New England Begins 1620-1730 Colonial Expressions in the Georgian Era 1730-1790 Neoclassicism in the New Nation 1790-1840 Industry, Innovation, and Tradition 1835-1950 Reaction and Reform 1870-1945 The Factory and the Studio 1920-2013

Furniture makers in this period embraced the elegant late baroque style in which emphasis was placed on line and form rather than ornament. more

In the World

  • 1741George Frideric Handel composes Messiah
  • 1760Ascension of George III
  • 1754Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Directory published

In Massachusetts

  • 1770Boston Massacre
  • 1773Boston Tea Party
  • 1775Battle of Lexington and Concord

Colonial Expressions in the Georgian Era

Revolutionary Rococo, 1745-1790

By mid-century, the English rococo taste, best known today as the Chippendale style, took hold in Massachusetts, albeit in a somewhat conservative fashion.

The ornamental designs of this fanciful mode are named for the English furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, whose influential 1754 pattern book The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director helped to popularize the taste. This ornamental style emphasized substantial furniture that was often embellished with carving. Ornamentation featured carved C-scrolls, claw-and-ball feet, touches of asymmetry, and pierced chair backs (splats) as well as Gothic, Chinese, and natural motifs such as rocks, shells, and leaves.

Chest by John CogswellThe bottom of this John Cogswell chest features the distinctive bombé (swelled) silhouette.

Boston and Salem makers produced impressive and expensive case furniture in the distinctive bombé (or swelled) mode, and carvers such as John Welch employed their talents on forms from picture frames to chairs.

In Salem, Nathaniel Gould was the leading cabinetmaker, creating a variety of forms for local and regional clients. His career is extraordinarily well documented in his surviving ledgers and account books.  For the period 1763 to 1781, these documents record the sale of 1,144 chairs, 321 tables, 441 desks, 196 bedsteads, 76 “cases of drawers” (probably high chests), 52 “bureau tables” (chests of drawers), 17 “chamber tables,” and 19 desks and bookcases.

As in other colonies, the onset of revolutionary activities, beginning roughly with the blockade of Boston in 1773, curtailed the activities of American craftsmen until the end of hostilities a decade later.

Selected Bibliography

  • Forman, Benno M.  “Salem Tradesman and Craftsmen Circa 1762:  A Contemporary Document.”  Essex Institute Historical Collections 107, no. 1 (January 1971): 62-81.
  • Heckscher, Morrison H.  American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Vol. 2.  The Late Colonial Period:  Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles.  New York:  Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.
  • Heckscher, Morrison H., and Leslie Greene Bowman.  American Rococo:  Elegance in Ornament.  New York:  Metropolitan Museum of Art; Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1992.
  • Jobe, Brock, and Myrna Kaye, with the assistance of Philip Zea.  New England Furniture, the Colonial Era:  Selections from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
  • Keno, Leigh, Joan Barzilay Freund, and Alan Miller.  “The Very Pink of the Mode:  Boston Georgian Chairs, Their Export, and Their Influence.”  AF 1996, 267-306.
  • Richards, Nancy E., and Nancy Goyne Evans, with Wendy A. Cooper and Michael Podmaniczky.  New England Furniture at Winterthur:  Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods.  Winterthur, Del.:  Winterthur Museum, 1997. 
  • Whitehill, Walter Muir, Jonathan L. Fairbanks, and Brock Jobe, ed.  Boston Furniture of the Eighteenth Century.  A Conference Held by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 11 and 12 May 1972. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. 48.   Boston:  Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1974.
  • Widmer, Kemble, II, and Joyce King.  “The Documentary and Artistic Legacy of Nathaniel Gould.”  AF 2008, 1-25.

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