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Armchair, oval-back

Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
Overall: 19 x 38 x 21in. (48.3 x 96.5 x 53.3cm)
Mahogany, tulip poplar, ash, and maple
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1991-585
Appearance: Oval back with double-beaded edges; pierced vasi-form splat with central pinwheel inlay of maple and green tinted poplar; serpentine double-beaded arms; upholstered over the rail; side seat rails bowed, front rail serpentine and slightly saddled; original upholstery trimmed with double row of brass nails (no vertical rows at corners); plain H-plan stretchers and rear stretcher; tapered legs; spade front feet. Construction: typical chair construction with the following notes; arms secured to stiles with single screws; medial stretcher tenoned into side stretchers; the side of the spade feet are integral with the legs, the fronts and backs are applied.

Construction: The arms are secured to the stiles with single screws driven from the inside. In addition to small vertical glue blocks (now replaced), diagonal braces are set into each corner of the seat frame. The medial stretcher is tenoned into the side stretchers. In typical Maryland fashion, the sides of the spade feet are integral with the legs, while the front and rear faces are applied.

Materials: Mahogany crest rail, splat, splat rail, shoe, stiles, arms, arm supports, front legs, and rear seat rail; tulip poplar front and side seat rails; ash corner braces; maple and tulip poplar inlays.
Label:By the end of the eighteenth century, the prosperous and rapidly growing city of Baltimore supported a large community of artisans, among whom were more than fifty cabinetmakers. Many were relatively new to the city and brought a wide array of design traditions learned in other urban centers, both British and American. Numbers of their patrons must have been newcomers too since Baltimore's population quadrupled between 1775 and 1800, reaching more than twenty-six thousand at the century's end. As a consequence, neither cabinetmaking traditions nor taste in household furniture were as firmly established in Baltimore as they were in older American cities. Together, these conditions were largely responsible for the unconventional nature of much neoclassical Baltimore furniture.

The oval-back chair is a case in point. British examples of the form are quite common, but chairs with oval-shaped backs were rare in America outside Baltimore, where local craftsmen produced the form in substantial quantities. Whether the design was introduced into Baltimore by way of an imported British chair, an immigrant artisan, or a published source like plate 8 in Hepplewhite's Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide (1788) is unknown, but Marylanders clearly embraced the concept with enthusiasm. Most Baltimore chairmakers did not directly copy existing British versions of the oval-back chair; instead, they modified it by incorporating various popular local elements. The splat pattern employed most often is a pierced, three-ribbed model, a splat design unknown outside Maryland. Similarly, the splat on the present chair, though seldom used on the oval back, is nonetheless a combination of components from two splat patterns frequently used on the so-called "modified shield-back," yet another chair design that is rarely employed outside Maryland.

Once part of a large set, the CWF chair has a history of use at the Lloyd family's Wye House in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Separated from the rest of Maryland by the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore was largely rural throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Until the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was the Eastern Shore's principal source of high-style furniture because that city's shops and stores were accessible by land and its economy dominated the region. Baltimore's postwar emergence as the principal market center of the upper Chesapeake led to a change in buying habits on the Shore. Scores of neoclassical Baltimore chairs, tables, and case pieces have histories of ownership by Eastern Shore families.

This chair was attributed to Baltimore cabinetmaker William Singleton (fl. 1790-1803) by Alexandra A. Alevizatos, in a master's thesis written for the University of Delaware-Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, June 1999. Edward Lloyd V of Wye House purchased 12 chairs (10 arm and 2 side) from William Singleton for $108 in 1801.
Provenance:The chair has a tradition of ownership in the Lloyd family at Wye House in Talbot Co., Md. It is likely from the set of ten side chairs and two armchairs purchased by Edward Lloyd V from Baltimore cabinetmaker William Singleton in 1801 for $108 (see Kirtley 2002). Built in 1784 by Edward Lloyd IV (1744-1796), Wye remains in family hands and retains many of its early furnishings. Elizabeth Key Lloyd Schiller of Wye House gave the chair, then in a broken condition, to Baltimore furniture restorer Harry Berry in the 1960s. It was later purchased from his estate by Baltimore antiques dealer J. Michael Flanigan, who sold it to CWF in 1991.