Immigrant Carvers and the Development of the Rococo Style in New York, 17501770
The rococo style reached its peak in the American colonies between 1760 and 1775, owing to the arrival of specialized immigrant artisans, the influence of design books and furniture imports, and the economic and political situations at home and abroad. An unprecedented number of artisans immigrated during the 1760s. Most probably felt there was less competition and more opportunity for personal and social advancement in America, whereas others immigrated to escape punishment for minor criminal offenses or because of bankruptcy. In the economic decline that resulted from the Seven Years War (17561763), many small shops in Britain were displaced by larger firms, and patronage waned, particularly among the middle class. By contrast, Americas economy flourished during and after the French and Indian War (17541763).
In 1756, New York merchant Philip Cuyler remarked that the war may prove as fortunate to this place as the Last [King Georges War]. Colonial merchants and entrepreneurs made fortunes privateering and provisioning the British forces and subsequently reaped the benefits of new and expanded commerce with the hinterland and the Atlantic community. James Beekman, for example, sold large quantities of dry goods in New York and in Albany, where Britain maintained a strong military presence. In his History of the Late Province of New York (1757), William Smith, Jr., wrote, Never was the trade in this province in so flourishing a condition as at the latter end of the late French War. Similarly, John Watts noted that New Yorkers have run too much into habits of luxury. . . . Changes and inconstancies of the war had allmost turned their Heads.1
Together with the scions of wealthy, established families, this new merchant elite was largely responsible for the spate of building that occurred in New York during the 1750s and 1760s. Between 1743 and 1760, the number of houses increased from approximately 1,140 to 2,600, and the citys population grew from 11,000 to 18,000. Artisans outside the building trades profited from the growing demand for furnishings and consumer goods and from nonimportation agreements established in response to increasing tariffs and duties imposed by the Crown. This economic and political climate encouraged domestic industries and attracted a variety of tradesmen from abroad.2
At least half of the carvers who advertised in New York during the third quarter of the eighteenth century were immigrants. The first to arrive was Henry Hardcastle (fl. ca. 1750ca. 1756), who was admitted as a freeman in 1751. Little is known about his career, but the furniture and architectural work attributed to him suggests that he trained in London or another large British city during the 1740s. This training is particularly evident in his carving in Philipse Manor in Yonkers (figs. 1, 2). Although a few individual elements could be interpreted as rococo, such as the wavelike plinths of the (missing) birds in the door pediments and asymmetrical scrollwork and heron of the overmantle frieze (fig. 3), the vast majority of this work has a bold, naturalistic quality reminiscent of stone carving in British Palladian interiors of the 17201740 period.3
Hardcastles patron, Frederick Philipse III, was the third lord of Philipseburg Manor. His grandfather emigrated from Friesland to New Amsterdam during the Dutch period of rule and subsequently amassed a fortune through land speculation, slave trading, and two financially advantageous marriages. After the British conquered New Netherland in 1664, Frederick I supported the new government and was eventually rewarded with a royal patent granting manorial status to his estate. His son, Frederick II, was educated in England but returned to New York in 1716. While maintaining the familys mercantile business, he pursued a legal career culminating in his appointment to the New York Supreme Court in 1755. Frederick II enlarged and renovated Philipse Manor, but his son probably commissioned all the architectural carving in the house and installed the rococo papier-mâché ceiling in the southeast parlor on the first floor (fig. 1). The ceiling ornaments, which appear to be later than the carving, could have been provided by Roper Dawson, who advertised a great variety of Paper Hangings and . . . Bass Relievo for Ceilings in 1762; by carvers Nicholas Bernard or John Minshall, who advertised papier-mâché in 1769; or by an English agent or firm working directly with Philipse.4
Frederick III is the only individual patron associated with Hardcastle; however, furniture with carving attributed to Hardcastles shop descended in the Van Rensselaer, Stuyvesant, and Vreeland-Gautier families. By the middle of the eighteenth century, many New Yorkers from old European families turned to England for the latest styles and fashions. Their demands helped stimulate new developments in the furniture-making trades and supported specialists like Hardcastle.5
