ca. 1800-1825 American (Tennessee or Kentucky) Cherry; tulip poplar secondary Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust, funds provided by Mrs. James Robinson
An early 19th-century southern planter is reported to have boasted that he "raised everything he ate except sugar and coffee." As a result of the lack of domestic production, these goods were very expensive, and were stored carefully under lock and key. the majority of surviving chests made for the storage of sugar have been found in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the distance from points of production and seaports made sugar especially costly.
This chest, with lifting lid revealing a large storage compartment for sugar and a drawer beneath, is an early and sophisticated example of a traditional form. The finely dovetailed case demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship, while the tapering legs and inlaid keyhole area reflect the influence of the Hepplewhite style on fashionable furniture made in America in the early Federal period.. The use of indigenous cherry is characteristic of this area of the south.
1920 American Oak Gift of Marion Fortas through the Decorative Arts Trust
item description here
ca. 1735-1745 English Walnut; seat covered in 18th-century silk damask Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
This chair, made about 1740 during the reign of George II, exhibits the exuberant, robust baroque aesthetic in English furniture design and execution at its height. Drama and dynamic force are evident in total commitment to the use of curving lines and elaborate, richly carved decoration. Especially notable are the graceful cabriole forelegs deeply carved at the knees with inverted shells and foliage, and terminating in realistic, dramatic hairy ball-and-claw feet.
The treatment of the legs and stylized inverted shell of the back splat resembles closely the work of Giles Grendey, perhaps the leading chairmaker in England at the time. The carved shells and fan decorated with fish scales in the crest relate it to the work of William Kent, the most important English designer of the late baroque. Exhibiting highly advanced design and superior craftsmanship, this chair was almost certainly made as part of a set for an important household.
Tall Back Chair
1903-1904 Frank Lloyd Wright, 1867-1959 American Oak Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided through exchange by Mary Ann Robinson and the Decorative Arts Trust
Frank Lloyd Wright was perhaps the best known figure in the emergence of the first distinctly American architecture and design. After working in the office of the architect Louis Sullivan, Wright opened his own studio in Chicago in 1893, and soon developed his Prairie School style. He designed low, horizontally oriented houses with open, uncluttered interior spaces to mirror the flat midwestern countryside, and created cmplementary interior fittings and furniture for many of them that reinforced the feeling of openness and simplicity.
This high-back chair was designed by Wright for the dining room of the Prairie School style house built in Peoria, Illinois, for Francis W. Little in 1903. Its strong vertical orientation was intended to balance the horizontal lines of the room, as well as the table at which it stood. The chair is a powerful combination of rectilinear elements, making no concessions to the contours of the human body., The solid back panel between two substantial posts begins at the back stretcher near the floor, rises above the seat, and terminates in a horizontal panel forming a crest capped with a a simulated cornice. Moldings at the base of the back posts heighten the architectural effect of the chair. Flat surfaces are broken and softened by narrow intersecting strips of wood applied to the crest, posts, and base of the seat rail and by the stretchers. Wright's characteristic commitment to simplicity is evident in the form of the piece and the plain, solid fabric covering its seat.
The construction of the chair reflects Wright's preference for the use of natural materials and modern technological innovations. Indigenous white oak was cut and planed to an even, uniform surface by machine, revealing the wood's distinctive rays. New industrial technology also made possible the use of more precisely cut, hidden joints than those found in handcrafted work. The materials, construction methods, and dark-stained finish matched those used on the walls of the dining room. Though carefully designed and fabricated to integrate into the architectural context of the Little House, this chair, when viewed alone, is a striking piece of sculpture.
ca. 1760-80 American (North Shore, Massachusetts) Mahogany Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
American furniture craftsmen seeking to provide a sense of surface movement to case pieces sometimes employed a reverse serpentine facade in which convex outside surfaces frame a similar concave central section, thereby resembling the oxbow by which two oxen are yoked together. This imaginative, dynamic form, rarely used in England, reached its apogee in case furniture made in Massachusetts in the second half of the 18th century.
This desk with its reverse serpentine facade is made of finely figured West Indian mahogany. The short, powerfully shaped cabriole legs terminating in a bird's talon tightly gripping a ball and the pendant fan are found on much of the finest case furniture made in Massachusetts in this period. These characteristics, coupled with the sinuous curving facade, combine to evoke the final phase of the baroque in American furniture design.
ca. 1755-70 English Mahogany Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
Designed for use in the popular 18th-century pastime of card-playing when opened and for use as a console table when closed, this piece is characteristic of the final English statement of the rococo style that originated in France in the first quarter of the 18th century. It demonstrates a commitment to the vivacious, even playful curvilinear line in its sensuous, flowing frieze, the serpentine folding top, and the graceful elongated cabriole legs terminating in knurled toes. These decorative design elements are reinforced by the richly grained mahogany veneer and the delicately carved and molded legs. The table has concertina folding action, so that when opened it has an identical appearance on all four sides.
