Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez , High Chest of Drawers, 1765-1775, Mahogany, yellow poplar, white cedar, yellow pine, and brass, 8’ ¾” x 46½’ x 25¾”, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Photo by mharrsch via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez, High Chest of Drawers, 1765-1775, Mahogany, yellow poplar, white cedar, yellow pine, and brass, 8’ ¾” x 46½’ x 25¾”, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Photo by mharrsch via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Those Fancy Colonials

American furniture from the colonial era really is beautiful and the story of these pieces reveals key moments from American history.

The high chest of drawers in the background of this photograph is of the American Rococo style, which is a highly decorative European style interpreted by American craftsmen. Many of the fine motifs, such as the ones on this piece of furniture, were from pattern books, such as Thomas Chippendale’s Gentlemen and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1762).

This piece, with the ornate pediment, flowers and vines along the sides, decorative skirt, and cabriole legs, is the result of a collaborative process between unnamed joiners and the carvers Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez. The ornamentation is representative of the taste for the French Rococo in Philadelphia at the end of the eighteenth century. On the bottom drawer is a scene of a fox with some grapes that probably comes from a popular folk tale.

Because of an inscription with the name of a Philadelphia city official on the back of the chest, we believe that the chest was confiscated in 1783 from the home of someone who refused to pledge allegiance to American independence. The proceeds of these “estate sales” went to the Continental Army, which fought the British in the Revolutionary War.

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