Date: 1780 - 1800
This graceful high chest of drawers is part of a select group of furniture made by an unnamed cabinetmaker working in Wethersfield, Connecticut, in the late 1700s. The cabinetmaker incorporated consistent construction nuances and used uniform proportions, designs, and decorative details on his furniture.
This graceful high chest of drawers is part of a select group of furniture made by an unnamed cabinetmaker working in Wethersfield, Connecticut, in the late 1700s. The cabinetmaker incorporated consistent construction nuances and used uniform proportions, designs, and decorative details on his furniture. On this high chest the bold, almost oversize, moldings at the top of the soaring pediment have round ends carved with fylfots, ancient, four-petaled (or sunwheel) decorations. On the central drawers of the upper and lower cases, the carver executed each of the twenty lobes on the scallop shells with exact precision. The gentle, sawed curves of the lower rail balance the exaggerated height of the pediment. The long cabriole legs support the high chest in a way that gives it an appearance of buoyancy.
An inscription on this high chest states that the Birchard family of Norwich, Connecticut, a town on the Thames River, owned it. Exhaustive research on Connecticut furniture classified the high chest as part of a group with similar features of tall proportions; bold pediments; restrained shell carving; and graceful, sawed lower rails. Furniture in this group was made in Wethersfield, a town located on the Connecticut River just south of Hartford (and now nearly subsumed by it). In the 1700s Wethersfield was an active trading post along New England’s most trafficked waterway. The grain products grown in and around the fertile valleys of the Connecticut River fed most of New England in the 1600s and 1700s. Such trade along the river gave rise to numerous small settlements and trade routes for raw materials (such as timber) and manufactured goods (such as furniture). Through migration of craftsmen via this trade route, Philadelphia design played an important role in early Connecticut cabinetmaking.
Unlike on most high chests from the Wethersfield group, the scroll pediment on this piece is not enclosed at the top and back. The dark shadow of an enclosed pediment (or bonnet, as it is sometimes called) makes furniture seem heavier all over. In this case the cabinetmaker abandoned the tradition of enclosing the pediments, which suggests that it is a later example of Wethersfield furniture. As is often true with high chests, successive owners lost the original three finials, which were small and did not rest on blocks (or plinths).
By the time this high chest was made, in the late 1780s, the form of a high chest had become a completely American phenomenon. It had been out of fashion for fifty years in Britain, where consumers favored the chest-on-chest, or linen press. In this Wethersfield high chest, Connecticut furniture marks a stunning achievement through simple, elegant design.
Medium: Cherry, white pine, and brass
Inscriptions: An inscription on this high chest states that the Birchard family once owned it.
Dimensions: H: 84 1/2 x W: 37 x D: 20 1/4 in.
Place: Wethersfield, Connecticut
Collection: Julian Wood Glass Jr. Collection
Category: Furniture - American
Purchased March 22, 1990 from Walton's Antiques.