A Scarce Set of Four c.1850 North American Pennsylvania Painted Chairs

Origin: American
Period: Early/Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1840-60
Width: 14.75 inches
Height: 32.75 inches
Depth: 14.75 inches (all at maximum)

The mid-nineteenth century set of four matching spindle-back black painted plank seated pine chairs of relatively small proportions with slatted knife backs each naively stencil decorated with bird and tulip flower motifs to the top crest rails and a wriggle motif with polka dots to the lower, the spindles with mock-gilt painted banding to each.

The chairs all show a consistent amount of wear to the seats and backs, with an all-over craquelure with two of the chairs having old diagonal cracks to their backs. Some of the paint is worn back to the wood, mainly to the seat-sides, spindle backs and seat-fronts and all of the wear is commensurate with their age and use. The most charming thing about their condition is that there has been no attempt, at any stage, to rejuvenate, restore, re-paint or clean the chairs so they remain in fantastically original condition, un-meddled with but having some faults. There are various other small faults with each but they are all useable and there are no signs of woodworm. We have lightly waxed each but will not carry out any kind of restoration.

It is not abundantly clear whether the chairs were painted in the mid-nineteenth century, when they were undoubtedly made, or later but the paint has a wear and a patination that would suggest that it is of the same period. The motifs are more folky and naïve than with other chairs of this type though are obviously stylistically derived from German designs painted on coffers and other items of furniture that the German émigrés painted onto furniture in America, giving rise to the Pennsylvania deutsch (later corrupted into the Pennsylvania 'Dutch') style. Ref: ‘The Ornamented Chair’, by Zilla Rider Lea, published by the Historical Society of Early American Decoration, p.109 figure 60 for a similar example in terms of the chairs shape and arrangement, dated to c.1850.

One person typically made chairs though these were then painted by another and each set was made to order with regard to decoration style, color, and to some degree, construction. It is rare to see any more than six matching Pennsylvania chairs probably due to the high costs involved.

These chairs give a welcome folksy nod to early America’s embrace of radiantly and whimsically painted furnishings.