Pair of Chippendale Side Chairs by James Graham

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Pair of Chippendale mahogany side chairs, each featuring a scrolled crest with central acanthus leaf carved center over an owl’s eye and heart pierced splat, a trapezoidal slip seat, a scrolled front apron and cabriole front legs ending in double pad feet.

Attributed to the School of James Graham (1728-1808) of Boston, Massachusetts, 1760 – 1775.

Mahogany with maple slip seat frames and eastern white pine corner blocks.

This fine pair of Chippendale mahogany side chairs are attributed to the School of James Graham (1728-1808) of Boston, Massachusetts, 1760 – 1775.  A Scottish immigrant, James Graham / Grayham is listed in “Boston Furniture of the Eighteenth Century”, edited by Walter Muir Whitehill, page 282, as a chair maker in Boston, with a shop on Mackerel Lane between 1760 and 1771.  A small group of sophisticated Chippendale chairs are attributed to him and his “owl’s eye” design found in the pair of chairs described above was widely copied.

Several distinct index features in design and construction of the pair of Chippendale mahogany side chairs described above support a connection to the School of James Graham.  Among the most notable were identified by the Massachusetts furniture scholar Kemble Widmer and include the use of round headed nails that appear similar to upholstery tacks.  These nails are found throughout the seat frame of the chairs, joining both the triangular corner blocks and the applied knee returns.  Other elements noted by Kemble Widmer include the rear stiles that are chamfered above the seat rail, square below the seat rail and end in backwards facing shaped club feet.   The influence of James Graham and his designs are discussed in the recent publication, “In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould” by Kemble Widmer and Joyce King, page 142.  In the discussion of the noted cabinetmaker Nathaniel Gould (1734-1781) of Charlestown and Salem, Massachusetts, the authors state:  “Although Gould may have had access to Manwaring’s designs as early as 1762, and owned a 1762 edition of Chippendale’s Director, he had been making chairs in the Chippendale manner upon his arrival in Salem in 1758.  His chairs bear a striking resemblance to those attributed to James Graham (1726-1808), an immigrant Scottish chairmaker who arrived in Boston in August 1754 and may have introduced the Chippendale style there.  Three of Gould’s splat designs – the ‘owl’s eye,’ ‘C-scroll and diamond,’ and the ‘C-scroll’ – were Graham’s most popular designs.  Both men produced chairs with well formed cabriole legs and rear legs flaring out at the base but without stretchers.  Both also used an ogee-shaped bracket that is nailed under the side rail and tenoned to the rear leg.  Close physical examination is needed to determine the maker…  For slip seat chairs, Graham used a 5/8-inch chisel to mark the center of the rear rail and seat frame, Gould cut notches into the inside corner of the front seat rail, and the seat rail and shoe are often one piece.  There is little doubt that Gould was influenced by Graham’s work during his years in Boston.  Both men were probably instrumental in introducing Chippendale-style chairs to their respective towns.”  An example of Nathaniel Gould’s version of the “owl’s eye” splat side chair is illustrated and discussed in Catalogue 12, pages 150 and 151.  While both the illustrated chair and the pair of Chippendale side chairs described above share several similarities, the simplification of Gould’s example is noticeable.  The crest rail lacks the scroll and acanthus leaf decoration in the center, the splat does not show the scrolled volutes or other carved elements and the end of the rear legs do not feature the backwards facing club foot.

Family history reports that these chairs descended in the Orr family of Salem, Massachusetts.