Side chair, splat-back
Origin: England, London (probably)
OH: 37 1/2"; OW: 22 1/2"; OD: 20 1/4"
Acc. No. 1985-259
Construction: The splat elements are secured with unpinned mortise-and-tenon joinery, while the seat frame members and stretchers are fully pinned. The outer surfaces of the front leg posts are slightly indented above the seat rail to accommodate the thickness of the upholstery, and peaks at the tops of the posts are beveled at an angle that mirrors the curved front rail. While the front and side rails are slightly thinner than the posts, the stepped rear rail extends an additional 5/8" into the seat frame area. One of the four original corner braces remains in angled slots cut into the seat rails. The medial stretcher is tenoned into the side stretchers.
Materials: Mahogany crest rail, stiles, splats, splat rail, front legs, and stretchers; beech seat rails and blocks.
Label:This English side chair was abandoned by Virginia's last royal governor, Lord Dunmore, when he fled the Palace at Williamsburg in 1775. It was purchased by Colonel Edward Ambler of Jamestown at the ensuing auction and remained in the Ambler family until the 1920s. The survival of an identical set of chairs at Badminton House in Gloucestershire, England, lends credence to this Palace association. Badminton was the home of the fourth Duke of Beaufort, the nephew and principal heir of Dunmore's predecessor in Virginia, Lord Botetourt. Records confirm that Botetourt brought quantities of furniture to Williamsburg from England in 1768, and the present rather unusual chair may have been among those goods. After Governor Botetourt's death in 1770, the colony purchased a substantial quantity of the late governor's possessions for the use of his successor at the Palace.
Robert Manwaring's CABINET AND CHAIR-MAKER'S REAL FRIEND AND COMPANION, published in London in 1765, may have provided the design inspiration for this chair. Manwaring's plate 13 depicts a "Gothick Chair" with a similar interlocking arc motif in the back, while plate 9 features a chair with a related central arch in its crest rail. A neoclassical design in the 1794 edition of George Hepplewhite's CABINET MAKER AND UPHOLSTER'S GUIDE may reflect a later interpretation of the same general idea. American versions of this pattern are unknown, suggesting either that it was not popular or that it was not widely seen in the colonies.
Provenance:Tradition indicates that the chair was purchased by Col. Edward Ambler of Jamestown, Virginia, at the public sale of Lord Dunmore's possessions in Williamsburg. It descended to Ambler's son, John Ambler; to Philip Ambler; to his son Edward B. Ambler; and to his widow, who sold it to the Moser Furniture Company, Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early 1920s. Moser made and sold reproductions of the chair beginning in 1926. This chair was later sold to Mrs. William E. Graves of Lynchburg, then bequeathed to her son, Edward S. Graves, from whose estate it was purchased by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1985.