In Focus

High chest of drawers, 18th century Boston [1993.30.a-b]

This high chest of drawers is an exceptional example of early American furniture in the William and Mary style. Unlike most furniture of the 17th century, this chest is decorated with thinly cut veneers that reflected the change which occurred in English court fashion following the accession of Charles II in 1660. Charles had been educated on the Continent, and his taste was shaped by French and Netherlandish fashion, which favored more delicate, veneered furniture. This style was further developed by William and Mary, who assumed the British throne in 1688. Although these Continental influences were slow to reach rural England and the American colonies, cabinetmakers in urban centers such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were working in the taste by 1700.

Usually high chests of drawers were accompanied by matching low chests or dressing tables displaying identical turnings, patterning, and matched veneers. While this chest does not survive with an identical dressing table, it did descend in the original owner's family with a companion dressing table of the same period and similar design, which is also in Dallas's collection. The dressing table could well have been purchased along with the chest. Such a combination would have created the unified appearance desired in the best bedchamber—a mark of wealth and distinction in early colonial America.

Excerpt from:

Stephen Harrison, "High chest of drawers," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 210.