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Side chair

Origin: America, Virginia, King George County
OH: 38 7/8"; Seat H: 17 3/8"; OW: 21 3/8"; SeatD: 17 1/4"
Mahogany chair frame; beech slip-seat frame
Gift of Mrs. A. D. Williams
Acc. No. 1938-199
Appearance: Side chair with yoked crest rail and scrolled ears; nearly parallel stiles with flat faces and rounded backs; pierced splat with interlaced diamond above heart-shaped piercing centering a three-leaf pendant; splat piercings undercut on reverse; molded shoe; rear seat rail has applied knee brackets; front and side seat rails have molded upper edges; cabriole front legs with shell-and-bellflower-carved knee and ball-and-claw feet; back legs with squared feet; replaced front and side knee blocks.

Construction: The edges of the splat are sharply beveled. The shoe and the rear seat rail are a solid unit, and small knee blocks are mounted beneath each end of the rear rail, thus forming a flattened arch. Carved knee blocks flank the front legs; the upper half of each block is glued to the outer face of the adjacent seat rail, while the lower half is backed by a secondary block mounted beneath the rail. As originally constructed, the chair did not have glue blocks inside the rails.
Label:This sophisticated, mid-eighteenth-century Virginia chair exhibits the same precision of execution and attention to detail that characterize the most carefully constructed examples of contemporary British furniture. The edges of the pierced splat are sharply beveled so that, when viewed from almost any angle, the intricate design is unobscured by the thickness of the plank from which the splat was sawn. At the joints between the seat rails and the front legs the maker used wide tenons that penetrate down into the curved section of the leg. Most American chairs with cabriole legs have narrower tenons so the bottom of the corresponding mortise falls just at the spring line of the curve on the leg, a comparatively weak point.

The chair is part of a highly cohesive group of furniture that includes a number of other chairs, three elaborately carved tea tables, and several case pieces. They are united by a distinctive carving style, the unusual shaping of the ball and claw feet on some chairs and case pieces, and a carefully prescribed set of proportions and structural techniques. Specific structural components found on chairs in the group include the wider seat rail tenons noted above, the consequent attachment of knee blocks to the outer faces of the seat rails instead of to their bottom edges, rear seat rails that are horizontally shaped on the bottom, and splat shoes that are integral with the rear rails. In most cases, the stiles do not flare outward above the seat rails but remain virtually parallel to a point just below the crest rail.

The group is attributed to cabinetmaker Robert Walker (d. 1777), a Scottish immigrant who resided in King George County, Va., directly across the Rappahannock River from the Caroline County town of Port Royal. The attribution is based, in part, on a 1756 Caroline County court case in which John Spotswood, first owner of the present chair, sued Robert Walker over a debt. During the suit, it was recorded that Walker made a set of twelve chairs for Spotswood in 1746. Chair 1938-199 is now believed to be one of those chairs. The set of twelve was recorded in Spotswood's 1758 probate inventory with a value of £24 Virginia currency.
Provenance:The chair was first owned by John Spotswood (d. 1758) of Spotsylvania Co., Va. It descended to John Rowzie Spotswood (1799-1889) of Orange Grove plantation in adjacent Orange Co. It was inherited by his son, Alexander Dandridge Spottswood (sic) (1836-1924), who sold it to G. G. Coons of Culpeper Co., Va., in 1893. Coons later bequeathed the chair to his daughter, Mrs. A. D. Williams, a Richmonder, who presented it to CWF in 1938.

Mrs. Williams stated that her father purchased this chair and another (G1938-200) from members of the Spottswood family. These two chairs are almost certainly those mentioned in a letter from Alexander Dandridge Spottswood to G. G. Coons in 1892 (see file for transcript). Coons was acting as an agent for the McKenney family, who were, in turn, buying an antique tall case clock from the Spottswood home, Orange Grove, in Culpeper. That clock (G1987-547) and the Spottswood-Coons letter of 1892 were bequeathed to CWF in 1987 by descendants of the McKenneys. The Spottswood-Coons letter and a list of owners supplied by Mr. Spottswood in 1893 strongly suggest that the clock and both chairs were used in the Culpeper area from at least 1836.
Mark(s):"X" chiseled into slip seat frame.