Details & Cataloguing

Important Americana

New York

Very Fine Classical Carved and Figured Mahogany and Amboyna Cellarette, Attributed to Anthony Gabriel Quervelle, Philadelphia, Circa 1825


Descended in the Rush-Biddle Family;
Deborah Norris Rush, Paoli, Pennsylvania;
Charles A. Whitaker Auction Company, Philadelphia, Estate of Deborah Norris, April 21, 1991, lot 562;
Dr. and Mrs. William Boor, West Chester, Pennsylvania (by descent until 2015);
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York.


Allison Boor, Jonathan A. Boor, John William Boor, Peter Boor and Christopher Boor, Philadelphia Empire Furniture, (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Boor Management LLC, 2006), p. 72, image 33, illus. (detail of carving at center of gadrooned border, p. 533, fig. 360).

Catalogue Note

Of all of the many forms of furniture made in the United States during the Neo-Classical period, one relied more heavily on models from classical antiquity than the klismos chair and the cellarette, the latter specifically dependent upon classical sarcophagi of different forms. On the other hand, the maker of the present cellarette transformed his model in such a way that the piece he produced was thoroughly Philadelphia in character.

The maker was likely Anthony Gabriel Quervelle (1789-1856), a Frenchman by birth, who emigrated to Philadelphia, where he is first listed as a cabinetmaker in 1820. A number of pieces produced in Quervelle's shop were variously labeled, or are otherwise documented as by him, and thus there is a considerable armature on which additional attributions can be based. On the other hand, Quervelle was likely a stylistic "ringleader," and the work of Charles White and others among his contemporaries appears to have been strongly influenced by his own, individual brand of Neo-Classicism.

Some years ago the Philadelphia Museum acquired a sketchbook containing a number of design drawings by Quervelle. Among them are two sketches for secretary bookcases that feature large shell-like, or sunburst, motifs that form the doors of the cabinet below (Boor, p. 96 Sketch 1). Quervelle actually produced a group of secretaries of this design, of which there is a labeled example at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York (Boor, p. 438 fig. 281), and another at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania (Boor, p. 439 fig. 282), as well as an unlabeled example at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boor, pp. 436-37 figs. 280 and 280a).

Like the Quervelle drawings for this form, each of the three secretaries has large carved sunbursts below, all now with eight "rays" instead of the ten shown in the drawings. And each of the rays on these three secretaries end with an oval of burl ash veneer.

Certainly not coincidentally, the façade of the present cellarette follows the form of these "sunbursts" almost exactly, again showing eight rays, each ending, again, with an oval of burl ash. Like Quervelle's documented use of this form, the spandrels of the upper-left and upper-right are carved with various Neo-Classical devices, here including anthemia, scrolls, and leaves. A heavy gadrooned border, here centered by a carved motif (Boor, p. 72 image 33) is used to complete the composition. The lid is ornamented with an elaborately carved border of leaves and surrounding the flattened pyramidal center, which is related to the tops of a group of cellarettes resting on couchant lions that have generally been assigned to Joseph Barry (for example, Boor, pp. 531 fig. 358, and 532 fig. 359).

Quervelle also produced a number of sideboards which display the same sunburst motif, but these sideboards typically have cupboards at the lower center where cellarettes were often inserted in various New York and Boston examples, thus suggesting that the present cellarette was likely envisioned as a separate and independent piece, probably to match a sideboard in the same room.

The last owner of the cellarette was Dr. John William Boor of West Chester, Pennsylvania, collector of Philadelphia Neo-Classical furniture, and author, with his four children, of Philadelphia Empire Furniture (2006). Boor acquired the piece at the estate sale of Deborah Norris Rush, in whose family it had presumably descended from the time it was acquired as a new household adornment.

Deborah Norris Rush was one of the four children of Pauline Biddle and John Penn Brock, and thus, even before her marriage to Richard Stockton Rush, she was already heir to the distinguished Biddle and Rush families of Philadelphia.

Important Americana

New York