Lot 318
  • 318

An Important Queen Anne Carved and Figured Walnut Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Seat and seat rail with roman numeral V.

Catalogue Note

Among the rarest and most magnificent examples of the Queen Anne aesthetic in Philadelphia, this armchair bears additional importance as stemming from the only set of American Queen Anne armchairs in existence today. The armchair is number V of a set of at least eight armchairs with a correspondingly numbered seat frame. Five other armchairs from the set are known: two at Winterthur Museum (III and VIII), one in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (unmarked), a fourth in a private collection (IIII), and one with a history in the Biddle family of Philadelphia published as the property of David Stockwell.1   Comparable in proportion, meticulously designed and extravagantly constructed of choice highly figured walnut, all the chairs in the set display the distinctive characteristics of rounded stiles laminated on both the lower and upper portions; wrought iron braces reinforcing the rear juncture of the crest rail and the stiles; seat rails, seat frames, and applied seat rail lips crafted from the same block of walnut with rough kerf tool markings on the inside lip of the seat rail and the presence of holes in the seat frame sides that correspond to the side seat rails; the use of solid figured walnut for the splat and broad volutes for the knee returns; and trifid feet with extra cyma shaping of the curve. The set undoubtedly represents a special commission by an original owner of significant prominence.

One armchair in the collection of Winterthur Museum (acc. no. 59.2501, no. III, slip seat III) descended through the Latourette family and was among the furnishings of the Staats-Latourette homestead in Bound Brook, New Jersey (see illustration).  It appears pictured in a circa 1905 picture of the parlor with a child seated in it (see illustration). The homestead came into the Staats family in 1738 and was first owned by Peter Staats, passing through two family owners to Abraham Staats (1743-1821), a farmer, surveyor, and active patriot, in 1770. During the second Middlebrook encampment, the inspector general of the Revolutionary army, Baron Von Steuben, was quartered at the homestead, where he entertained George Washington and other senior generals. At Abraham Staats death, the homestead passed to his children and next to his granddaughter, Margaret Ann Bayles, who married Cornelius Wyckoff Latourette. Staats/Latourette heirs owned the homestead until 1935, when Eugene D. Latourette sold the house out of the family. Helen Cook Latourette, Eugene’s wife, sold the armchair to H.F. du Pont around that same time, in circa 1934.

The other armchair at Winterthur (acc. no. 59.2500, no. VIII, slip seat I) bears the ink inscription on the front seat rail “This chair made in 1725 sent from England to John Heale Esq. Bought by J. Jay Smith Esq. in 1878 & presented to the Dau: Elizth P Smith July 29th 1878 born 1825” (see illustration).  Research indicates that J Jay Smith refers to John Jay Smith (1798-1881), an editor, publisher, founder of Laurel Hill Cemetery and the Germantown Horticultural Society, and librarian of the Library Company and the Loganian Library, the private library of James Logan (1674-1751) formerly housed in Stenton. In 1742, James Logan decided to endow his library for use by the City of Philadelphia and towards that end, planned to erect a building on Sixth-Street, between Chestnut and Walnut directly behind the State House. After his death in 1751, he bequeathed his library “solely … for the use of the public” and his books were moved from Stenton to the Sixth-Street building in 1753-4. The library officially opened on November 8, 1760.  A notice published in the Pennsylvanian Gazette on October 30, 1760 indicated that “the LOGANIAN LIBRARY … will be opened on Saturday the 8th of November next, where Attendance will be given every Saturday, from the third Hour in the Afternoon until the seventh Hour following, in the Summer time, and so long as one may see to read in Winter.” On May 31, 1792 by the right of Logan’s son, James Logan, Jr., the Loganian Library was established as a public trust and merged with the Library Company of Philadelphia. On June 21, 1792,the books were removed from the Sixth Street property (which was then sold) and relocated to the new wing of Library Hall, which opened on May 1, 1794. The library was relocated in 1878 to the Ridgeway Library where it was housed until 1966, when it was moved to Locust Street and placed adjacent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.2 

One of the stipulations placed upon the Loganian Library in James Logan’s will was the librarian must be a descendant of James Logan “preferring the male line to female.”  Therefore, John Jay Smith was a direct descendant of James Logan and the association of the date of the chairs purchase and presentation to his daughter Elizabeth Pearsall Smith (1825-1914) is uncanny. A Quaker, Colonial Dame, founder of the Germantown Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association, and editor of Recollections of John Jay Smith (1892), Elizabeth Smith lived at her home, Ivy Lodge, in Germantown, which was built by her father in 1849. She died there in 1914, at age 89, and left Ivy Lodge and her personal effects to her nephew, Albanus L. Smith. The armchair was later acquired by Joe Kindig, who subsequently sold it to H.F. du Pont.

The armchair (no. IIII, slip seat 4) in a private collection also bears an inscription detailing ownership on its seat frame (see illustration). The inscription reads: John and Mary Ann Bacon 1801, Geo. B. Wood 1859, Mary May Dunn 1909. John Bacon (1779-1859) was born in Greenwich, N.J. and moved to Philadelphia, where he served as treasurer of the City of Philadelphia from 1816-1829, treasurer of the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf & Dumb from 1820 to 1859 and 8th Inspector of the Penitentiary from 1831 to 1859. On September 22, 1801, he married Mary Ann Warder (1782-1863), the daughter of John (1751-1828) and Ann Head Warder (1758-1829), granddaughter of Jeremiah Warder (1711-1783), a prominent Philadelphia merchant, and great-granddaughter of John Head (1688-1754), the Philadelphia cabinetmaker. From 1830 to 1859, they lived in Philadelphia at No. 117 Sassafras (now Race) Street in a house that formerly served as Henry Epple’s Inn.