The light, almost soaring character of the table, coupled with its restrained, sophisticated carved decoration suggest a late date for its construction, confirmed by comparing the table to a similar, but much heavier and more elaborately decorated pair made by Thomas Chippendale in 1759 for Dumfries House in Scotland. Although rococo design was rapidly yielding in England in the 1770s to the newly fashionable neoclassicism associated with Robert Adam, it was still sufficiently highly regarded as late as 1788 to merit inclusion of examples in George Hepplewhite's The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide.
HIGH CHEST OF DRAWERS
ca. 1710-1735 American (Boston, Massachusetts) Maple; walnut veneers Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
The most commanding piece of furniture in a colonial American home was the high chest of drawers, or highboy as it is popularly known. Customarily used to store household linens and clothing, it was often accompanied by a matching dressing table, though few have survived together. The high chest was first introduced in the early 18th century from England into Boston, the most populous and prosperous city in the American colonies.
This is a fine example of a high chest made in the Boston area during this early period, and is typical of the sophisticated design associated with what is often known as the William and Mary style. The curving lines of the apron and stretchers and the use of elegant, tapering legs and ball-shaped feet contrast with the severe rectilinear design of the upper case. Whereas 17th-century furniture was usually made by a joiner who fit case furniture together using the mortise-and-tenon method, this piece is the work of the newly-emergent cabinetmaker, who fit the case together using finely cut dovetails which provided a neater, flatter surface. Rather than decorating the case with carving, as was customary in the 17th century, the cabinetmaker then decorated the piece with thinly sliced veneers with attractive grains. While the sides, legs, and stretchers of this Boston high chest are made of relatively straight-grained indigenous maple, its facade is decorated with contrasting, highly figured burr-walnut veneers, which create a dramatic, almost dazzling effect. It is further enhanced by the original bright-cut decorated pulls and escutcheons.
CHEST OF DRAWERS
ca. 1810-1812 Ephraim Mallard, American, 1789 - ca. 1854 American Birch with birch, maple, mahogany veneers; light and dark wood inlays; pine Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
This is a fine example of a group of chests made in the early 19th century in southeastern New Hampshire. Several significant decorative devices are combined to produce one of the most striking facades found in American neoclassical furniture. Each bowed drawer front is framed by a dark mahogany banding enclosing a symmetrical arrangement of two panels of bird's-eye maple veneer that flank a narrower central panel of highly figured birch, which is separated from the outer panels by a checkered inlay. The central panels, whose feather-like figure forms a vertical line, terminate at the base of the chest in a matching drop panel pendant that also serves as the focal point of the carefully designed apron. Both the pendants and the tall bracket feet with a slight flare at the bottom are distinctive characteristics of Federal period chests made in southeastern New Hampshire.
Unlike most surviving early American furniture, this chest is signed in chalk by its maker, Ephraim Mallard, on five interior surfaces. Mallard may have served his apprenticeship in Portsmouth, the most important urban center north of Boston, and may have worked briefly there after its conclusion. About 1810 or 1811, he moved to Gilmanton, a town north of Portsmouth where he opened a cabinet shop. That this chest was probably made after Mallard's move to this smaller inland community with a less prosperous and sophisticated clientele than Portsmouth is suggested by the contrast of the plain solid birth sides and wide overhanging top with the elaborate veneered facade that would rival in quality of its decoration and craftsmanship any made in the larger city during the Federal period. Mallard had a long career, since he is still recorded as maintaining a workshop in 1849.,
The die-stamped brass back-plates of the drawer handles were probably made in Birmingham, England for the American market. The flying eagle with trailing banner inscribed "E PLURIBUS UNUM" flanked by sixteen stars suggests the back-plates were made between 1796 and 1803, the dates of the admission of the 16th and 17th states to the Union.
ca. 1745 John Wait, English, active 1742-1746 English Walnut; oak; brass Bequest of Dr. George William Huckaba in the name of the Decorative Arts Trust
The pendulum clock, developed about 1657, revolutionized time-keeping by reducing the margin of error from fifteen minutes to a few seconds per day. The eight-day movement of this English clock was made by John Wait, who is recorded as working "At Ye Sign of Ye Dial" in the Gun Dock Yard in Wapping, on the bank of the Thames River in London to the east of St. Paul's Cathedral. Wait worked in that location between 1742 and 1746, prior to his death in 1751, thus allowing this inscribed clock to be closely dated.
