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Erik Gronning and Amy Coes
The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition

American Furniture 2013

Full Article
Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    John Townsend, high chest of drawers, Newport, Rhode Island, 1756. Mahogany with white pine and ash. H. 88 1/2", W. 40 1/4", D. 21 1/8". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This high chest descended in the Arnold family of Warwick, Rhode Island. It retains its original finial, cast brass hardware, and finish.

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    High chest of drawers attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1770. Mahogany with yellow poplar. H. 84 1/2", W. 41", D. 21". (Private collection.) This high chest descended in the Dyer family of Providence, Rhode Island.

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Detail of the graphite signature on the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Detail of an “M” finishing mark on the backboard of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.) 

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Detail of the lettering on the backs of the upper-case drawers of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1 (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Detail of the lettering on the backs of the lower-case drawers of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Detail of the inscription “Polly” on the bottom of a drawer in the upper case of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Detail of the inscription “£14 Wigg” on the bottom of a drawer in the upper case of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Detail of the inscription “W Richardson/J Robinson/E Wanton/J Townsend/to Ride out next Wednesday” on the upper left drawer of the upper case of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Detail of the inscription “Woman Is By/Nature False & Inconstan(t)/W[ ]fill/W Richardson” and letter “A” on the upper left drawer of the upper case of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Detail of the leg and foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Detail of the shell on the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The shell is applied and the lobes are carved through into the skirt below. The joint is visible near the bottom of the shell.

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Detail showing the lamination line of the shell and skirt of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Pier table, Newport, Rhode Island, 1750–1765. Mahogany with red cedar. H. 30", W. 50", D. 25". (Courtesy, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The feet are similar to those on furniture documented and attributed to John Goddard. This table has been extensively reworked. The drawers are later additions, and the original top was probably marble.

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    Dressing table, Stonington area, Connecticut, ca. 1765. Maple. H. 27 1/2", W. 31 3/4", D. 20". (Private collection; photo, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    High chest of drawers attributed to Christopher Townsend and John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany with tulip poplar. H. 92 1/4", W. 44 1/4", D. 22 3/4". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The horizontal moldings at the base of the finial plinth are missing, but the chest retains its original hardware.

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Detail of the leg and foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Detail of the shell on the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Detail showing the pediment backboard of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The upper portion of central plinth is lost.

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Detail showing the pediment backboard of the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Detail of the glue blocks securing the left front leg of the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    Detail of the glue blocks securing the left front leg of the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Detail of the glue block attached to the skirt and a vertical drawer divider on the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Detail of the glue block attached to the skirt and a vertical drawer divider on the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Detail of the board behind the oculi of the pediment of the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Detail of an “M” finishing mark on the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Erik Gronning.) John Townsend may have inscribed this finishing mark.

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Detail of an “M” finishing mark on the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Erik Gronning.) Christopher Townsend may have inscribed this finishing mark.

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Detail of the “B” inscribed on the high chest illustrated in fig. 16. (Photo, Erik Gronning.) The belly of the “B” is not nearly as exaggerated as that shown in fig. 29.

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Detail of the “B” inscribed on the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    Christopher Townsend, desk-and-bookcase, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Mahogany throughout. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.) The brackets are original, but the ball feet below are conjectural replacements. As is the case with the Arnold and Wanton high chests (figs. 19, 20), the upper backboard of the Appleton bookcase is shaped to mirror the tympanum.

  • Figure 31
    Figure 31

    Detail of an “M” finishing mark on the desk-and-bookcase illustrated in fig. 30. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s).

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    Detail of the inscription “Made By Christopher Townsend” on the desk-and-bookcase illustrated in fig. 30. (Photo, Charlotte Hale, Sherman Fairchild Paintings Conservation Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    Detail of the cornice molding and left finial of the desk-and-bookcase illustrated in fig. 30. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 34
    Figure 34

    Detail of the finial on the high chest illustrated in fig. 1. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.) The softer, more elliptical shape of the flame is unique in John Townsend’s work. The lowermost section of the finial is restored and would originally have been shorter, like the finial shown in fig. 33.

