Stenton's Chairs

 

A well-furnished 18th-century house contained multiple sets of chairs, and Stenton was no exception with seven sets described in the 1752 inventory of the house following James Logan’s death. There were 73 chairs plus one "Easy Chair," one "Black Walnutt stool," one "Close Chair," and a chair in the North Garret (a servants’ chamber). At present, there are only 49 chairs on exhibit. James Logan’s sets were variously described in 1752 as "Leather Chairs," "Cane Bottomed Chairs," "Black Leather Bottomed Chairs," "Leather Bottomed Chairs," "old Cane Chairs," "Maple Chairs wth Worsted [wool] Damask Bottoms," and "old Chairs wth Worsted Bottoms."

 

The caned chairs refer to what collectors and scholars often call William and Mary-style chairs, and those described by their upholstered bottoms are Queen Anne-style chairs, which became fashionable in Philadelphia at about the same time that James Logan completed Stenton. Some decorative arts scholars have even suggested that James Logan may have introduced the taste for chairs with "crook’t feet" or cabriole legs to Philadelphia by 1730 when he began to furnish the house. The Queen Anne style celebrated sculptural forms incorporating the S-curve or "line of beauty," as William Hogarth described it. The form is expressed in the cabriole legs, compass-shaped seats, curvilinear backs and vase-shaped splats. These forms represent a marked shift in taste from the turned and carved rectilinear chairs of the William and Mary style.

The purchase of a pair of c. 1730 Philadelphia, Queen Anne-style side chairs at Sotheby’s last May has filled a great void that existed in the Stenton collection. The acquisition was the result of an extraordinary collaborative effort amongst two area foundations – the Richard C. von Hess Foundation and the Dietrich American Foundation – several private contributors and The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. One chair is on long-term loan to Stenton from the Dietrich American Foundation and the second is owned by The NSCDA/PA, funded largely through the generosity of the Richard C. von Hess Foundation.

 

Until the purchase, The NSCDA/PA did not own a single Philadelphia-made side chair of the Queen Anne style. Not only is the pair representative of a type absent from the collection, but they also meet Stenton’s number one collecting priority as "a Logan object known to have been at Stenton." In 1935, William Macpherson Hornor, Jr. called one of these chairs, ". . . Burled Walnut Queen Anne Chair with Veneered Seat-Frame. A Finely Finished Product." The chairs are unusual in their rounded trifid feet, the bold C-scrolls below the knees, the turned rear stretchers and the book-matched veneered seat frames as well as the use of half-dovetailed mortise joints to secure the front cabriole legs to the seat rails.

 

Putting aside these less-than-typical Philadelphia features of this pair, the chairs are significant for Stenton because of their Logan family provenance. One of the pair was pictured in The Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture with the owner listed as Robert Restalrig Logan in 1935. Robert Logan sold the chairs and other furniture, including the figured maple high chest and dressing table recently returned to Stenton by the bequest of Pamela DuPont Copeland, to antiques dealer Joe Kindig in late 1939 or early 1940. These chairs were then sold to Mrs. Edna Popp of Loudonville, New York in 1953, who donated them to the Albany Institute of Art in the 1960s. The chairs are identical to a pair in the Loudoun collection belonging to the Commissioners of Fairmount Park, but on deposit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (See Lindsey, Worldly Goods, catalog # 120, pictured on page 168.) One of these chairs was also included in the 2002 Philadelphia Antiques Show Loan Exhibit, This Glorious House: STENTON.

 

The only other example of a Philadelphia-made Queen Anne-style chair at Stenton is the commode chair given by Deborah Paul and Sally Smith in Memory of Christopher Greene Lutman in 2000. This chair also has a solid, wide vasiform splat and deep seat rails with scalloped skirts that once concealed the chamber pot under a trapezoidal slip seat. Because of the deep seat rails, the chair has short cabriole legs. The knees are plain, and the slipper feet have carved stockings or tongues. The S-curve of the back and the arms are pronounced. The chamfered rear legs rake back. Both the stiles and the yoke-shaped crest rail are outlined with a narrow bead molding. The vase-shaped turnings that support the arms are inscribed around the widest point. This chair was possibly the "Close Chair" in the Stenton nursery in 1752.

 

Other chairs with Logan family provenances that are not in the Stenton collection correspond to chairs listed on the 1752 inventory. Two upholstered back stools, one at Winterthur, and one owned by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park may be what remains of the "10 Leather Chairs" in the dining room. James Logan’s blue easy chair, inventoried in the parlor although probably upholstered ensuite with the bed furniture in the Blue Lodging Room, is in a private collection. The "10 Black Leather Bottomed Chairs" in the parlor may include the pair now at Stenton as well as the second identical pair owned by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park. Also owned by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park is another Queen Anne-style chair with shell-carved knees and without stretchers that might represent the other set of leather bottomed chairs in the hall. A caned armchair with Spanish feet owned by Independence National Historical Park and on exhibit at Pennsbury Manor may be the caned armchair listed in the Blue Lodging Room. Certainly, the pair of maple Irish chairs recently given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by a Logan descendant are from the set of twelve maple chairs listed in the Yellow Lodging Room. "Chairs" have been a hot topic at Stenton this year and the theme will be continued in a forthcoming article on tables and chairs at Stenton to be published in the May 2003 issue of The Magazine ANTIQUES by Philip D. Zimmerman.

 

Furniture with Logan family provenances in combination with the 1752 inventory as a guide help us to understand better how Stenton looked and functioned in James Logan’s lifetime. As we look towards completion of the Interpretive Plan for Stenton and a future Furnishings Plan, perhaps we will be able to recreate James Logan’s Stenton with even greater authenticity going forward.