Judging from his surviving work, Hardcastle maintained a relatively small shop. His only known apprentice, Stephen Dwight (DeWight, DeWhile), ran away in June 1755 and opened a shop between the Ferry Stairs and Burling Slip the following month. Hardcastle subsequently moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in October 1756. Although his residence in New York was relatively short, as Dwights master Hardcastle was the progenitor of the most enduring carving tradition in eighteenth-century New York.6
Stephen Dwights career lasted from 1755 to at least 1774. Advertisements indicate that he moved his shop into the house of Mr. Johnson Carpenter . . . near the Moravian Meeting in 1762, that he painted portraits and taught drawing, and that he was in partnership with carver Richard Davis by 1774. Dwight and Davis may have remained in business through the Revolutionary War. Davis was the executor of Dwights will (written in October 1785), and his name appeared in an 1805 suit involving Dwights wife, Mary, and other beneficiaries of his estate. New York City directories listed him at various addresses from 1789 to 1798.7
Picture frames made for Lawrence Kilburns portraits of New York merchant James Beekman (17321807) (fig. 4) and his wife Jane (Keteltas) are the only carving documented to Dwights shop. On March 11, 1762, Beekman paid Dwight £11.10.0 for the frames and 8s for carving four flowers for my New Roome. Presumably, the portraits, frames, and architectural carving were for Beekmans house on Queen Street. Beekman purchased the house from his brother-in-law, Abraham Keteltas, in 1760 and almost immediately began enlarging, renovating, and refurnishing it. The flowers were almost certainly appliqués for the crossettes (or ears) of an architrave (see fig. 13).8
Dwight probably patterned his frames after the British example on Kilburns portrait of Beekmans brother Abraham (fig. 5). All have similar scroll-and-acanthus repeats, applied flowers in the corners and reserves, and large acanthus leaves modeled in much the same manner. The most distinctive elements on Dwights frames are the carved flowers glued in the corners. These have convex centers and concave lobed petals with small gouge cuts on the edges. The acanthus leaves have minimal detail and are roughly modeled like those on the British frame. As such, they reveal very little about Dwights working style.
Based on stylistic and technical parallels with the work in Philipse Manor, several examples of New York furniture and architectural carving can be attributed to an artisan trained by Hardcastle. Many colonial artisans trained during the early 1750s had to adjust to new styles introduced by design books and immigrant artisans during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. New York furniture, architectural carving, and trade cards document the presence of Matthias Lock and Henry Coplands A New Book of Ornaments (1st ed. 1752), Thomas Chippendales The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director (1st ed. 1754), and the Society of Upholsterers Houshold Furniture in Genteel Taste (1st ed. 1760). Such design sources were influential; however, they never supplanted the drawing style and technical repertoire that artisans developed during their apprenticeships. Regardless of its date or stylistic derivation, the carving attributed to this anonymous artisan bears the clear imprint of Hardcastles instruction. Dwight is the most likely candidate, since he is Hardcastles only known apprentice and the only locally trained carver documented in New York between 1755 and 1770.9
The earliest architectural carving in the Hardcastle school is on a chimneypiece from Dr. William Barnets house in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Tradition maintains that Barnet hired local builder William Brittin to design and supervise the construction of his house, which was reportedly completed by 1763. Following Barnets death in 1790, the house became known as Hampton Place.10
The parlor (now in the Winterthur Museum) has an elaborate chimneypiece flanked by stop-fluted Doric pilasters and cupboards with molded surrounds, pulvinated friezes, and pediments matching those of the mantle (fig. 6). The upper section of the chimneypiece has a crossetted architrave with flowers, large carved trusses, and a low, pitched pediment. Small architectural components, such as appliqués and trusses, were easily transported either by wagon or by water. In this instance they were probably shipped by boat across the West River.
