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Armoire

1800-1820
Origin: America, Louisiana, New Orleans
OH: 91"; OW: 61"; OD: 23 1/8"
Mahogany, tulip poplar, yellow pine, satinwood, holly, and maple
Museum Purchase, The Sara and Fred Hoyt Furniture Fund
Acc. No. 2009-67
Apperance: Large armoire with molded cornice with rounded corners; two veneered and inlaid full length doors hinged to case with large brass fiche hinges; the central faux stile between the doors is attached to the proper right door; scalloped and inlaid skirt; short square cabriole legs with brush feet; interior has two removable shelves above a belt course of three small drawers topped with shelf with scalloped skirt below, central drawer smaller than outer drawers, above one removable shelf; large iron hook (original) attached to top shelf of belt course pivots into eye (replaced) on back of proper right door.

Construction: The carcass is composed of a series of panels suspended between joined stiles and rails. The carcass stiles are solid pieces which extend from the top of the carcass to the integral French legs and feet. All rails, front, side and back are mortised and pinned into stiles. Each side has an upper and lower panel separated by a medial rail. The panels are tongue and groove joined to frames formed by the stiles and upper, medial and lower side rails. Side panels are flush with the front surface of the stiles and rails. Glue blocks reinforce the joining of front stiles and side panels with the exception of the lower proper left panel.

The single board top is chamfered on the top side and set in dados in the four top rails. The single board bottom is chamfered on bottom side and set in dados in the four bottom rails and stiles. Glue blocks reinforce the joining of the bottom and front bottom rail.

Shelf facing for the fixed shelf is nailed and glued to the top of the front medial rail and is glued and tongue and groove joined to the fixed shelf to form the top of the drawer assembly. Side shelf supports are mortised into the front and back stiles and joined to the front medial rail with triangular glue blocks (replaced). Glue blocks on top of either end of the shelf extend from the front stile to the back stile to join the shelf to the side medial rails. The drawer blade is mortised and pinned into the front stiles. Side drawer runners are mortised into the front and back stiles. Interior drawer runners are dove-tailed into a horizontal batten that is in turn nailed to the interior stiles of the back's frame, and in front dovetailed into a horizontal batten that is in turn glued to the drawer blade. The ends of both battens are tapered. Drawer guides are integral to the drawer runners. Vertical drawer dividers are mortised into the medial rail and the drawer blade. Three pairs of shelf supports (chamfered on the bottom edge) for three removable shelves are mortised into the front and back stiles.

The back is comprised of three upper and three lower tongue and groove panels floating in a frame formed by the upper, medial and lower rails, the back corner stiles and additional panel stiles (two upper and two lower). Both upper and lower panel stiles have beaded edges on the interior side. Glue blocks reinforce the joint between the back medial and lower rails and the back corner stiles.

Front and side bottom rails are scalloped to form skirts, with neo-classical inlay on front skirt.

The door form differs from the rest of the construction of the case. Each has two panels separated by a medial rail. The stiles and rails meet at 45 degree angles. The stiles have two tenons at each end, the smaller one being on the outer edge. Small wedges placed at the ends of the tenons lock the joints. The door panels are flush with the front of the stiles and rails, glued into rabbets and have a central inlayed oval. Doors hang on original brass fiche hinges.

A false stile that separates the two doors is attached to the proper right door with a full length tenon. The false stile consists of stiles and tenons mortised to form a single frame with a panel tongue and grove joined into the frame. The panel is flush with stiles and rails on the front and back of the door and is veneered and inlayed on the front. The construction of this false stile has had major restoration.

The rounded corner cornice is comprised of a front single piece molding and two matching side moldings connected at each corner by a two-piece corner molding. Each front-most corner molding is formed from a wedge with the wedge extending beyond the finished area so that it can be glued to the back of the front molding. Next to it, the second section of the corner molding is a 1"x5"x7 3/4" board, one end of which has been formed and finished to become matching molding. This board is buttressed on the side by a wedge that is glued to the board and in turn glued to the side molding. Two splines, pegged into blind mortises that extend into the front and side moldings lock the pieces comprising the corner assembly together forming the cornice into a single unit.
The bottom edge of the cornice is notched to allow it to overlap the top of the upper front and side rails. The cornice assembly is screwed to the top of the rails through blocks glued to the back of the cornice.
Drawers have two large dovetails per corner with one nail driven through each dovetail into either the front or the back of the drawer. The chamfered drawer bottoms rest in dados in the front and sides and are nailed to the backs. The three drawers may be replacements or reworked.
Label:While the populace of other American cities enjoyed storing their clothes and textiles in chests of drawers, double chests, and clothes presses, the inhabitants of New Orleans and other lower Mississippi River cities like Natchez chose to use a storage form derived from French armoires. The form arrived in Louisiana with French immigrants and in the minds of French and Caribbean cabinetmakers. Louisiana armoires followed the overall French form with their large double doors and integral central stile, interior belt of drawers, short cabriole legs, and large fiche hinges. Around the beginning of the 19th century with the integration of non-French artisans into New Orleans, some cabinetmakers began to decorate their wares in an Anglo-American fashion. This armoire, which was purchased from a local (but unknown) Natchez family by the dealer who handled it in the 1970s, is ornamented over its entire front with neoclassical inlays of ovals, swags, bellflowers, bowknots, and a vine with berries emanating from a classical snake-handled vase. Aspects of this type of inlay and veneer work can be seen from New England to Maryland to western Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This armoire and others like it represent the melding of a French storage form with Anglo-American decoration. While this type of integration is also seen in the furniture of other cultures arriving in America, the history of Louisiana and its strong French orientation makes this an especially interesting and important form to have in the Colonial Williamsburg collection. There are no other pieces of furniture from Louisiana in the CW collection, but like the recently acquired Kentucky chest of drawers, this armoire demonstrates how important the early furniture of the Mississippi River Valley is to the history of America's furniture trade.
Provenance:The vendor purchased this armoire from Johnny Lombardo of Old Natchez Antiques, Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1970s. Lombardo stated that he had obtained the piece from a local (but unnamed) family.