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Photo: Courtesy Newport Restoration Foundation, 1999.537.2
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Side chairs, pair

Object number



Maker, attributed to John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


38 1/4 × 22 × 16 in. (97.155 × 55.88 × 40.64 cm)



Current location

Newport Restoration Foundation, Rhode Island


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


Mahogany (primary); chestnut (glue blocks); pine (glue blocks); maple (rear seat rail and slip seat frame)




"V," incised on front rail rabbet of pictured chair; "XI," incised on slip seat frame of pictured chair; “Ma[?],” in graphite, on the rear seat rail of pictured chair; "II," incised on front rail rabbet and slip seat frame of other chair in pair


John Townsend (1732–1809), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his daughter, Mrs. Thomas Brinley (née Mary Townsend, 1769–1856), Newport, Rhode Island, 1809; by descent to her nephew and heir, Christopher Townsend (died 1881), Newport, Rhode Island, 1856; by descent to his sister, Ellen F. Townsend (1809–1887), Newport, Rhode Island, 1881; bequeathed to her friend, William P. Sheffield (1819–1907), Newport, Rhode Island, 1886; by descent to his son, William P. Sheffield (1857–1919), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his son, William P. Sheffield, Jr., 1919; by descent to his sister, Mrs. Charles Renn (née Elizabeth Sheffield), Newport, Rhode Island, after 1937 but by 1965. Sold to Doris Duke (1912–1993) for Newport Restoration Foundation, Rhode Island, 1969; Whitehorne House Museum, Newport Restoration Foundation, Rhode Island, from 1974

Associated names

Ellen F. Townsend
John Townsend
Mary Townsend Brinley
William P. Sheffield, Jr.
William P. Sheffield
Elizabeth S. Renn
William P. Sheffield
Christopher Townsend
Doris Duke


Each chair has a serpentine, flat-fronted crest rail centering an arched, recessed panel with incised dot-and-line decoration and ending in molded, scrolling, flaring ears. Portions of the back of the crest are flat, chamfered, or rounded. The flat-front, round-backed stiles below are tenoned into it, with one wood pin per joint. Also tenoned into the underside of the crest and into the molded, four-sided shoe below is a single-piece scrolling openwork splat. The shoe is attached by brads to the rear seat rail, which it does not overhang. The rear legs, continuous with the stiles, are square, and rake rearward and inward, kicking slightly rearward again below the side stretchers. The rear seat rail is tenoned into the rear legs with one wood pin per leg; the turned rear stretcher is doweled into them. The flat-arch-skirted side seat rails are tenoned into them, with two wood pins per rear leg, and into the round-fronted blocks above the front legs, with one wood pin per leg. The front seat rail, also flat-arch skirted, is tenoned into the front legs with one wood pin per leg. The blocked and turned side stretchers are tenoned and single-wood-pinned to the rear legs, and tenoned into the front legs with single wood pins visible only on the inside of the legs. The turned medial stretchers are doweled into the side stretchers. The seat rails are rabbeted. In the rear corners are large triangular blocks which extend below the rear seat rail, and are fixed to the rear and side rails with rosehead nails. Each front corner has two blocks, nailed with brads to their respective rails and to the block atop the front legs. The front cabriole legs have rounded knees and carved knee brackets attached with glue and brads. The ankles are deeply carved; the prominent claws and talons are grasping elongated ball feet. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, March 27, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: The Colonial Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984), 37, fig. I-43.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 96–97, no. 11, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 66, 74, 188, figs. 2.3, 3.106–3.106a.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "Newport and the Townsend Inheritance," Antiques 167, no. 5 (May 2005): 100, ill.
John T. Kirk, American Chairs: Queen Anne and Chippendale (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 137, fig. 176.
Joseph K. Ott, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture, exh. cat. (Providence: The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1965), 14–15, no. 13, ill.
Homer Eaton Keyes, "Two Branches of the Newport Townsends," Antiques 31, no. 6 (June 1937): 308, fig. 3.
Ruth Davidson, "Rhode Island Furniture," Antiques 87, no. 4 (April 1965): 392, 410.
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "Discoveries in Newport Furniture and Silver," Antiques 68, no. 1 (July 1955): 44, fig. 1.
Christie's New York, New York, Important American Furniture, Outsider, and Folk Art, sale cat. (September 22, 2014), 34, fig. 3.
Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2016), 348n4.