Hardcastles influence is apparent in the design and execution of the carving from Hampton Place. The large acanthus leaves curling against the edge of the architrave molding are simplified versions of those at the top of the trusses in the second-floor parlor of Philipse Manor (figs. 7, 8). All of these leaves have broad, flat spines and convex surfaces articulated with multiple gouge cuts; however, the carving from Hampton Place is less accomplished. The trusses have garlands with small flowers, fruits, and simple leaf forms carved in relief on a sloping ground, whereas those attributed to Hardcastle are three-dimensional and far more realistic. The tattered foliage flowing from the large scrolls at the bottom of the trusses is the only rococo detail present in the Hampton Place carving. Hardcastle also used tattered leafage, but the similarities between these details are too generic for comparison.11
A desk-and-bookcase that reportedly descended in the Peter Stuyvesant family (fig. 9) is by the same artisan that carved the trusses on the chimneypiece from Hampton Place, and from the same cabinet shop as an earlier desk-and-bookcase with carving attributed to Hardcastle. Both pieces have double-ogee-shaped upper door rails, serpentine blocked interior drawers, pigeonholes with arched brackets, drawers with fully paneled bottom boards, and thin dustboards that are feathered into grooves in the drawer blades and drawer runners. The prospect door on the Stuyvesant desk-and-bookcase has a carved heron (fig. 10) that resembles the one on the frieze appliqué in Philipse Manor (fig. 3). Not only is the posture of the birds similar, but both have body feathers simulated with short, paired gouge cuts. The heron on the prospect door is, however, considerably less sculptura than the bird on the frieze appliqué. Similarly, the flower and leaf appliqués on the scrollboard of the Stuyvesant desk-and-bookcase (fig. 11) are simplified versions of those in Philipse Manor. The execution of these naturalistic elements is more comparable to the work in Hampton Place (fig. 7).12
A chimneypiece from James Beekmans country house, Mount Pleasant (fig. 12), is probably two or three years later than the Stuyvesant desk-and-bookcase and the interior from Hampton Place. On January 11, 1763, Beekman noted cash paid Abraham Anderson . . . John Anderson [and others] for my . . . farm [lying and being on Turtle Bay] . . . total cost, £738.13.6. Within a year, Beekman had spent an additional £1,967 for utensils, and creatures . . . cost of materials, Labor, and Victuals, suggesting that work at Mount Pleasant was well underway. His account book lists payments to several tradesmen in 1764, including carpenters Jeramiah Fowler and Mr. Peat, but he neglected to specify if the work was for his town or country seat. Although Dwights name does not appear during the mid-1760s, his involvement is plausible given his previous commissions from Beekman.13
Like the chimneypiece in the first-floor parlor of Philipse Manor, Beekmans has a compressed broken-scroll pediment, a pulvinated frieze, and an architrave with scrolling fretwork and shallow, carved leaves. The crossette appliqués on the Beekman chimneypiece are clearly derived from the rosettes on the chimneypiece in the first-floor parlor of Philipse Manor. Both sets of flowers have broad convex petals with deeply fluted and veined depressions and flat half-petals, or sepals, in the background (figs. 13, 14). Similar rosettes also appear on a New York desk-and-bookcase said to have descended in the Cotton Mather Smith family (fig. 15).14
No exact source for the dog and swans (fig. 16) on the Beekman chimneypiece is known, but similar animals are depicted in eighteenth-century furniture and architectural designs, particularly those for chimneypieces, looking glasses, and pier tables. The modeling of these animals is comparable to that of the heron on the prospect door of the Stuyvesant desk-and-bookcase (fig. 10). On each the carver used short, paired gouge cuts to simulate hair or feathers.
In other respects the carving on the Beekman chimneypiece differs stylistically from that in Philipse Manor and in Hampton Place. The pediment rosettes, trusses, pilaster flowers, and frieze appliqué are considerably more abstract (fig. 12). The trusses and appliqué, for example, have acanthus clusters with heavy rounded lobes and tattered leaves that resemble the composite plant/shell forms common in rococo engraving (fig. 17). Although these flower and leaf elements may look different from those in Hampton Place, evidence suggests that they are from the same shop if not, in many instances, by the same hand.