  • Figure 35
    Figure 35

    Detail of the silver mount on the left fallboard support of the desk-and-bookcase illustrated in fig. 30. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.) The eyes are made from a cylinder of agate.

  • Figure 36
    Figure 36

    Detail showing the foot blocking on the desk-and-bookcase illustrated in fig. 30. (Photo, Leslie Keno.) The glue blocks are neatly finished to conform to the shape of the brackets. 

  • Figure 37
    Figure 37

    Desk-and-bookcase, England, 1700–1720. Oak with pine. H. 81 1/8", W. 43 7/8", D. 23 1/2". (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of James De Lancey Verplanck and John Bayard Rogers Verplanck, 1939 [39.184a,b]. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 38
    Figure 38

    Christopher Townsend, desk, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Mahogany with mahogany, cedrela, and tulip poplar. H. 37 1/4", W. 35 5/8", D. 20 1/4". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The lower portions of the feet are missing, but the desk has its original brass, hardware, and finish.

  • Figure 39
    Figure 39

    Detail showing the foot blocking of the desk illustrated in fig. 38. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 40
    Figure 40

    Detail of a shell on an interior drawer of the desk illustrated in fig. 38. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 41
    Figure 41

    Detail of the inscription “Made by C T” on the bottom of desk illustrated in fig. 38. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 42
    Figure 42

    Detail of a chalk finishing mark on the back of an exterior drawer of the desk illustrated in fig. 38. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 43
    Figure 43

    Details showing the letters on the backs of the exterior drawers of the desk illustrated in fig. 38. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 44
    Figure 44

    Desk attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Mahogany with tulip poplar, chestnut, cedrela, and white pine. H. 42", W. 36 1/2", D. 22". (Private collection; photo, Sotheby’s.) The feet are replaced. 

  • Figure 45
    Figure 45

    Detail of the brass mount on the left fallboard support of the desk illustrated in fig. 44. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.) The eyes are made from a cylinder of agate.

  • Figure 46
    Figure 46

    Details of the inscription on the back of an exterior drawer of the desk illustrated in fig. 44. (Photo, Erik Gronning.) The upper image shows the orientation of the board when the inscription was made prior to assembly. The lower image is as it appears with the grain oriented horizontally.

  • Figure 47
    Figure 47

    Desk attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Cedar. H. 41 1/4", W. 35 7/8", D. 19 3/4". (Courtesy, Caxambas Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 48
    Figure 48

    Christopher Townsend and John Townsend, high chest of drawers, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany with yellow poplar, chestnut, white pine, and mahogany. H. 87 13/16", W. 40 1/2", D. 22 3/4". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The chest retains its original hardware.

  • Figure 49
    Figure 49

    Detail showing the “John T” and “Christopher Townsend” inscriptions on the lower-case drawer blade of the high chest illustrated in fig. 48.

  • Figure 50
    Figure 50

    Detail of a leg and foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 48. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 51
    Figure 51

    Detail of the shell on the high chest illustrated in fig. 48. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 52
    Figure 52

    Detail of a piece of molding used in the construction of the pediment of the high chest illustrated in fig. 48. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 53
    Figure 53

    John Townsend, dining table, Newport, Rhode Island, 1756. Mahogany with soft maple, red oak, and hickory. H. 28 3/4", W (open). 62 1/4", W (closed). 17 1/2", D. 58 1/4". (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Stuart Holzer and Marc Holzer, in memory of their parents, Ann and Philip Holzer, 2012. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 54
    Figure 54

    Detail of the inscription “ John Townsend 1756/3,” on the dining table illustrated in fig. 53. (Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 55
    Figure 55

    Detail of a leg and foot of the dining table illustrated in fig. 53. (Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.) The central talon on the foot is replaced.

  • Figure 56
    Figure 56

    Detail of the inscription “For Israel / A” on the dining table illustrated in fig. 53. (Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 57
    Figure 57

    Dining table attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany. H. 30 1/2", W (open). 69", D. 62". (Antiques 110, no. 98 [September 1970]: 292.)

