In Focus

Easy chair [1985.B.25], 18th century, Boston

The following essay is from the 1989 publication _American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, by Charles L. Venable._

As with the other easy chairs in the Bybee Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art, this example has many features which are characteristic of New England products. Easy chairs from this part of the country usually have vertically rolled arms like those seen here. Furthermore, the ball-and-claw feet which have retracted or raked-back side talons are most often found on Boston work in this country.

However, in spite of these typical characteristics, this chair has several features which are extremely unusual. Although exceptions do exist, New England craftsmen preferred to use stretchers beneath their chair seats, especially on easy chairs. Therefore, the lack of side and medial stretchers between the legs of this chair is highly unusual. However, even more puzzling is the presence of rear cabriole legs. In England the use of curved rear legs on easy chairs was a common practice and English examples which have legs that extend as far back as these do are known.

Unlike their English counterparts, colonial American chairmakers seldom used rear cabriole legs on their easy chairs. Only in Philadelphia were they used to any extent and then only on a small percentage of the most expensive and elaborate easy chairs. Outside Philadelphia, rear cabriole legs were almost never used on easy chairs. To date, this example is the only New England easy chair known with curved rear legs. Perhaps it was made by an English-trained chairmaker working in Boston or for a client who desired a chair which was as close to London examples as possible and was willing to pay the extra costs for rear cabriole legs.

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), 33.