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Neil D. Kamil
Hidden in Plain Sight: Disappearance and Material Life in Colonial New York

American Furniture 1995

Full Article
Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Side chair, Boston, ca. 1700. Maple and oak; original leather upholstery. H. 34 1/4", W. 17 3/4", D. 14 3/4". (Courtesy, Wadsworth Atheneum.) In New York, Boston leather chairs of this type outnumbered carved examples approximately six to one.

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Side chair, Boston, 1650–1700. Birch and maple with ash. H. 35", W. 18", D. 15". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.)

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Side chair, New York City, 1705–1710. Maple and oak. H. 46 3/4", W. 18", D. 18 3/4". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Map of Aunis-Saintonge, France. 

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Side chair, Boston, 1690–1705. Maple and oak. H. 41 3/4", W. 20", D. 18". (Courtesy, New York State Education Department, Albany.)

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Side chair, New York City, 1660–1700. Maple and oak; original seal skin upholstery. H. 36 3/4", W. 18 3/4", D. 15 1/2". (Courtesy, Old Saybrook Historical Society; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The ball-and-cove and vase turnings on this chair differ from those on seventeenth-century Boston examples such as figs. 2 and 5. Seal skin was used when leather was unavailable.

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Side chair, New York City, 1660–1700. Oak and black ash; original leather upholstery. H. 34", W. 18 1/4", D. 15 1/2". (Courtesy, John Hall Wheelock Collection, East Hampton Historical Society; photo, Joseph Adams.) This chair descended in the Wheelock family of East Hampton, Long Island.

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Side chair, New York City, 1660–1685. Red oak. H. 37", W. 18", D. 15 1/8". (Courtesy, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, Massachusetts; photo, Helga Studio.) The inverted vase-and-barrel turnings on this and another related example at the Wadsworth Atheneum followed Amsterdam prototypes in an era when Netherlandish design was on the wane in New York City.

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Side chair, New York City, 1685–1700. Maple and oak. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The turnings on this chair are closely related to those on late-seventeenth-century London cane chairs and early-eighteenth-century New York leather chairs, such as the one illustrated in fig. 3.

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Grand Chair, New York City, 1680–1695. Maple stained red. H. 44 1/4", W. 22 1/2", D. 17 1/4". (Private collection; photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Escritoire, New York City or northern Kings County, 1695–1720. Desk-on-frame, gumwood, possibly walnut veneer, tulip poplar. H. 35 1/4", W. 33 3/4", D. 24". (Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1944, acc.44.47, All rights reserved, The Metropolitan Museum of Art) The turnings on the side stretchers are closely related to those on the front stretcher of the grand chair illustrated in fig. 10.

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Detail of the finial of the grand chair illustrated in fig. 10. (Photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Detail of a drawer pull on a kast, New York City or northern Kings County, ca. 1700–1740. Red gum, mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar, 82 1/2 x 75 3/8 x 28". (Courtesy, Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection L1994.3)

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Side chair, New York City, 1705–1710. Maple and oak; original leather upholstery. H. 47 3/4", W. 18 1/2", D. 18 3/4". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    Detail of the finial of the side chair illustrated in fig. 14. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)        

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    Detail of the understructure of the trapezoidal seat of the grand chair illustrated in fig. 10. (Photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Side chair, Boston or New York City, ca. 1700. Maple and oak. H. 47", W. 20", D. 21". (Private collection; photo, Christopher Zaleski.) This chair, branded “PVP” for Philip Verplank of Fishkill, New York, is related to three carved leather chairs at Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh, New York. The latter are also branded “PVP.”

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Detail of the understructure of the side chair illustrated in fig. 17. (Photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Side chair, New York City, 1700–1725. Maple with oak. H. 45 5/8", W. 18 1/8", D. 15 1/4". (Courtesy, Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection L1982.116; photo, Richard Eells.) This chair reportedly descended in the Pieter Vanderlyn family of Kingston, New York. Pieter immigrated to New York City from the Netherlands in 1718. His arrival date suggests he may have acquired the chair from an earlier owner.