Pendulum clocks were luxury furnishings that served both practical and decorative functions. Wait's movement is housed in a well-figured walnut-veneered case of architectural form. The arched top of the waist door is echoed in the hood that protects the dial and movement. Flanked by fluted columns with brass terminals, this hood terminates in a pagoda-shaped bonnet top, reflecting Chinese influences in mid-18th-century English furniture design. The silvered dial face is surrounded by elegant cast ormolu spandrels.
ca. 1795 English Beech, painted and gilded Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust
This elegant armchair reflects the influence of two of the most influential design books published in late 18th-century England. The back follows closely the design for a side chair (plate 9) in George Hepplewhite's The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide (1788) in which he sought to "...unite elegance and utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable...." The arms, legs and painted decoration show the influence of Thomas Sheraton's The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book (1793), who wrote of the 'Drawing room' chair, that "The legs and [arm] stumps have twisted flutes done in the turning, which produce a good effect in the gold. The chair...may be finished in japan painting, interspersed with a little gilding in different parts of the banister, which has a lively effect." In the union of these influences, this armchair reflects the height of late 18th-century neoclassical elegance. The powerful influence of the world of classical antiquity growing out ot the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum earlier in the century is further evident in the painted panel of Venus and Cupid in the center of the top rail.
ca. 1825-1835 American (Shelby or Hardeman County, Tennessee) Cherry Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust 2008
This small candle stand, with its octagonal top, robust but simply turned pedestal, and arched tripod base is characteristic of the vernacular furniture of early Tennessee. It is a functional piece designed to serve multiple purposes in the home. It might have held candles, food or drink, or reading and writing materials. The table's tilting top, when upright, allowed for easy storage.
Made of indigenous cherry and retaining its original rich surface, this candle stand is one of a very small number of pieces of furniture with a sufficiently strong provenance to assign its origin to either Shelby or adjacent Hardeman county in southwest Tennessee. The candle stand was purchased in 2007 from Maxwelton House, constructed ca. 1860 in the Buntyn Station area of east Memphis, where it was part of the estate of a direct descendant of Judge John Louis Taylor Sneed (1820-1901), who purchased the house before 1874. It is probable that this candle stand was brought by Judge Sneed from his previous residence as part of the furnishings for Maxwelton.
Judge Sneed was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and moved with his uncle to Hardeman County in 1823, where he grew up in Bolivar. After moving to Memphis in 1843, he became one of the city's most distinguished citizens. An attorney, he served as a captain in the Mexican War, a member of the Tennessee General Assembly, District Attorney General (1851-54), and Tennessee Attorney General (1854-59). At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sneed was appointed by the Governor to command the Provisional Army of Tennessee. He subsequently was a member of the Tennessee Supreme Court (1870-78), established a law school in Memphis, and was Chancellor of Shelby County (1894-1900).
ca. 1820-1830 American (Virginia, probably Loudon County) Walnut with light wood inlay; tulip poplar secondary Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust 2007
The clothespress was a utilitarian furniture form designed for the storage of clothing. Doors enclosed a space in which folded clothing was placed on shelves or sliding drawers. In rare instances it might be suspended on pegs. One or more drawers in the base often provided additional storage space.
Originating in England, the clothespress was adopted from the 1750s in the English colonies south of the Chesapeake Bay region, where the ways and design traditions of the mother country were particularly strong. Presses made in the more sophisticated urban areas in eastern Virginia were almost indistinguishable from English ones, being influenced by a design published in Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754), as well as made of fashionable and expensive mahogany imported from the West Indies. In rural areas, such as the Shenandoah Valley, away from the coastal region, clothespresses were usually made of less expensive indigenous woods such as walnut, and their design and decoration reflected the independent imagination of the individual cabinetmakers.
This walnut clothespress, a distinctive interpretation of the form, is a masterpiece of vernacular craftsmanship in the American south. It possesses a strong architectural character, largely created by the imaginative use of inlay in contrasting light wood. The paneled doors are flanked by a pair of simulated fluted pilasters composed of fanciful Corinthian capitals surmounting a series of vertical lines terminating in a system of double solid plinths. A keystone is inlaid in the center of the frieze beneath an imposing cornice created by the top board and a carved dentillated molding and second set of carved capitals.
This distinctive inlaid decoration suggests that the clothespress may have been made in Loudon County in the western part of Virginia just south of the Potomac River.
