PROPERTY SOLD WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE TRUSTEES OF THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART TO BENEFIT ACQUISITION FUNDS
This high chest is one of a small group of Philadelphia case pieces that can be associated with a specific carver and cabinet shop. Its superb naturalistic carving is attributed to Nicholas Bernard, who executed it in his mature working style in circa 1760. He took extraordinary care in executing the carving on the shell drawers of this high chest, in particular, by using an extremely fine veining tool to delineate the flutes and finished them with rows of punch marks alternating with rows of dots and gouge marks. The knees display carving comprised of bilaterally symmetrical leaves separated by a V-shaped dart articulated beneath a flowerhead. Similar knee carving appears on other case furniture and chairs attributed to Bernard (see Luke Beckerdite and Alan Miller, “A Table’s Tale: Craft, Art, and Opportunity in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia,” American Furniture 2004, figs. 19 and 31, pp. 12 and 18).
Nicholas Bernard was apparently contracted for his work by the partnership of Henry Clifton and Thomas Carteret, two Quaker cabinetmakers who were members of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. This attribution is based upon a remarkably similar high chest of drawers at Colonial Williamsburg signed “Henry Cliffton/Thomas Carteret” and dated November 15, 1753 (see Morrison Heckscher and Leslie Greene Bowman, American Rococo, 1750-1775, New York, 1992, fig. 47, p. 199). The latter exhibits carving that has been identified as Bernard’s earliest dated work. Both high chests incorporate the same case form shape and nearly identical carved decoration executed from the same tools, from their shell drawers to their acanthus knees and claw feet. A dressing table at Colonial Williamsburg made en suite with the signed high chest also stems from the same collaboration as does the Van Pelt-Robb Family dressing table sold at Sotheby’s, Important Americana, September 26, 2008, sale 8448, lot 9 (see Hornor, p. 185).
The same distinctive shell drawer and knee carving by Nicholas Bernard is exhibited on a dressing table with a history in the Biddle family that sold at Sotheby’s, Fine Americana, January 28-31, 1994, sale 6527, lot 1280, a high chest of drawers and en suite dressing table that sold at Sotheby’s, Highly Important Americana from the Collection of Stanley Paul Sax, January 16-7, 1998, sale 7087, lot 522, a chest-on-chest in a private collection, and on a chest-on-chest in the collection of the Historical Society of Dauphin County.
A closely related walnut high chest of drawers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1964-142-1) commissioned by Levi Hollingworth and his wife Hannah Paschal Hollingworth also appears to represent the same craft tradition.
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