Rare Classical Mahogany Upholstered Armchair From the United States House of Representatives, Washington DC
By Thomas Constantine & Company circa 1819 and bearing the firm's paper label
With rectangular back and seat and shaped arms, raised on turned front legs and square back legs with box stretchers and brass casters, bears museum accession no. 48.364.
This humble-appearing armchair is from an important set of approximately one hundred ninety chairs commissioned for the United States House of Representatives 1818-1819. The capital building had been burned by the British in the war of 1812, with British troops using the furniture as firewood.
According to Thurlow, "When the senators and representatives returned to Washington for the sixteenth Congress, the replacements (armchairs and desks) that awaited them representated two of the most extensive furniture commissions in early 19th century America.
The Houses commission specificially stated that the chairs were to be "made out of the best St. Domingo mahogany, well seasoned, strong neat and plain, without any superfluous ornament". The commission was looking for top quality and workmanship, with simplicity of design. In the 1820's and 30's, local cabinetmakers in Washington added the stretchers as supports for woven webbing to form a hat rack. The chair offered here retains this feature. In 1837, after many years of debate and discussion, the House adopted a rule which stated "Every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House".
Constantine was subsequently awarded the contract for the Senate furnishings, which were much more expensive and based on a design from Thomas Hope's Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (London, 1807).
Today only five other House chairs are known and listed by Thurlow.
Literature: Elizabeth Feld, Stuart P. Feld, The World of Duncan Phyfe, The Arts of New York, 1800-1847
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York 2011, p. 51
Matthew A. Thurlow, Aesthetics, Politics, and Power in Early Nineteenth Century Washington: Thomas Constantine & Co.'s Furniture for the United States Capitol 1818-1819, American Furniture, Chipstone, 2006, a labeled example with hat rack ill. fig. 14
C Property of a Collector, Wisconsin
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