The splats embellished with gadrooning, leafy clusters and C-scrolls, these chairs are among the most elaborately carved examples to survive from colonial Newport. Details in the carved ornament relate to other forms made by or attributed to cabinetmaker John Goddard (1723/4-1785) or his son, Daniel Goddard (b. 1747). Anthemion-shaped in outline, the central crest carving consists of a spray of leaves centering an S-shaped “tear drop.” In inverted form, similarly shaped clusters with pendant tear drops feature on the knees of tables by Goddard (Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 (New Haven, 2016), pp. 328-333, cats. 66, 67). Significantly, on other tables with related knees by John Townsend (1733-1809), this tear-drop motif is absent (Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker (New York, 2005), pp. 186-187, cat. 60; Kane, p. 304, fig. 3).
The presence of gadrooning is a rare detail on eighteenth-century Newport furniture, but is seen on two bureau tables, one of which bears the signature Daniel Goddard (Kane, p. 293, fig. 2; The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at Yale University Art Gallery, RIF678 and RIF792). Like the chairs’ crest ornament, the gadrooning on the tables is similarly comprised of evenly sized convex lobes. The bureau tables also have related leaf carving on the feet, a detail also seen on a block-and-shell desk-and-bookcase attributed to the elder Goddard (Kane, pp. 298-301, cat. 57). Morrison H. Heckscher attributes the signed Daniel Goddard bureau table to John Goddard, while Patricia Kane notes that Daniel may have been only partly responsible for the form (Heckscher, p. 190, fig. 64; Kane, p. 291). As Daniel trained in his father’s shop, all these examples with related carving support the likelihood that the chairs offered here were made in one of these Goddard shops. Furthermore, John Goddard was probably one of the earliest Newport cabinetmakers to carve stop-fluted legs. Most stop-fluted furniture from Newport post-dates 1780, but a 1769 bill from Goddard to Aaron Lopez for mahogany tables includes an extra charge for “fluting legs” and indicates that Goddard was executing this design over a decade earlier (Kane, p. 374, 376, fn. 4).
Further supporting a John Goddard attribution, the first owner of these chairs, Christopher Champlin (1731-1805), purchased “10 Mahogany Chaire Frames” at ￡44 each from the cabinetmaker in 1775 (the history of the chairs is recorded in curatorial files, The Preservation Society of Newport County, PSNC.1804.1-.4; the invoice is cited in Kane, p. 374, 376, fn. 4). The pair offered here were purchased along with four others from the same set, which are part of the collections of the Preservation Society of Newport County and on display at the Hunter House. It is likely that these six chairs were from a larger set, very possibly a set of ten as recorded in Goddard’s invoice to Champlin. A set of four, two armchairs and two side chairs, with the same early history are probably from the same set, although the crest carving varies in minute detail with only one rather than two circular motifs below each tear drop. The only other chairs of this design known comprise a set of six noted to have descended from Gov. Joseph Wanton (1705-1780) (The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at Yale University Art Gallery, RIF4942).