Chippendale Figured Mahogany High Chest of Drawers
Chippendale Carved Mahogany Dressing Table
Chippendale Carved Mahogany Serpentine-Front Card Table
Chippendale Figured Mahogany Block-Front Chest of Drawers
Chippendale Figured Mahogany Block-and-Shell Chest of Drawers
The superior skill of Newport craftsmen, the use of mahogany of extraordinary quality, and the originality of design and attention to detail are epitomized in this brilliantly executed chest of drawers. With original brasses (excepting the ones on the lower drawer) punctuating the facade and providing a shimmering counterpoint to the lively figured wood, this chest can be attributed to the shop of one of Newport’s most prominent and prolific cabinetmakers, John Townsend.
Of the eight known block and shell pieces of case furniture signed or labeled and dated by Townsend, four are four-drawer chests that bear close comparison with this example.Heckscher 1985, 216, no. 139.1 The earliest one is dated 1765, while two are dated 1791 and 1792, respectively; a fourth, whose location is now unknown, is dated 1783. All of the chests, including the Collection’s, have identical cornices utilizing an applied molding directly under the top that has a distinctive cavetto beneath the cove, different from that found on documented pieces by other Newport makers.Heckscher 1982, 1148, figs. 11–12.2 The convex applied shells all have twelve lobes, with eleven lobes on the concave shells. The concave shells on the two latest chests have an incised, undulating line surrounding, which terminates at each end with an incised scroll, as on the chest in the Collection.
Morrison H. Heckscher has observed that Townsend’s style and technique continued almost unchanged throughout his thirty-year career, but he does note a slight change in the detailing of the shells on some post-Revolutionary examples, along with the use of simpler bail brasses. The central portions of the shells on the chests dated 1791 and 1792 have crosshatching within a C-scroll surmounted by fluted petals, as opposed to the stop-fluted petals on the earlier documented examples. Although the shells of the Department of State’s chest relate to the 1790s examples, the use of shaped rococo brasses suggests either an earlier date or a specific client’s preference for an earlier style of hardware.
Since the feet and supporting blocks on this chest are replacements, it is not possible to compare that aspect of construction with Townsend’s standard method. The manner in which the mahogany top is secured to the sub-top of two broad battens dovetailed to the case sides is, however, typically Townsend’s technique and, specifically, that which Heckscher associates with this earlier work.Ibid., 1148–49.3
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.