  • Figure 58
    Figure 58

    Christopher Townsend, tea table, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Mahogany. H. 25 3/4", W. 21 3/8". (Private collection; photo, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 59
    Figure 59

    Detail of the inscription “C Townsend joynd the piece” on the tea table illustrated in fig. 58. (Courtesy, Sotheby’s.)

  • Figure 60
    Figure 60

    Tea table attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1760. Mahogany. H. 26 1/4", W. 19 5/16", D. 19 3/8". (Courtesy, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; photo, Erik Gould.)

  • Figure 61
    Figure 61

    Christopher Townsend, high chest of drawers, Newport, Rhode Island, 1748. Walnut with white pine. H. 70", W. 38 1/2", D. 20 1/2". (© 2013. Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 62
    Figure 62

    Detail of the inscription “Christopher Townsend made 1748” on the high chest illustrated in fig. 61. (Photo, Charlotte Hale, Sherman Fairchild Paintings Conservation Center. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 63
    Figure 63

    High chest of drawers attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1750. Mahogany with white pine and yellow poplar. H. 72", W. 39", D. 21". (Private collection; photo, Israel Sack, Inc., Archive, Yale University Art Gallery.) This high chest was originally made for George Hussey (d. 1782) of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

  • Figure 64
    Figure 64

    Detail of the “M” finishing mark on the high chest illustrated in fig. 63. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 65
    Figure 65

    High chest of drawers attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany with white pine and yellow poplar. H. 83 5/8", W. 40 1/2", D. 22 1/4". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The chest retains its original cast brass hardware and finish. Made in three sections and secured with glue blocks, the china shelves are inscribed twice with a chalk “A.” As is the case with other flat-top high chests documented and attributed to Christopher Townsend, the rear legs are glued into a shallow rabbet in the backboard. 

  • Figure 66
    Figure 66

    Detail of a claw-and-ball foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 65. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 67
    Figure 67

    Bureau table with legs attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1760. Mahogany with chestnut and tulip poplar. H. 27", W. 40 1/4", D. 22". (Courtesy, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.) The case has fine dovetails and a deep shell carving consistent with furniture from John Townsend’s shop, but owing to alterations, only the legs and feet can be attributed to him. This object may have started out as a pier table or side table.

  • Figure 68
    Figure 68

    Detail of a leg and foot of the bureau table illustrated in fig. 67. The side and front talons are replaced. 

  • Figure 69
    Figure 69

    Tea table attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1760. Mahogany with chestnut. H. 26", W. 33 1/2", D. 20 1/2". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg.) The table has a chestnut cross-brace dovetailed at the midpoint of the long rails and a top secured with glue blocks. The knee returns are replaced.

  • Figure 70
    Figure 70

    Detail of a leg and foot of the tea table illustrated in fig. 69. 

  • Figure 71
    Figure 71

    Tea table attributed to Christopher or John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1760. Mahogany. H. 25", W. 33 3/4", D. 21 1/4". (Private collection; photo, Michael J. Smith.) The second phalange on the toes is slightly more elongated than those on the Arnold high chest. This is the only marble-top Newport tea table known, but its design and size are consistent with the Sweet and Weeden tables.

  • Figure 72
    Figure 72

    Detail of a leg and foot of the tea table illustrated in fig. 71. (Photo, Michael J. Smith.)

  • Figure 73
    Figure 73

    Dressing table attributed to Christopher or John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany with white pine, yellow poplar, chestnut, and mahogany. H. 31", W. 35 3/4", D. 22". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg.)

  • Figure 74
    Figure 74

    Detail of a leg and foot of the dressing table illustrated in fig. 73. 

  • Figure 75
    Figure 75

    Detail of the shell of the dressing table illustrated in fig. 73. 

  • Figure 76
    Figure 76

    John Townsend, high chest of drawers, Newport, Rhode Island, 1759. Mahogany with chestnut, eastern white pine, and cottonwood. H. 88 3/4", W. 39 3/8", D. 22 1/8". (Courtesy, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, bequest of Doris M. Brixey.) Christopher Townsend may also have used the fleur-de-lis broken motif seen on the shell of this chest. A mahogany high chest base with that feature has ball-and-claw feet remarkably similar to those made by Christopher (CRN Auctions, Americana and English Antiques, American and European Works of Art, Chinese, and Jewelry, Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 9, 2012, lot 107).

