The American Campeche chair

1 Ellen W. R. Coolidge to Nicholas P. Trist, March 8, 1827, Papers of Nicholas Philip Trist, Library of Congress, Washington, reproduced on Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series Digital Library. It is possible that Coolidge confused the Campeche with the French chair now in the dining room at Monticello. Trist had carved the initials “TJ” into the chair’s left arm. 

2 Virginia R. Trist to Coolidge, June 27, 1825, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, reproduced ibid. 

3 Logwood (or bloodwood) is used to make Hematoxylin, a scientific stain used in microscopy. It is difficult to work and not usually used for the construction of furniture, as is often believed. 

4 I thank Ulrike Eichner and Ute Roenneke for examining this chair with me in conservation at the Neue Palais, Potsdam. 

5 See Galeries nationals du Grand Palais, Paris, and Altes Museum, Berlin, Les Etrusques et l’Europe (Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1992), p. 393; and Jean-Marie Bruson and Anne Forray-Carlier, Au temps des merveilleuses: la société parisienne sous le Directoire et le Consulat (Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 2005), p. 182, no. 281. 

6 Jadviga M. Da Costa Nunes, Baroness Hyde de Neuville: Sketches of America, 1807–1822 (Jane Voorhes Zimmerli Art Museum, Brunswick, N.J., and New-York Historical Society, New York, 1984), pp. 2–3. 

7 For a complete account of the form’s history, see Ole Wanscher, Sella Curulis, the Folding Stool: An Ancient Symbol of Dignity (Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1980). 

8 Juan José Junquera y Mato, “Mobiliario,” in Artes decorativas II, vol. 45 of Summa Artis: Historia general del arte, ed. Alberto Bartolomé Arraiza (Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1999), p. 399, tentatively identifies the silla francesa with the chaise perroquet of France. Sillón comes from the Latin word sella meaning seat. Cadera derives from the Latin cathedra meaning the chair or seat of a bishop (hence ex cathedra, meaning “from the chair”) and came to denote the hip. 

9 For an expanded discussion, see Cybèle Trione Gontar, “The Campeche Chair in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 38 (2003), pp. 183–212. 

10 Abelardo Carrillo y Gariel, Evolución del mueble en Mexico (Instituto Nacional de Antropologîa e Historia, Mexico, 1957), p. 10. 

11 “Memoir about James and Dolley Madison,” Mary Estelle Elizabeth Cutts Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

12 See Robert L. Self and Susan R. Stein, “The Collaboration of Thomas Jefferson and John Hemings: Furniture Attributed to the Monticello Joinery,” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 33, no. 4 (Winter 1998), pp. 241–242. Subsequent research at Monticello has called into question the attribution of these chairs to the Monticello joinery. 

13 Butler, who was appointed judge of the Louisiana Third District Court in 1813, was elected to finish the term of Congressman Thomas B. Robertson (1773–1828). 

14 Emily Johnston De Forest, James Colles, 1788–1883, Life and Letters (privately printed, New York, 1926), p. 212. 

15 Emily Johnston De Forest, “The House, 7 Washington Square, and an Inventory of Its Contents,” April 1928, Hagen furniture file, Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

16 Jefferson to William Brown, August 8, 1808, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. 

17 Thomas B. Robertson to Thomas Jefferson, August 2, 1819, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 

18 Jefferson to Martha J. Randolph, August 24, 1819, Jefferson Papers, University of Virginia, reproduced on Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series Digital Library. 

19 Jefferson to Joel Yancey, January 27, 1821, reproduced on Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series Digital Library. Campeche chairs were traditionally covered in red leather. 

20 Anne Castrodale Golovin, “Cabinetmakers and chairmakers of Washington, D.C., 1791–1840,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 107, no. 5 (May 1975), pp. 914–915. 

21 I thank Matthew A. Thurlow for pointing out this painting to me, and Anthony Janson and Karen Osburn for providing additional information. The Van Brunt-Foote House still stands at 46 DeLancey Drive in Geneva. 

22 See Mary Roche, “Furniture Depicts Different Mexico: Room Setting Now on View Reflects Country’s Trend Away from Clutter,” New York Times, February 4, 1947.

CYBÈLE T. GONTAR is a co-author of The Furniture of Louisiana, Colonial and Federal Periods, Creole and Vernacular, 1735–1835 (forthcoming spring 2010) and an adjunct professor of art history at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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