Pennsylvania style

The broad entrance hall serves as an overture to the collection (Fig. 3). Below a sprawling canvas of the hongs at Canton, painted for export in 1780, is a Philadelphia mahogany arch-backed sofa with the high peaked crest rail and wide scrolling arms that give late eighteenth-century Philadelphia sofas such a desirable sculptural presence. The earlier Philadelphia walnut upholstered easy chair, with its C-scroll arm terminals rolling outward, cabriole legs, and trifid feet, was purchased from the estate of the legendary collectors Pamela C. (1906-2001) and Lammot du Pont (1905-1983) Copeland. The rectangular shape of the mahogany New York tea table of about 1765—called square in price books because of the squared corners—was common in New England but rare in New York—and rarer still in Philadelphia, where round tilt-top examples, like the one beside the clock in the corner, were ubiquitous. Flanking the tea table is a pair of mid-eighteenth-century Philadelphia solid-splat walnut chairs with compass seats. The tall clock has an eight-day movement and an engraved brass and painted dial made by Delaware's major clockmaker, Duncan Beard (active 1765-1797) of Appoquini­mink (now Middletown), in southern New Castle County.2 Dating to the 1780s, it is housed in a mahogany case that shares features with others made for Beard's clocks that are ascribed to the Delaware cabinetmaker John Janvier Sr. (1749-1801). Of note on these cases are the waist-door panel with wonderfully curving edges and the three-speared carved central ornament.

The bright yellow silk damask upholstery and harmonious groupings of furniture in the Port Royal Parlor in the Winterthur Museum inspired the decoration of the living room (Fig. 10).3 Accessed by a set of broad stairs, the sunken living room is a hallmark of Durham's French country style. In the center is a large Philadelphia marble-topped mahogany slab table also purchased at the Copeland sale. It falls into the realm of a "frame for marble slab," as the 1772 Philadelphia furniture price book describes the form, al­though it has a low height (27 ¾ inches) and great depth (32 inches) relative to the more common tall and narrow shape of most marble slab tables.4 It is finished on all four sides, suggesting a central room position rather than the more typical placement against a wall. The matched walnut easy chairs at the far end of the room were both made in Philadelphia in the mid-eighteenth century. It cannot be proven that they were made as a pair, but construction similarities suggest they were made in the same shop.5 Below an English looking glass (one of a pair) is one of two closely related small Philadelphia mahogany chests of drawers of about 1765. Also in the room, although not visible in Figure 10, are a Philadelphia high chest of drawers and desk-and-bookcase, along with the fine assortment of late eighteenth-century tilt-top tables, chairs, and a card table from Philadelphia that are pictured. In the over­mantel hangs an archetypal Bucks County winter scene by Pennsylvania impressionist Redfield. The five-piece Kangxi garniture on the mantel shelf dates to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century and is among the numerous examples of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain throughout the house. A Philadelphia tall clock with a movement by William Huston (1730-c. 1790) stands beside the fireplace.

In the dining room is a Chester County, Pennsylvania, cherry corner cupboard of a desirably small size and noteworthy for the high pitch of the scroll pediment and the distinctive rosettes (Fig. 4). It was an early purchase from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, dealer Philip H. Bradley and is filled with a portion of the couple's considerable collection of Canton ware, which is distinguished for its array of rare forms. Based on their remarkable similarity to those made for George Washington in 1797, the dining room chairs, one of which is shown beside the corner cabinet, are attributed to the Scottish-born Philadelphia cabinetmaker John Aitken. At the other end of the room, flanking the fireplace, the collectors juxtapose two Pennsylvania inlay traditions by placing a Chester County inlaid walnut cabinet under each of a pair of elegant Philadelphia mahogany card tables with serpentine front rails (see Fig. 5). The card tables date to the 1790s and the cabinets, of a type often used to safeguard spices, to the 1760s. These two distinct forms show how the same decorative technique can achieve totally different effects. On the cabinets, geometric motifs inlaid in contrasting light woods are part of a vernacular folk tradition: such designs, initials, and abstract flowers are also found on pottery, painted furniture, and drawings from the region.6 While still geometric, the inlay on the tables is daintier, more stylized, and less personalized. Ultimately, it is based on architectural order, with a tripartite facade formed by panels of contrasting woods framed by delicate line inlays. The tables hold additional examples of blue-and-white Chinese export ware, including fish-shaped dishes intended as receptacles for fish bones.

Thank you for signing up.

by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

» View All