Declared “Masterpiece” by Albert Sack, this Newport high chest is remarkable for its exquisite design and uncommon state of preservation. The cabriole legs are exceptionally curvaceous and create a lightness and delicacy to a predominantly rectangular form. Descending in the Gould family of Rhode Island, this high chest is further distinguished by its previous ownership in the acclaimed collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henry Meyer of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The collection was largely formed by dealer Jess Pavey and is renowned for his predilection for forms in pristine condition such as the chest offered here. With its untouched surface, original brasses and original finial, this high chest appears today much as it did over two hundred and fifty years ago.
The acorn finial is an unusual feature and similarly executed ornaments appear on at least three other high chests in the collections of the Newport Restoration Foundation, the Yale University Art Gallery and the New Haven Museum and Historical Society (The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF4372, RIF1180 and RIF5033). All three also display related carved shells in the skirt and numbers inscribed in chalk on the drawers. Here, the numbers are placed on the exterior of the drawer sides near the front, whereas the other forms have numbers in various locations. Such commonalities suggest that they may have been made in the same shop, perhaps one with multiple workers.
The Newport craftsman responsible for this chest worked with close knowledge of the designs and practices of father and son cabinetmakers Christopher (1701-1787) and John (1733-1809) Townsend. Bonnet-top high chests made by or attributed to these makers from the late 1740s and 1750s display cabriole legs of similar stance and delicacy, skirts with the same fillets between the lobes and cornice and mid-moldings of the same profile. Furthermore, four of the five Townsend examples from this period have three-quarter round cut-outs in the upper backboard echoing the shaping of the tympanum as seen on the chest offered here. While the others display convex shells or concave shells with fleur-de-lys centers, one in this group signed by both Christopher and John Townsend has a similar concave shell on the skirt set within an arched recess and an inner C-scroll with a solid center (Philadelphia Museum of Art, acc. no. 1975-61-1). Small differences, however, suggest a different carver. The lower edge of the solid center of the C-scroll is lobed on the chest offered here, but arched on PMA example and the juncture of the lowermost lobes and inner C-scroll varies on each. Construction details, such as the lack of shallow rabbets in the backboard housing the upper blocks of the rear legs, the shaping of the tops of the drawer sides and backs and a top board that protrudes in back, contrast with the work of the Townsends, as does the numbering on the drawers, a practice that deviates from the Townsends who invariably marked their drawers with letters (The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF817, RIF811, RIF3606, RIF5171 and RIF816).