Rococo Armchair

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Artist/Maker: Unknown[1]

Created: 1770-1780

Origin/Purchase: Virginia

Materials: cherry; southern pine

Dimensions: 96.5 x 58.4 x 49.2 (38 x 23 x 19 3/8 in.)

Location: Library (Book Room)

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to an unnamed descendant of Charles Lewis Bankhead; by gift to Colonel James C. Broadhead; by descent to Mrs. Edwin M. Harford; by gift to the Missouri Historical Society; by loan to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1982

Accession Number: 1982-28

Historical Notes: This simple Rococo armchair with a subtle serpentine crest rail and a vertically pierced splat is typical of many chairs made in Virginia's piedmont. Before Jefferson traveled to Europe in 1784, most of his furniture was supplied by Virginia cabinetmakers, principally in Williamsburg. The chair might have been made for him there-or in the piedmont region. If the chair was made in Williamsburg, two possibilities are likely: first, that the chair came from the workshop of the celebrated Williamsburg cabinetmaker Anthony Hay (d. 1770), from whom Jefferson may have purchased some furniture as early as 1768, or Hay's successors, Benjamin Bucktrout (D. 1813) and Edmund Dickinson.[2] Bucktrout took over Hay's shop in 1767 and Dickinson succeeded him in 1771. Jefferson made several purchases from Bucktrout between 1768 and 1773, and later from Dickinson.[3] An attribution to Hay and Bucktrout based on documentary evidence can only be tentative because Hay was also the proprietor of the Raleigh Tavern, patronized by Jefferson, and Bucktrout also was a merchant.[4] The references in Jefferson's Memorandum Book might refer to payments for things other than furniture.

Dickinson or his assistants might also have executed Jefferson's chair. Dickinson apparently made a very similar armchair now in the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge in around 1775.[5] Jefferson's chair, however, is more restrained and linear than the Masonic Lodge example. It has box stretchers and Marlborough legs, which have been shortened to accommodate casters, now missing. The chair was improperly upholstered over the rail, but a slip seat has been restored.

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 250.
  2. Thomas Jefferson, April 27, 1768, in MB, 1:74; May 6, 1768, in Ibid., 1:75.
  3. Jefferson, November 6, 1768, in Ibid., 1:83; December 13, 1769, in Ibid., 1:153; November 4 and 5, 1771, in Ibid., 1:263; May 6, 1773, in Ibid., 1:339; April 29, 1773, in Ibid., 1:338; December 18, 1777, in Ibid., 1:455.
  4. Wallace Gusler, The Furniture of Williamsburg and Eastern Virginia, 1710-1790 (Richmond: Virginia Museum, 1979), 3.
  5. Ibid., 96.

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