The Kaufman Collection: The pursuit of excellence and a gift to the nation

The breadth and depth of their collection is impressive, with significant collections within the collection. Among their holdings of Philadelphia Queen Anne and rococo furniture, for example, are a highly architectural desk-and-bookcase and exceptional side chairs (see Fig. 4), one of the finest Philadelphia card tables (Fig. 5), and the important Gratz family tea table (Fig. 1). RhodeIsland cabinetmakers, who produced some of the most innovative and skillfully executed objects in the second half of the eighteenth century, are represented by a rare tea table attributed to John Townsend and a related card table, as well as by two block-and-shell case pieces-a chest-on-chest and a  bureau table (see Figs. 6, 9). 3

Outstanding Boston and mid-Atlantic Federal furniture became the theme for the Kaufmans' formal living room (Figs. 12,13). Particularly significant are several pieces by or attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, including a tambour desk, a nest of quartetto tables, a unique gaming table made for backgammon and chess, a later gaming table with a marble checkerboard top, and a card table bearing the label of John Seymour and Son.4 Also in this room are a towering Philadelphia cylinder desk-and-bookcase and a stunning satinwood card table of 1807 recently identified as the work of Robert McGuffin through a heretofore unnoticed signature and date (see Fig. 12).5

In more recent years they acquired later classical pieces, several with extraordinary imported sample marble tops, and others colorfully painted or grained and ornamented with gilded decoration in imitation of ormolu mounts (see Fig.  8). Their acquisition of distinguished southern furniture grew as greater knowledge of the major style centers of the South emerged and rare and important pieces came to light, including a Williamsburg tea table, and two Charleston pieces-a brilliantly inlaid Pembroke table and an impressive clothespress. To complement this furniture the Kaufmans were drawn to various other types of objects, including Chinese export and French and American porcelain. Although American glass is not one of their particular interests, they simply could not pass up a rare 1792 tumbler engraved with the Great Seal of the United States and made at the Frederick, Maryland, glasshouse of German émigré John Frederick Amelung.

Through their decades of collecting, the Kaufmans have had many wonderful experiences and made exciting discoveries. I recall particularly when they were considering an absolutely pristine and untouched claw-and-ball-foot Massachusetts marble-top table in the late 1990s. It just seemed too good to be old. George called and asked me if they could have the frame brought to Winterthur for examination. Soon it arrived-for less than twenty-four hours. As various colleagues and I scrutinized it, finding nothing damning, I noticed a small old red-edged gummed label with just one word on it-"Sever."  The name sounded familiar, and I remembered that Winterthur's turret-top tea table had descended in the Sever family. I hurried back to my office and pulled a research folder I had been compiling on our table. In it I found a copy of a 1947 article in Antiques about the William Sever house in Kingston, Massachusetts. There, in a photograph of the front hall taken about 1900, the marble-top table was just partially visible, but identifiable. I later learned that the Sever house had descended in the family-with numerous original furnishings in situ-until the property and contents were auctioned about 1950.6  At that time some pieces remained with descendants (like Winterthur's tea table), while others found their way into private collections. The Sacks had bought this marble-top table and it went directly into the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Taradash. No wonder it was in such pristine condition, it had only been "relocated" once in its life. Mystery solved-table validated-and what a wonderful acquisition. So one of Linda's remarks was once again true: "I love the chase, the comparisons, the research. I think I was a detective in another life."

 

1 J. Michael Flanigan, et al., American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, 1986). 2 This award was established by the Winterthur board of trustees to recognize those "who have contributed significantly to the understanding and enjoyment of America's heritage through collecting, conserving, studying, or promoting the American arts." 3 For the tea table see Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend, Newport Cabinetmaker (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005), pp. 88-89. 4 For these pieces see Robert D. Mussey Jr., The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour (Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass., 2003), pp. 150-151, 340-341, 366-367, 368-369, 370-371. 5 Clark Pearce, Merri Lou Schaumann, Cathy Ebert, "Introducing Robert McGuffin: Henry Connelly's Apprentice Extraordinaire," Antiques and Fine Arts, Spring 2012. 6 Brock Jobe, et al., Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850 (University Press of New England, Hanover, N. H., 2009), pp. 6-7.


WENDY A. COOPER is the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil Senior Curator of Furniture, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.

 

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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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