A high-style representative of joined seat­ing furniture made with mortise-and-tenon construction, the great chair con­veyed its owner's elevated social status in seventeenth-century America. Contempo­raneous with turned spindle-back and slat-back great chairs (see B.60.32 and B.69.520), the joined examples are considerably rarer today. The Bayou Bend chair is one of six closely related examples, several of which have strong Essex County histories, and it is likely they were made there. All feature front legs and arm supports resembling rudimentary Tuscan columns, square in section, that have been worked with a saw, drawknife, and plane rather than being turned, as well as a flat crest rail that projects over the stiles. While each crest has arcadelike carved ornament, the number of semicircular arches in the ar­cade ranges from four on one example to eight on two other chairs; two more have five, and the Bayou Bend chair has seven. The carved, scrolled ornament on the upper stiles varies in design, placement, and size. Similarly, the carved decoration of the inset back panel presents four dis­tinct variations. These factors indicate that rather than being the product of one shop, these joined great chairs were made by several individual Essex County joiner-carvers who looked to a common model. That East Anglia, England, may be the source is suggested by the shallow, Mannerist-style strapwork, semicircular arches, and abstract leaf carving, which relate to the vocabulary of carved orna­ment found on East Anglian examples. The scrolls that appear on the stiles of all six are also seen in East Anglian work.

Related examples: MMA, with five arches and arc-and-leaf carved panel, arc-and-leaf carving on frame below (Keyes 1938, p. 297, fig. 4), is most similar to the Bayou Bend chair; MFA, Boston, with eight arches on crest rail and guilloche carved panel, uncarved frame below (Randall 1965, no. 120); Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, with eight arches and strapwork carved panel, in­terlaced arc-and-leaf carving on frame below; Winterthur, with five arches and strapwork carved panel (similar but not identical to the Pilgrim Hall chair), arc-and-leaf carving on frame below (Forman 1988, 148, no. 18); Dan­vers Historical Society, Massachusetts, with four arches and interlaced semicircular and leaf carved panel, geometric fret carving on frame below, arc-and-leaf carving on front seat rail (Lockwood 1957, 300, fig. LXXVII).

Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.


Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Maker
American
Title
Great Chair
Date
c. 1640–1685
Medium
White oak
Dimensions
37 5/8 × 23 1/2 × 20 3/4 in. (95.6 × 59.7 × 52.7 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, museum purchase funded by Miss Ima Hogg, by exchange

Current Location
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
MURPHY ROOM
Accession Number
B.94.11
Classification
Furniture
Provenance

[James T. Moulton, Lynn, Massachusetts]; purchased by James Lovell Little, Brookline, Massachusetts, August 21, 1875; by inheritance to his daughter, Laura Revere Little, Brookline; purchased by her cousins, Bertram K. (1899–1993) and Nina Fletcher Little, Brookline, May 1944; [Sotheby’s, New York, October 21, 1994, sale 6612, part II, lot 661]; purchased by MFAH, 1994.