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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.

 
 
 
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
High Chest
1700–1725
Black walnut and burled walnut veneer, soft maple, aspen, and eastern white pine

68¼ x 40¼ x 22¼ inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection
Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America
 
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The 1690s witnessed a dramatic evolution in the design and construction of American furniture, which was introduced to the colonies through England and, in turn, through the exertions of the Dutch and French. The massive, vertical Late Renaissance style gave way to the lighter, more elegantly proportioned Early Baroque.

The high chest of drawers is an iconic statement of this aesthetic. An imposing form that originated during this period, it was intended for the bedchamber. This architectural example is defined by its bold cornice and molding surmounting a convex frieze. The base is reminiscent of a Roman triumphal arch. Because the chest’s turned legs and feet could not be veneered, it is likely that they were originally painted to simulate the burl veneers used on the case.

The sophistication of this chest suggests that it was commissioned for someone of great prominence. The work embodies the comments of an Englishman who visited Boston about 1700: “A Gentleman from London would almost think himself at home at Boston . . . when he observes the Numbers of People, their Houses, their Furniture, their Tables, their Dress, and Conversation, which perhaps is as splendid and showy, as that of the most considerable Tradesmen in London.”