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Photo: Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts 41.577
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High chest of drawers


Object number

RIF811

Maker

Maker: attributed to John Townsend, American, 1732–1809

Dimensions

206.375 x 99.06 x 51.753 cm (81 1/4 x 39 x 20 3/8 in.)

Date

1756–1759

Current location

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Geography

Made in Newport, Rhode Island
(view a map of Rhode Island)

Medium

Mahogany (primary); yellow poplar (proper-right drawer supports under upper two long drawers, upper case); white pine (all other secondary wood)

Inscriptions

"M," in graphite, exterior bottom of two long drawers, upper case and underside of upper case bottom; Mathematical calculations, in chalk, exterior bottom of proper-right small drawer, upper case; "A," in graphite, exterior back of proper-right small drawer, upper case; "B," in graphite, exterior back of proper-left small drawer, upper case; "C," in graphite, exterior back of upper long drawer, upper case; "William Senior," (?) "William," "Npt," (?) incised, exterior proper-right drawer side of upper long drawer, upper case; "D," in graphite, exterior back of middle long drawer, upper case; "E" and "F," in graphite, exterior back of lower long drawer, upper case; “B C F E,” in graphite, on top of drawer divider under upper long drawer, upper case; “I,” incised, on top of upper drawer divider, upper case; “I,” incised, on top of drawer divider under upper long drawer, upper case; “II,” incised, on top of drawer divider under second long drawer, upper case; “C,” in graphite, on top of drawer divider under second long drawer, upper case; "A," in graphite, inside proper-right stile at small drawer, upper case; "B," in graphite, inside proper-left stile at small drawer, upper case; "A," in graphite, exterior back of long drawer, lower case; "A," in graphite, exterior back of proper right small drawer, lower case; "C," in graphite, exterior back of central small drawer, lower case; illegible graphite, exterior back of proper left small drawer, lower case; "A B C D," in graphite, top of drawer divider under long drawer, lower case

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

Mary LeMoine Potter (1860–1938), Kingstown, Rhode Island, by descent to Adele Nicolay, Kingstown and Providence, Rhode Island; sold to Martha Codman Karolik (1858-1948) and Maxim Karolik (1893-1963), Boston, and Newport, Rhode Island, before 1939; given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1941

Associated names

Mary LeMoine Potter
Adele Nicolay
Maxim Karolik
Martha Codman Karolik

Construction

The upper case roof consists of boards bent to align with the serpentine-top backboard and front crown molding, which extends into the open bonnet, terminating at the void in the upper backboard. The pediment centers three molded and fluted plinths upon which sit fluted, spherical finials with corkscrew flames. The shaped scrollboard panels below are thumb-molded. Below the two-board upper case top are two full-depth blocks (one missing), nailed with brads to the single-board case sides, which prevent the upper drawers from tipping forward. Behind the scroll board at its left and right extremities are small rectangular glue blocks. A full-width drawer support for the upper small drawers spans the back. Tenoned into it is a transverse central drawer support. Each drawer has full-depth drawer supports nailed to the case sides with brads. Atop the supports are full-depth guides, below them full-depth blocks all nailed to the case sides with brads. At the juncture of the single-board case bottom and the bottom rail are three horizontal rectangular glue blocks. The top rail and drawer dividers of the upper case join the stiles (which contain fluted quarter columns with turned columns and bases) with half-blind dovetail joints. The stile between the upper case small drawers meets the top rail above and drawer divider below in blind joints. The bottom rail of the upper case fits into a groove in the case sides, the upper case bottom is a single board and the molding between the cases is attached to the upper case. The upper case contains two small and three long thumb-molded, lipped, and graduated long drawers, whose drawer fronts are veneered and join their arched-topped sides (of which they are slightly proud) in dovetail joints, having finely cut pins with half-pins above and half-pins below. There are prominent kerf marks inside the drawer fronts. The long drawers have single-board bottoms, parallel to and chamfered at the front, where they fit into grooves, and chamfered at the sides, where they are nailed with brads through runners to the drawer sides above. The drawer bottoms are nailed with brads to the flat-topped drawer backs. Two upper case drawer bottoms and one lower case drawer bottom are cracked and repaired with canvas tape. The upper case small drawers have two-board bottoms perpendicular to their fronts, with touch latches attached with brads. The top rail, drawer divider and stiles of the lower case meet the corner stiles and skirt board in blind joints. The long drawer rests on supports half-lapped to the drawer divider below. The small drawers rest on transverse braces dovetailed into the scalloped skirt, which contains, at its center, a carved shell within an incised border. The single board case sides are similarly scalloped. The lower case long drawer is constructed in the same manner as the upper case drawers. The lower case small drawer fronts lack the groove of the upper case fronts, and the drawer bottoms are nailed directly to the drawer sides and backs. Within the lower case are drawer guides nailed to the case sides with brads, vertical rectangular glue blocks with screw pockets, drawer guides tenoned into the stiles between the small drawers, and vertical rectangular glue blocks behind the shell-carved portion of the skirt. The cabriole legs are of the "detachable" sort, glued into the corners of the case and secured with glue blocks. They are square in section and have angular knees. The rear legs extend beyond the case and terminate in shod pad feet. The front legs have acanthus-carved knees and vigorously carved ankles and claws with undercut talons grasping elongated ball feet. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, November 14, 2012; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Edwin J Hipkiss, Eighteenth-Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950), 56–57, no. 32.
Albert Sack, Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1950), 183, ill.
Helen Comstock, "The American Highboy," Antiques 80, no. 3 (September 1961): 230, fig. 7.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 192–193, fig. 3.109, 3.109a–c.
Margaretta M. Lovell, "Such Furniture as Will Be Most Profitable: The Business of Cabinetmaking in Eighteenth-Century Newport," Winterthur Portfolio 26, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 32, 35, 48, fig. 5.
Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 197, ill.
Margaretta M. Lovell, Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 232, 235, 250, fig. 99.
Sotheby's, New York, The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Mahogany High Chest, sale cat. (January 21, 2012), 13, fig. 3.
Erik Gronning and Amy Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition," American Furniture (2013): 39–41, fig. 89.