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Detail of the “French hollow” back of the side chair illustrated in fig. 19. The curvature is similar to that of the early carved leather chair illustrated in fig. 39

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Cane chair, London, ca. 1700. Beech. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Neil D. Kamil.)

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    Side chair, New York City, ca. 1700. Maple. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The front stretcher is related to that of fig. 10. The feet and a portion of the right leg are missing.

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Side chair, New York City, ca. 1700. Maple. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This chair is closely related to the one illustrated in fig. 22.

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Joined great chair, New York, 1650–1700. Oak. H. 43", W. 23 3/4", D. 21". (Courtesy, Wallace Nutting Collection, Wadsworth Atheneum, gift of J. P. Morgan; photo, Joseph Szaszfai.) The left arm and seat are replaced, and the feet are missing.

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Armchair with carving attributed to Jean Le Chevalier, New York City, 1705–1710. Maple with oak and hickory. H. 47 1/2", W. 25 1/2", D. 27". (Courtesy, Historic Hudson Valley; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The finials are incorrect nineteenth century restorations; the feet are more recent.

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Leather great chair with carving attributed to Jean Le Chevalier, New York City, 1710–1730. Maple with oak. H. 53 3/4", W. 23 7/8", D. 16 3/8". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reproduced with permission. ©2000 Museum of Fine Arts., Boston. All rights reserved. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Bybee; photo, Edward A. Bourdon, Houston, Texas.) This chair was damaged by fire while in the Bybee collection.

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Armchair with carving attributed to Jean Le Chevalier, New York City, 1705–1710. Maple with oak. H. 52", W. 24 3/4", D. 17 1/2". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The low placement of the carved front stretcher is reminiscent of late seventeenth-century French fauteuils as well as some varieties of contemporary London cane chairs, which took French court furniture as a stylistic paradigm under the influence of refugee Huguenot artisans, especially after 1685. The left scroll volute of the crest is a replacement.

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Side chair with carving attributed to Jean Le Chevalier, New York City, 1705–1710. Maple with oak. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Composite detail showing (from top to bottom) the crest rails of the chairs illustrated in figs. 26, 27, and 28 and the stretcher of the chair illustrated in fig. 25.

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    Armchair, probably Boston, Massachusetts, 1700–1710. Maple with oak; original leather upholstery. H. 47 1/2", W. 23 3/4, D. 17 3/4". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reproduced with permission. ©2000 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All rights reserved. Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund, 1971.624.) Acanthus-carved arms such as these were common on late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century French upholstered seating furniture.

  • Figure 31a
    Figure 31a

    Baptismal screen in the church of St. Étienne, Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré, France, 1625–1627. Oak. (From Inventaire Général des monuments et des Richesses Artistiques de la France, Commission Régionale de Poitou-Charentes, Charente-Maritime, Cantons Île de Ré; photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 31b
    Figure 31b

    Detail of the baptismal screen in the church of St. Étienne, Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré, France, 1625–1627. Oak. (From Inventaire Général des monuments et des Richesses Artistiques de la France, Commission Régionale de Poitou-Charentes, Charente-Maritime, Cantons Île de Ré; photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    Black chair, Long Island Sound region, perhaps southeastern Westchester County, 1705–1730. Maple and ash. Dimensions not recorded. (Dey Mansion, Wayne Township, New Jersey; photo, Neil D. Kamil.)

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    Black great chair, probably Tarrytown, Westchester County, 1705–1730. Woods unidenti€ed. H. 44 1/2", W. 25", D. 26 1/4". (Courtesy, Historic Hudson Valley.)

  • Figure 34
    Figure 34

    Couch, New York City or coastal Rhode Island, 1700–1715. Maple. H. 42 1/8", W. 74 3/8", D. 25 1/8". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.)

