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Side Chairs by Peter Scott
Artist/Maker: attributed to Peter Scott (1694-1775)
Created: c. 1770
Materials: cherry; oak slip seat
Dimensions: 99.1 × 43.2 × 50.8 (39 × 17 × 20 in.)
Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; [1965-22] by purchase to an unidentified buyer at the Dispersal Sale in 1827; by gift or purchase to Dr. William Cox; by gift to Mrs. E.H. McPherson and Mrs. Annie Leroy Cox Dennis; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1965. [1935-1 through 4] by gift or purchase to an unidentified owner; by purchase to Mrs. Martha Farish; by bequest to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1935. The sixth chair: by gift or purchase to a Mr. Farish of Albemarle County; by gift to Samuel Henry Buck; by descent to Mrs. Lucy Buck LeGrand.
Accession Number: 1935-1/4; 1965-22
Location: South Square Room
Historical Notes: Martha Jefferson Randolph mentioned "7 old Mahogany chairs given by Mr. Wythe" in the South Square Room in her 1826 inventory of the contents of Monticello. Six of what are believed to be these chairs are known today—all with traditions of having been purchased at the dispersal sale in 1827—and are attributed to the Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott. The seven chairs, numbered on the inside of the rear seat rail as high as 20 (in Roman numerals), may have been part of a larger set, but none of Jefferson's sets of chairs contained as many as that.
Jefferson's long friendship with George Wythe began in 1768 when Jefferson enrolled in the College of William and Mary. Upon his death, Jefferson was bequeathed Wythe's "books and small philosophical apparatus" as well as "my silver cups and gold headed cane." The large silver cups were melted down to make what are now called "Wythe-Jefferson cups," and the books were sold to Congress in 1815 together with Jefferson's library. The whereabouts of the scientific instruments, or what they were, is not known. Just how Jefferson acquired the chairs is not established, and no mention of Wythe furniture was made in any correspondence. Family tradition indicates that the chairs may have been a wedding gift.
Jefferson patronized five Williamsburg cabinetmakers between 1768 and 1773, but seems to have had more pieces made by Peter Scott than by his peers Benjamin Bucktrout, Edmund Dickinson, George Donald, and Anthony Hay. In November 1772, ten months after his marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton, he purchased several tables from Scott.1 The chairs may have been a gift from Wythe at this time.
In spite of the fact that Peter Scott's prosperous career spanned five decades, no documented works of his have been located.2 Wallace Gusler, however, has attributed a number of works to him, and these range from elaborately to more modestly carved chairs.
The Rococo chairs owned by Jefferson evidently began as a more ambitious design. The pierced splat is relatively elaborate, but the serpentine crest rail with scallop cut ears is simpler than it might have been had the entire decorative scheme been executed. An extra thickness of wood was cut to allow shells to be carved at the ears, but this was never carried out. To disguise the thickness, Scott or his assistant cut a curve to hide the difference. The straight Marlborough legs have a box stretcher. The seat rails have a thumbnail molding.
- Text from Stein, Worlds, 250
- Gusler, Wallace B. Furniture of Williamsburg and Eastern Virginia, 1710-1790. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum, 1979.
- Hurst, Ronald L. "Peter Scott, Cabinetmaker of Williamsburg: A Reappraisal." In American Furniture 2006, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation, 2006), 28-53.
- Hurst, Ronald L. and Jonathan Prown. Southern Furniture, 1680-1830: the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1997.
- 1. Jefferson, November 1772, in MB, 1:296. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 2. For an excellent discussion of Scott, see Wallace Gusler, The Furniture of Williamsburg and Eastern Virginia, 1710-1790 (Richmond: Virginia Museum, 1979), 24-57.