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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

 
 
 
Philadelphia
Armchair
1785–1815
Ash; painted and gilded, composition decoration; with original linen and horsehair foundation; gilded brass tacks; and modern silk cover

36 1/2 x 20 3/4 x 20 7/8 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection,
Gift of the Theta Charity Antiques Show

Arts of North America
 
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With extensive commercial activity and its position as the young nation’s capital, Philadelphia was 18th-century America’s largest, most cosmopolitan center. English and Continental models set the fashion, as evidenced by this lavish armchair, representing one of the most ambitious collaborations by American craftsmen emulating European neoclassicism.

Originally part of a larger suite (now in various private and public institutions), the armchair is an American interpretation of what George Hepplewhite called a “cabriole chair” and Thomas Sheraton a “Drawing Room Chair.” The latter commented that “These chairs are finished in white and gold,” an elegant combination introduced to Philadelphia. In fact, the armchair incorporates applied gilded composition ornament in place of carving, a technique common in English furniture but rarely used in America except sometimes in church furniture and looking glasses. The substitution of cast composition ornaments for carving, ubiquitous in the English cabinet trade, is highly unusual in America. Scottish designer Robert Adam was the first to patent composition, an amalgam of chalk, rosin, glue, and drying oil. In spite of the obvious foreign influences, this armchair, shown in the Federal Parlor at Bayou Bend, is more accurately an expression of American design and craftsmanship.