In both design and execution, the carving from Hampton Place and Mount Pleasant is closely related to that in St. Pauls Chapel at Broadway and Fulton Street, built between 1764 and 1766 (fig. 18). Made of Manhattan mica-schist with brownstone coins, the chapel bears a strong resemblance to eighteenth-century churches in towns and cities throughout northern England and Scotland. Local tradition maintains that the architect was Scottish immigrant Thomas McBean; however, recent scholarship suggests that St. Pauls was designed by Peter Harrison. On June 23, 1764, the church paid £600 to John Dies for 20th [illegible] have taken his Bond & Mortgage per order of Mr. Marston & Mr. Harrison payable [illegible] 9th June 1763.15
A notation on a drawing of the south elevation of the church states: This is the plan designed for the New Church to be executed by Messrs. Gautier and Willis 17th of July 1764. Mr. Gautier, who may have been New York alderman and Windsor chair retailer Andrew Gautier, was apparently in charge of the building. Between March 25, 1762 and December 22, 1768, he received £4,689.12.4, primarily for the use of St. Pauls Church. Most of the construction was completed by the fall of 1766. That October, the New York Gazette reported, On Monday, 27th . . . the pews in St. Pauls Chapel will be let at public auction . . . and on the Tuesday following the chapel will be opened, and a sermon preached. A subsequent account of the opening described the church as one of the most elegant edifices on the continent and noted that the Mayor and Corporation of the City and Governor Henry Moore attended the service.16
St. Pauls is the only surviving public building in New York City with architectural carving in the rococo style. The ceiling arches spring from classical entablatures supported by large Corinthian pilasters with capitals that match the smaller one beneath the sounding board of the pulpit (figs. 18, 19). The pulpit is one of the most elaborate examples from the colonial period, featuring a carved sounding board; a stair with a carved ogee frieze, brackets, and banisters (figs. 19, 20); a variety of carved moldings; several carved appliqués; and an openwork bolection element, ornamented with strapwork shells flanked by acanthus leaves and flowers. The relief carving on the frieze and on the cartouche above the large Venetian window at the altar end are the most overt rococo details (figs. 21, 22).17
The cartouche has acanthus clusters with heavily rounded lobes that are modeled and articulated with chip cuts in precisely the same manner as those on the trusses and appliqué of the Beekman chimneypiece (figs. 17, 22). In addition, several of the C-scrolls framing the inscription on the cartouche have poorly defined volutes that are virtually identical to those of the chimneypiece appliqué (figs. 16, 22). Most carvers used deep vertical gouge cuts to set in their volutes, then fluted the edge of the scroll to cast them in relief, but in many instances, this artisan omitted the first step. Other elements on the cartouche are related to those in Hampton Place and Philipse Manor. The paired acanthus leaves that drop from the large scroll volutes and curl in toward the central reserve (fig. 23) have flat spines and convex surfaces articulated with gouge cuts, like the similarly shaped leaves on the trusses of the chimneypiece from Hampton Place (fig. 7) and Philipse Manor (fig. 8). These parallels suggest that the same tradesman executed much of the carving for St. Pauls Chapel, the Beekman House, and Hampton Place, and that he trained in Hardcastles shop.
Other carved details in St. Pauls Chapel bear a strong resemblance to work attributed to Hardcastle. The upper appliqués on the sides of the pulpit have grape leaves with complex outlines and divergent veining like those on the frieze appliqué of the chimneypiece in the second-floor parlor of Philipse Manor (figs. 3, 24). Also, although the stair brackets of the pulpit have acanthus leaves that differ from Hardcastles, their overall design is derived from the brackets in Philipse Manor (figs. 20, 25). These interrelationships are consistent with the notion that artisans such as Dwight developed habitual drawing and working styles during their early training.
The latest architectural carving attributed to this shop is in the entrance hall of Stephen Van Rensselaer IIs (17421769) manor house, built in Albany between 1765 and 1768 (fig. 26). This room was one of the most important public spaces in the house, providing access to the stair hall and first-story rooms. The woodwork includes six doorways with crossetted surrounds, pulvinated friezes, and pitch pediments; four recessed, paneled windows; and an elliptical archway flanked by fluted Ionic pilasters. Shortly after the interior was completed, Stephen ordered hand-painted wallpaper depicting the four seasons. Such papers were popular in England during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. In 1754, Battersea printer Jean Baptist Jackson (ca. 1701ca. 1780) wrote:
The wallpaper and architectural carving in Van Rensselaers hall
was part of a larger decorative scheme. Stephen originally planned to
install an ornamental stucco ceiling; however, his father-in-law, Philip
Livingston, advised him otherwise: I am told You Intend to gett
Stucco Work on the Ceiling of Your Hall which I would not advise You to
do, a Plain Ceiling is now Esteemed the most Genteel.18
Brinner also mentioned that he had brought over from London six
Artificers, well skilld in the above Branches.20