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High Chest, ca. 1760

Artist: Unknown Maker, American (probably Rhode Island)

Medium: Maple, pine, brass

91 × 42 1/2 × 21 in. (231.1 × 108 × 53.3 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Barbara H. Wilson in memory of her husband, Richard O. Wilson, Sr.

Object Number: 2010.7

Not on view

Emma Palmer, New York, New York, 1930s; Mildred Crosswhite (mother of Barbara Wilson); Barbara Wilson, Memphis, Tennessee, 2010

By the mid-1700s Newport, Rhode Island emerged as a leading trade center. In response to this prosperity, the city’s cabinetmakers began to produce elegant and expensive furniture for the homes of its wealthy merchants. These artisans based their works upon the English Queen Anne style (flourished ca. 1700-1750), which was characterized by gracefully curved cabriole legs, harmonious lines, and restrained carving. During the 1740s however, Rhode Island cabinetmakers further refined the style. Their work is often recognizable for its delicate legs and beautifully scalloped elements, as seen on this high chest. Rhode Island furniture can also be identified by the use of “slipper feet”—narrow, pointed elements at the bottom of the cabriole legs which look rather like women’s dress shoes.

Although commonly known as a highboy today, during the eighteenth century such objects were referred to as a high chest or a “tall case of drawers.” Expensive and impressive, these pieces were often sold with matching dressing tables to furnish bedchambers in wealthy households.