Easy chair

c. 1750–1770
Mahogany, maple, cherry, and yellow silk
Overall: 48 1/4 x 34 1/8 x 31 in. (122.56 x 86.66 x 78.74 cm.)
Decorative Arts and Design
American Art - 18th Century, Level 4
Dallas Museum of Art, The Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection, gift of Cecil and Ida Green
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art.

General Description

By attaching side panels to straight-back chairs, easy chairs were developed in Europe during the seventeenth century as a means to protect the sitter from cold drafts. In both Great Britain and Colonial America, such chairs were expensive pieces of furniture due to the high cost of upholstery fabric. For those few who could afford such luxuries, easy chairs were usually placed in a bedroom and were often fitted with chamber pots beneath their cushions.

This easy chair has traditionally been associated with Newport, Rhode Island. However, features such as the compressed balls and webbed talons of the feet and the triple-swelled, medial stretcher are known on chairs from eastern Massachusetts as well. Furthermore, all these details can be found on English pieces.

Regardless of its exact origin, this chair from the Bybee Collection of American Furniture at the Dallas Museum of Art is a particularly fine example. Its turned and carved elements are well-defined and the overall design is finely proportioned. The "compass" or arched front seat rail seen on this chair was most popular on English examples during the second quarter of the 18th century. Consequently, this easy chair may have been made soon after 1750, although it could have been produced as late as 1770. With its boldly carved feet, unusual scrolled knee brackets, darkly stained legs, and brightly colored upholstery, this chair must have spoken eloquently of the power and wealth of its original owner.

Adapted from

Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, published in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 32.

Fun Facts

  • It was intended that this easy chair be seen from the back and side as well as the front, and it was meant to be placed well out in a room as it was used in the Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee residence.

  • An easy chair was an expensive item of furniture in the mid-18th century; with the added refinement of shaped rear legs, this must have been an extremely costly item.

  • This particular chair has been reupholstered at least six to eight times.