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Side Chairs

Place Made:
Georgetown District of Columbia United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –oak –yellow pine
HOA: 37 3/4; WOA: 21
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: A set of shield back chairs with stylized carved Prince of Wales feathers above a carved caduceus; fan inlays both beneath the caduceus and on top of the crest rail; tapering straight front legs with light stringing; back legs splay a bit; two lines of decorative nailing around seat, arched on top, straight on bottom.

WOODS: Mahogany with mahogany side and front rails, oak back rail, yellow pine diagonal front braces.

UPHOLSTERY: The chair has been reupholstered but much of its original webbing and under-padding survive. The brass tacking pattern repeats the evidence for the original design found when the chair was restored.

DESIGN: A search for the design source for the unusual back of these chairs suggests that the chairmaker here combined multiple British sources and relied very heavily on his own taste. The entwined serpents and arched crest of the back are vaguely suggested by Hepplewhite’s plate 8. Hepplewhite’s and Sheraton’s published designs often feature these elements, but never in this particular combination. The District of Columbia cabinetmaker William Worthington (1775-1839) is known, however, to have used inlaid caduceus-like designs for the chair and sofa legs and splats seen in his furniture, as well as arched crests on his chairs and sofas, much like the arched crests on these chairs with fan inlays.

These chairs descended in the family of General Elie Williams (1750-1822) of Williamsport in Washington County, Maryland, and later Georgetown in the District of Columbia. Williams was a founding member and president of the Potomac Company, which promoted trade and navigation along the Potomac River. His portrait painted by the eminent Maryland-born artist Charles Willson Peale is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. Bradford L. Rauschenberg