section (see Acc. No. 67.27 and Acc. No. 78.69), but the ball and claw front feet are well defined and elongated, exhibiting marked differences from the last two cited pieces. 

Wendy A. Cooper

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.