  • Figure 35
    Figure 35
    Detail of the confessional in the church of St. Catherine, Loix, canton of Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré, early eighteenth century. Oak. (From Inventaire Général des monuments et des Richesses Artistiques de la France, Commission Régionale de Poitou-Charentes, Charente-Maritime, Cantons Île de Ré; photo, Christopher Zaleski.)
  • Figure 36
    Figure 36

    Side chair attributed to Pierre or Andrew Durand, Milford, Connecticut, 1710–1740. Maple and ash. H. 45 1/4", W. 19 1/2", D. 14 3/4". (Anonymous collection; photo, New Haven Colony Historical Society.)

  • Figure 37
    Figure 37

    Side chair, probably London, 1685–1700. Woods and dimensions not recorded. (Photo, Symonds Collection, Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Museum.)

  • Figure 38
    Figure 38

    Side chair, London, 1690–1700. Beech with turkeywork cover. H. 48 3/4", W. 21 7/8", D. 17 5/8". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reproduced with permission. ©2000 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All rights reserved; Gift of Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, in memory of her husband 17.1629.)

  • Figure 39
    Figure 39

    Side chair, New York City, 1685–1700. Maple. H. 48", W. 20 1/4", D. 22". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 40
    Figure 40

    Detail of crest rail, posts, and finial of the side chair illustrated in fig. 39. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 41
    Figure 41

    Details of three carved panels on the choir screen in the church of St. Étienne, Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré, components ca. 1629: (a) Christ gathering his flock; (b) acanthus-leaf foliage; (c) winged cherubs holding an urn. Oak and walnut. (From Inventaire Général des monuments et des Richesses Artistiques de la France, Commission Régionale de Poiton-Charentes, Charente-Maritime, Cantons Île de Ré; photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 42
    Figure 42

    Detail of one of the earliest panels in the choir screen in the church of St. Étienne, Ars-en-Ré, Île de Ré, ca. 1580. (Photo, Christopher Zaleski.)

  • Figure 43
    Figure 43

    Joined great chair, probably New York City, ca. 1675. Oak. H. 42 1/2", W. 25", D. 22 1/2". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.) Jean Le Chevalier’s grandfather, “Jan Cavelier,” was one of the most important carvers in New York during the era when this chair was made.

  • Figure 44
    Figure 44

    Detail of the carved crest rail of the great chair illustrated in fig. 43. (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.) The compressed, diamond-shaped aperture surmounted by a lunette at the nexus of the opposing scrolls is repeated in the carving of the sunflower on the crest rail of the New York leather chair illustrated in figs. 39, 40.

  • Figure 45
    Figure 45
    Composite diagram of the New York side chair illustrated in €g. 3. (Drawing, Neil D. Kamil; art work, Wynne Patterson.)
    (a) Trapezoid representing the ground plan of the central axes of the four posts considered from an axiometric perspective.
    (b) Dimensions of the trapezoid providing basic units of measurement.
    (c) Trapezoid extended vertically to form framework in three dimensions.
    (d) Chair’s overall dimensions indicating a one-to-one symmetrical relationship between the seat height and the height of the leather back panel (compare to figure 10).
    (e) Backward rake of the rear posts viewed from the side.
    (f) Proportional system of horizontal elements viewed from the side: overall symmetry and balance, as opposed to the verticality of the Boston prototype, is achieved by equidistant, tripartite repetition traversing areas both above and below the seat (bc / gh / lmn); balancing and then reducing the three spaces beneath the seat using the largest measurements available in the system to accentuate a “bottom heavy” effect (jk / kl / lmn); and the static repetition of the turner’s pattern above the seat (ji / gf / ed /; hg / cb /; fe / dc / ba).
  • Figure 46
    Figure 46

    Flow diagram representing the formal opposition of turning patterns on Boston and New York plain leather chairs, exempli€ed by figs. 1 and 3, respectively. (Drawing, Neil D. Kamil; art work, Wynne Patterson.)