FORM: The earliest examples of Baltimore painted furniture are in the classical style of Hepplewhite and Sheraton; both Hepplewhite and Sheraton applauded the “rich and splendid appearance” painting gives to the “minuter parts of the ornament” [See Charles F. Montgomery, American Furniture: The Federal Period, p. 445]. Elaborately ornamented furniture such as this may well have pleased the growing merchant class in what was at that time America’s fastest growing urban area. About the second quarter of the nineteenth century, fashion shifted away from a flat ground to simulated graining, and freehand painting gave way to an even mixture of stenciling and freehand, or in some instances (especially in designs comprised of fruit and foliage motifs), to complete stenciling enriched with freehand bronzing.
MAKER: John Barnhart, sign and ornamental painter, was first listed in the Baltimore City Directory in 1799. Barnhart may have been in business with Windsor chairmaker Thomas Renshaw for a time, since a fancy painted settee in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art is inscribed with both of their names on the rear seat rail. The naturalistic scenes on the signed settee are very similar to the scenes on the MESDA settee (Acc. 1124), chairs (Acc. 2386.1-2), and table (Acc. 2387).
SEATS: Rush seats such as this were not considered as stylish as those of cane, though John and Hugh Finlay advertised, in 1803, “CANE SEAT CHAIRS, Of every description, painted and gilt in the most fanciful manner, with and without views adjacent to this city. RUSH BOTTOM And Windsor chairs, window and recess seats.” (Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, January 31, 1803)
TECHNIQUE: The term “japanned” would be preferable to “painted,” as the colors were applied in varnishes over a painted ground.
RELATED WORKS: Second chair and card table, part of the same set (MESDA Acc. Nos. 2386.2 and 2387)