The inscription on the chair indicates John and Mary Ann Bacon received the armchair in 1801. This date corresponds to the year they married and the year of the death of John Bacon’s father, Job (1735-1801). Job Bacon was a member a Quaker family of Greenwich, N.J. who lived at Bacon’s Neck, a two hundred and sixty acre property on the Cohansey River pioneered by Samuel Bacon (1659-1695), a member of the Provincial Assembly of West Jersey and a Justice of the Court for Salem County.3  Job Bacon married Mary Lownes, daughter of Joseph and Sarah Lownes of Philadelphia, on February 24, 1774. At John Bacon’s death in 1859, the armchair passed on to his grandson George Bacon Wood (1832-1909), a Quaker, prolific American painter and photographer who lived in Germantown, Philadelphia.  At his death in 1909, he bequeathed his “grandfather’s armchair” to his daughter, Mary May Wood (b. 1859), who married Harry Martyn Dunn (d. 1906) in 1882 and Edward T. Comfort (d. 1936) in 1915. Several photographs taken by George Bacon Wood in the late 19th century currently in the collection of the Library Company illustrate the armchair in George Bacon Wood’s studio and Mary and Harry Dunn’s residence in Germantown (see illustration).  Mary Dunn later moved to Staten Island and one of her descendants sold the armchair to the current owner.

The armchair in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (acc no. 1964.212.1) descended in the family of Eleanor Thomson Mullen (see illustration). She gave it to the museum in 1964 and stated in a June 9, 1964 letter to the museum curator “the chair was used by Washington and Lafayette when they came to tea in my ancestors’ home in old Philadelphia” where, “on one occasion Washington scratched his initials in a window pane.”  The chair follows the design of the others in the set and displays the wrought iron braces on the crest rail but is not numbered and differs from the others in several respects. These include the pine slip seat, the lack of an applied seat frame lip and screw holes in the seat frame and slip seat, and the chamfered rear legs. It has recently been determined that the early, if not original, upholstery treatment on this armchair was leather.

Several other pieces of Philadelphia furniture with similar design and construction characteristics appear to stem from the same shop as this set of armchairs. A walnut side chair of the same design with braces on the rear of the crest rail and shaped stiles laminated on the lower and upper portions is in the Naomi Wood Collection at Woodford, the summer home built between 1756 and 1758 by William Coleman of Philadelphia. A side chair in the collection of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, one in a private collection and two formerly owned by Israel Sack Inc. are from a related set and display the same shell, volute, and foot carving as well as stile and seat frame construction.5  A side chair in the collection of Bayou Bend represents another set.6 Identical shell, volute and foot carving appear on a dressing table with a history in the Bush-Snader family.7  Similar shell-carved knees and trifid feet are found on a marble-top slab table in a private collection attributed to Henry Clifton and Thomas Carteret while identical volutes are featured on a dressing table at Winterthur Museum (acc. no. 1953.68).[8] A side chair from a similar set with the more Rococo details of a pierced splat and ruffle-carved volutes sold in these rooms, Important Americana, January 16-17, 1999, sale 7253, lot 797. Two side chairs in a private collection, numbers III and VI of a set, appear to represent the same shop tradition. Gifford Pinchot, former Governor of Pennsylvania, owned the chair marked III in the early 20th century at Grey Towers, his home in Milford, Pennsylvania. Chair VI was deaccessioned by Colonial Williamsburg as a bequest of Gertrude Peck (1897-1980) of Tacoma, Washington. Chair V from the same set remains in the Colonial Williamsburg collection (1980.124.1).

For their assistance with the research for this lot, Sotheby's wishes to thank Wendy Cooper, Brock Jobe and Susan Newton at Winterthur Museum, Alexandra Kirtley and David DeMuzio at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Laura Keim Stutman at Stenton, Martha Moffat at Woodford, James Green and Charlene Peacock at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and Jay Stiefel.

1 Joseph Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1952), no. 27, Jack Lindsey, Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999), p. 172, no. 157, Charles F Montgomery and Patricia E Kane, American Art: 1750-1800 Towards Independence, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1976), p. 146, no. 92, and John Walker, Experts Choice: 1000 Years of the Art Trade (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1983), p. 129.
2 Edwin Wolf 2nd, The Library of James Logan of Philadelphia, 1674-1751, (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1974), pp. xvii-xlix.
3 Herbert Marion Bacon, Bacon’s Adventure, (New York: The Bankers Press, 1948).
4 This chair is unpublished. Another side chair appearing to stem from the same set is illustrated in Joseph Kindig, The Philadelphia Chair, 1685-1785, 1978, pl. 24.
5 Christopher Monkhouse, American Furniture in Pendleton House, (Providence, RI: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1986), p. 165, no. 106 and Israel Sack, Inc. American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, Vol. 6, p. 1531 and Vol. VII, p. 1716.
6 David Warren, et al, American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection, (Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1988), no. F47, p. 28.
7 Sack Collection, p. 1536-7.
8 Christie’s, October 24, 1992, sale 7526, lot 138 and Charles F. Hummel, A Winterthur Guide to American Chippendale Furniture (Winterthur, DE: The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1976), fig. 107, p. 117.