SIDEBOARD SUGAR CHEST
Ca. 1825-1835 American (Wilson County, Tennessee) Cherry, mahogany veneer; poplar secondary Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust 2008
This is a rare example of a furniture form unique to Middle Tennessee. It combines the sideboard, used for storage and to hold serving pieces during meals, with the more utilitarian and specialized sugar chest. Made in Wilson County, this is one of a very small number of surviving examples known, and the only one with a deep, rather than shallow, lower drawer. It displays a masterful focus on the inherent warm beauty of indigenous cherry, and a restrained but effective use of imported mahogany veneer. The sideboard also shows the evolution of the more delicate Sheraton style into a heavier form foreshadowing the American Empire, evident in the piece's bold outline and turned legs.
Ca. 1825-1835 American (Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia) Walnut, cherry, and light wood inlay; poplar secondary wood; punched tin panels Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust 2008
In an age when food was a valuable commodity, pieces such as this--sometimes referred to as a food or pie safe--were essential. They were used to store food under lock and key, as well as providing a flat top surface from which food might be served. This walnut safe is an especially sophisticated example of the form with its beautifully scrolled top gallery, inlaid escutcheons, and contrasting cherry half-columns flanking the mullioned doors. The painted punched tin panels were made in the Rich family workshop in Wythe County, Virginia, which exported such panels to cabinetmakers in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia for use in constructing safes. Because of its sophisticated interpretation of a simple form, this safe was probably intended for use in a dining room rather than kitchen.
circa 1815 Unknown maker Delaware River Valley, Maryland Mahogany and mahogany veneers, pine and tulip poplar secondary, light wood inlays, brass hardware, iron structural elements, gilded bronze, mirror glass Gift of Decorative Arts Trust, 2008
Resplendent with book-plate mahogany veneers and gilded bronze, this cylinder-front desk is an extraordinary addition to the museum’s collection. A consummate example of the American Federal style, which flourished around 1800, the piece is a masterwork of design and craftsmanship. Taking its name from the period immediately following the Revolutionary War, Federal furniture is characterized by geometric forms, simply shaped legs, fine veneers, and delicate inlays. This desk is exceptional because of the superb quality of its details. The gallery, which surrounds the piece’s top like a railing, includes an exquisitely crafted inlay of a bee, while the doors on the interior display beautifully executed images of roses in vases. More unusually, the pilasters adjacent to the doors are incised with the outlines of fanciful tulip trees in urns. Those motifs were then inked and stained to imitate inlays. The most remarkable element of the desk is its center niche. Marked by minute columns with gilt bronze Corinthian capitals, lined with mirrors, and ornamented with an elaborate rosette inlay, this may have been used to display a diminutive piece of sculpture.
This piece reflects a variety of influences. The cylinder desk is a French form brought to the United States by Parisian cabinetmakers, although Gallic examples usually feature two sets of matching drawers flanking an open space for the knees. Here, the massive simplicity of the desk's four-drawer front suggests Germanic, Italian, or even English traditions. The tulip trees may also reflect German influence. A more powerful connection, however, is suggested by the inlaid bee, the symbol of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). His brother Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1844), briefly king of the realms of Naples, Spain, and the Indies, fled Europe after Napoleon's fall in 1815. He settled in New Jersey, filling Point Breeze—his opulent manor house overlooking the Delaware River—with a superb collection of European paintings. He also fitted his home with fine furniture, some imported and some made by immigrant craftsmen using domestic woods. Not surprisingly, Point Breeze was a magnet for America's social elite as well as a crucial source of European culture and artistic knowledge for early 19th-century Americans.
The desk is first recorded in the possession of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969), one of the most renowned experts and collectors of early American decorative arts. He was particularly famous as a specialist in Federal furniture. Much of du Pont’s collection is preserved in the family’s ancestral home, which is today the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, in Winterthur, Delaware.
Circa 1770 Unknown Maker Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mahogany Gift of Decorative Arts Trust, 2008
A fine and characteristic example of a Philadelphia Chippendale side chair, this work typifies those made in the city from the 1760s-80s. It is particularly noteworthy for the robustness of its ball and claw legs, finely carved shell motifs at crest and knees, and the delicately carved tassels along the back rail. It also appears to retain its original finish, giving the work a rich plum-colored tone. The chair joins the Brooks’ rich and important holdings of American 18th-century furniture. It is a particularly welcome addition as it provides a wonderful complement to the North Shore Massachusetts Chippendale Desk, which was purchased by the Decorative Arts Trust in 1987, and to the splendid High Chest attributed to the Frothingham workshop of Charlestown, Massachusetts.
1676 England, Exeter Oak, polychrome Gift of Decorative Arts Trust