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Federal Furniture in Americana and Other Related Wares on August 10 at 10am

Celebrating the history and diversity of the United States, our August Americana and Other Related Wares sale offers a selection of furniture, folk art and decorations that represent the decorative arts heritage of our nation and includes related works from other countries that have influenced American decorative arts.

When viewing American history through the lens of furniture styles, a particularly emblematic period of design that characterizes the new Republic which flourished after the Revolutionary War, is Federal style furniture (1789 to 1823) of which we have notable examples in our upcoming catalogue. The Federalist Era marks the founding of the new American government that began to take shape during George Washington’s presidency as national leaders sought to implement the “more perfect union” they envisioned when drafting the Constitution, earlier outlined, and interpreted by The Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in 1787 and 1788. After America’s hard-won independence, the emerging furniture market would come to embrace neoclassical trends developing in Europe, brought to the mainstream by English architect Robert Adams. Although Chippendale furniture, Georgian, Gothic, Rococo, and Oriental styles were popular in the United States, the classicism that inspired European designers, following the discovery and excavation of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748, invited a dialed-back elegance, with room for American interpretation. Furniture designers George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton published books that popularized Adams’ neoclassical ideas and ushered in a distinctly American style to earmark new-found patriotism and ‘Federal’ zeal. Furniture made in the Federal style can be identified by straight, graceful lines, smooth and flat surfaces, sharp contrasting wood inlays, and marvelous contrasting veneers, as well as symbolic motifs referencing the new American government and certain neoclassical patterns – eagles, urns, paterae, fans, and more. The Federal period’s relatively understated craftsmanship continues to be a style that can be a complimentary and inspiring addition to modern interiors.

In America, which was now nearly forty years young, furniture makers continued to hone and develop their skill craftsmanship, moving closer to refinement. Included in our upcoming August auction, is a ‘Fine Pair of Federal Carved Mahogany and Inlaid Satinwood Side Chairs, attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, Boston, Massachusetts’ which represents a fourth variation of Thomas and John Seymour’s curved diamond back chairs. The same style is illustrated in Robert Mussey Jr.’s work, The Furniture Masterworks of John & Thomas Seymour (Salem, Massachusetts: Peabody Essex Museum distributed by University Press of New England, 2003), on pp. 388-9, no. 127. Mussey explains this chair is “the sole example found during [his] study that was designed for full over-the-rail upholstery.”

Sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2004, these chairs were from The Collection of Alice and Murray Braunfeld. A single chair, of the same style and attributed to John Seymour, is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It is listed as a gift of Mrs. Murray Braunfeld in 2006 (M.2006.51.21). Although it is rare that sets of these chairs remain, given the fragile nature of their construction, it is probable this pair and the single chair at LACMA are related. Two similar pairs of chairs probably by Thomas and John Seymour sold at Sotheby’s New York in Property from the Collection of Dr. Larry McCallister, September 22, 2022, lots 98 and 99. According to Sotheby’s catalog note: “The masterful execution and carefully conceived design of this side chair places it among the most sophisticated examples of scroll-back chairs made in Boston. The exquisite combination of light and dark woods, reeding and carving, and rectangles, quarter ellipses, and diamonds results in a tour de force of the Federal aesthetic.

The same overall configuration, wood combination, and exceptional craftsmanship is found on chairs attributed to John and Thomas Seymour of Boston, whose furniture epitomizes the height of workmanship in Boston during the Federal period. Several similar sets of seating furniture are known. One is represented by two settees and a pair of side chairs at Winterthur and a pair of side chairs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, all with out-turning front legs (see Charles Montgomery, American Furniture,The Federal Period, nos. 37-9, pp. 90-2 and Edwin Hipkiss, M. and M.Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts, 1941, no. 116). A chair at Bayou Bend and one at Yale University also with out-turning front legs offer another variation (see David Warren, et al, American DecorativeArts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection, 1997, F157, p. 99 and Patricia Kane, 300 Years of American Seating Furniture, 1976, no. 154, p. 174). Additional examples of the form representing two different sets are in the Kaufman Collection and the Henry Ford Museum (see J. Michael Flanigan, no. 48, p. 134-5 and Vernon Stoneman, A Supplement to Johnand Thomas Seymour, Boston, 1965, no. 57).

Another side chair of this type in the Kaufman Collection displays ring-turned reeded tapering legs related to those on this pair of side chairs (see Flanigan, no. 47, p. 132-3). Similar legs appear on an octagonal center table attributed to the Seymour’s that sold at Sotheby’s, Sinking Spring Farms: The Appell Family Collection, January 18, 2003, sale 7867, Lot 1265.

In addition, a ‘Fine Federal Inlaid Mahogany Secretary, possibly Seymour, North Shore of Massachusetts’ is also featured in the upcoming Americana and Other Related Wares auction at STAIR on Thursday, August 10 at 10am.

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