Attributed to Jonathan Gostelowe (American, 1744-1795)
United States: Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
wood; mahogany; yellow-poplar; sweetgum; Atlantic white cedar; southern yellow pine
Overall: 36 in x 42 in x 24 in; 91.44 cm x 106.68 cm x 60.96 cm
Published as first owned by Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1830) of Philadelphia because it had descended in the family of her nephew and sole heir, John Hare Powel (1786-1856), this chest has a brand and inscriptions indicating that it was made for Elizabeth's sister and brother-in-law, Margaret (1753-1816) and Robert Hare (1752-1812), who were married in 1775. The chest descended to their daughter, Martha (1779-1852), who died unmarried; to Martha's nephew, Samuel Powell; in 1886, to his son and daughter-in-law, H.W. Hare Powell and Lydia Bond Powel of Stonington, Connecticut; C.G. Sloan and Company of Washington, D.C.; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase 1.Biddle 1963, no. 50.
"R HARE" branded on the backboard. A series of long inscriptions in the drawers charts the history of this chest in the late 19th and 20th centuries  A pencil inscription on the inside bottom of the upper left drawer reads: "This bureau/given to H.W.H. Powel by Saml Powel/ Bourny St Newport RI/ in meps [?] car/ 1902." A second inscription in the same drawer reads "H W HARE POWEL/ CHESTNUT HILL PHILA PA / 1886/ 7/ Gift of my late Father/ Miss Martha Hare's originally/ used by cousin Nick/ sent to me by my Mother/ after my mamaly [majority?] in 1886. Chestnut Hill." A pencil inscription on the inside bottom of the upper right drawer reads: "This bureau & glass with 3 drawer stand/ belongs to/ HW Hare Powel/ Chestnut Hill Phla/ March 1903/ The gift of/ his late father/ Saml Powel." An adhesive label attached to the underside of the front cross brace above the upper left drawer reads: "Philadelphia Chippendale/ mahogany bureau attri-/ buted to Gostelowe by the/ late Joseph Downs. Belonged/ to Elizabeth Willing Powel/ or her sister Margaret Hare. Very fine brasses." An inscription in the same hand is written on an adhesive label attached to the inside back of the upper right drawer: "Given me by my father/ in-law HW Hare Powel/ Has been on loan twice to Am. Wing Met. Mus/ & illustrated in catalogue/ American Art (J. Biddle)/ 1963 page 28."
Funds donated by the Friends of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Mrs. Vance
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Chests of drawers used in Philadelphia for storing clothing and other household linens were made in a wide range of forms, from single cases of three or more drawers to high chests and double chests with two cases of drawers (see Acc. No. 78.9). Although modest in scale, this chest of drawers was a sumptuous symbol of the value of its contents and the wealth of its owners. The superbly figured mahogany boards used for the top and drawer fronts are placed with the grain running alternately in opposite directions, creating a lively vertical rhythm on the facade. The rich effect of the wood is heightened by the chased and gilt drawer handles and keyhole plates. The backplates are identical to a keyhole plate design in an English hardware catalogue dated between 1770 and 1780, and the handles resemble those in catalogues used by the Philadelphia merchant Samuel Rowland Fisher between 1783 and 1789.1The backplate design is no. 343 in catalogue M.61f in the Victoria and Albert Museum; it is discussed in Goodison, 13, pl. 29. Fisher’s catalogues are discussed in Hummel 1964, 188–97; see esp. figs. 7, 15–16.
A chest of drawers like this one, with a straight front, bracket feet, and corner columns, was the standard form in Philadelphia during the second half of the 18th century. The majority were made with four wide drawers, but a frequent option was to have two small drawers in the top register above three wide drawers. Chests with this drawer arrangement appear in Philadelphia as early as the 1710s and remained popular to the end of the century, when the chest in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms was probably made.2Forman 1985, 28–29. The owners Robert and Margaret Hare were married in 1775, and the close similarity of the brasses to the designs in the Fisher catalogues suggests that the chest was produced around 1780. A group of Philadelphia chests with opulent brasses of this type has been dated to the 1780s.3Heckscher 1985, no. 142. Cockbeaded drawers with bail brasses appeared on a pair of chests made in 1790 by Jacob Wayne.4Hornor 1935, pl. 100.
David L. Barquist
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.