  • Figure 77
    Figure 77

    Detail of the inscription “No. 28 / Made By / John Townsend / Newport / 1759” on the high chest illustrated in fig. 76.

  • Figure 78
    Figure 78

    Detail of a leg and foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 76.

  • Figure 79
    Figure 79

    Detail of a foot of the high chest illustrated in fig. 76. A space can be seen above the ball.

  • Figure 80
    Figure 80

    John Townsend, document cabinet, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany. H. 27 1/2", W. 25 3/4", D. 12 7/8". (Private collection; photo, Christie’s.) The cabinet has Townsend’s drawer lettering system. The backs of the drawers are inscribed in graphite “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” from top to bottom on the right, and “E,” “F,” “G,” and “H,” from top to bottom on the left. Townsend used book-matched pieces of wood for drawers A and E, consecutive pieces cut from the same log for drawers B and D, and contiguous pieces from the same flitch for drawers G and H.

  • Figure 81
    Figure 81

    Detail of the inscription “John Townsend / Newport” on the document cabinet illustrated in fig. 80. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 82
    Figure 82

    Detail of the shell on the door of the cabinet illustrated in fig. 80. (Photo, Christie’s.)

  • Figure 83
    Figure 83

    Chest of drawers attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1756. Mahogany with eastern white pine and yellow poplar. H. 38 1/8", W. 38 1/2", D. 20 1/8". (Courtesy, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.) The chest retains its original hardware, but the bottom 3 1/2 inches of the feet are replaced. The top drawer is secured with a spring lock that is reached by opening the drawer below.

  • Figure 84
    Figure 84

    Detail showing the two-piece construction of the shell on the chest of drawers illustrated in fig. 83. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 85
    Figure 85

    Detail of the inscription “Moses” on the chest of drawers illustrated in fig. 83. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 86
    Figure 86

    Slant-front desk attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1755. Mahogany. H. 42", W. 37", D. 19 1/2". (Private collection; photo, Sotheby’s.) The desk retains its original hardware, but the feet are replacements. 

  • Figure 87
    Figure 87

    Detail of the partial inscription “J [ ] Newport” on the desk illustrated in fig. 86. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 88
    Figure 88

    Detail of the inscription “James Harden” on the desk illustrated in fig. 86. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 89
    Figure 89

    High chest of drawers attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1757. Mahogany with mahogany and white pine. H. 87", W. 40 3/4", D. 22". (Photo, 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.) The construction of this high chest is consistent with John Townsend’s early work, but the backboard of the pediment has a semicircular cutout rather than shaping that matches the tympanum. All of the drawer fronts were veneered at a later date.

  • Figure 90
    Figure 90

    Card table attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, ca. 1760. Mahogany with maple and white pine. H. 27 1/2", W. 35 1/2", D. 18 1/2". (Courtesy, Chipstone Foundation.) This table descended in the family of Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785), who was a governor of Rhode Island and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

  • Figure 91
    Figure 91

    Detail of the knee carving on the high chest illustrated in fig. 89. (Photo, 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

  • Figure 92
    Figure 92

    Jonathan Townsend, block-and-shell bureau table, Newport, Rhode Island, 1767. Mahogany. H. 32 1/2", W. 36 1/2", D. 20". (Courtesy, Christie’s Images Limited 2013.) Jonathan Townsend was twelve years younger than his brother John.

  • Figure 93
    Figure 93

    Detail showing the graphite signature on the bureau table illustrated in fig. 92. (Photo, Erik Gronning.)

  • Figure 94
    Figure 94

    John Townsend, card table, Newport, Rhode Island, 1762. Mahogany with chestnut, maple, and white pine. H. 27 1/4", W. 35", D. 16 1/2". (Courtesy, 63rd Street Equities; Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 95
    Figure 95

    Detail showing the graphite signature on the card table illustrated in fig. 94. (Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

  • Figure 96
    Figure 96

    Detail of the knee carving on the card table illustrated in fig. 94. (Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.)