This dressing table is one of the must successful extant examples of the form. It has been published as an early case piece attributed to Job or Christopher Townsend of Newport.1 This is due to the fact that the case construction, dovetailing, wood selection and shell carving closely parallel those that found on furniture attributed to those craftsmen.2 The use of plain drawers and cockbeading on the case also follows Newport work. But this dressing table also displays details that depart from Newport practice, such as the concave-blocked drawer mentioned above, suggesting it was made elsewhere. It exhibits several Providence characteristics that can be differentiated from those of Newport.3 The shells are carved from the solid and have a more sculptural quality. Because they are carved from the solid, the shells are bolder and made from a thicker stock. Virtually identical shells are found on a chest-on-chest at Winterthur that was made in Providence possibly by the same maker.4 The chest-on-chest was originally owned by Joseph Brown (1733-1785), one of the Brown brothers and a leading merchant of Providence. In addition, the feet of this dressing table are comprised of foot faces that are blocked to match the adjacent curves of the base molding, as is typical of most New England block-front pieces. The returns are distinctive to Providence work, and this dressing table follows a variation found on the Joseph Brown chest-on-chest mentioned above.5 The construction of the feet also follows Providence practice, in which the maker attached the faces with nails or screws and supported them with vertical glue blocks with horizontal flankers, as also featured on the Joseph Brown chest-on-chest.6
Several of these features – the profile of the feet, shells and similar moldings – also appear on a Providence chest-on-chest originally owned by John Brown (1736-1803).7 A pitch-pediment block-front chest-on-chest made in Providence for Nicholas Brown Sr. (1729-1791) or Nicholas Brown Jr. is also part of this group and likely stems from the same shop.8
1 See Luke Beckerdite, “The Early Furniture of Christopher and Job Townsend,” American Furniture (2000): 26, fig. 42, 43.
2 Ibid, pp. 23-25 for discussion and related examples.
3 Wendy Cooper and Tara Gleason, “A Different Rhode Island Block-and-Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments,” American Furniture 1999, pp. 185-8.
4 Ibid, fig. 3, p. 165.
5 Ibid, fig. 22.
6 Ibid, fig. 23.
7 Ibid, fig. 2, p. 164.
8 Ibid, fig. 5, p. 167.
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