Paint-decorated and Gilded “Fancy” Armchair, about 1816
Attributed to [Jonathan] Judkins (1776–1844) and [William] Senter (about 1784–1827), Portsmouth, New Hampshire (active 1808–26)
Possibly decorated by Henry Beck (1787–1837), Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Wood, painted, paint-grained striped maple, and gilded, with rush seat
33 1/4 in. high, 21 1/2 in. wide, 22 1/4 deep overall
EXHIBITED: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2014–15, Very Rich & Handsome: American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts, p. 69 cat. 33 illus. in color
This armchair, and the five armless chairs with which it descended (the latter in poor condition) are identical to five additional armless chairs at the Rundlet-May House, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a property of Historic New England (Brock Jobe, ed., Portsmouth Furniture: Masterworks from the New Hampshire Seacoast [Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1993], p. 279 fig. 70A), with which it is possible that they were once associated. An additional side chair, a settee, and a rocking chair, also possibly once part of the same set, are in the collection of the Stevens-Coolidge House in North Andover, Massachusetts.
In her essay on a corner basin stand with very similar painted, paint-grained striped maple, and gilded decoration that originally belonged to the Wendell family of Portsmouth and is now at the Wentworth-Coolidge House in Portsmouth that appeared in the Jobe catalogue of the exhibition Portsmouth Furniture: Masterworks from the New Hampshire Seacoast at the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1993, Diane Carlberg Ehrenpreis published the contents of an early 1816 bill for the basin stand and a companion dressing table from the Portsmouth firm of [Jonathan] Judkins (1776–1844) and [William] Senter (about 1784–1827), who were active together in Portsmouth in the years 1808–26. Referring to these two pieces and the five Rundlet-May chairs, Ehrenpreis wrote: “the same artist undoubtedly decorated the chairs and chamber furniture” (p. 280). Ms. Ehrenpresis further suggests that Henry Beck (1787–1837) “may have been that craftsman,” as an advertisement that Beck placed in the New Hampshire Gazette on September 19, 1815, states that “he has taken an apartment in a shop belonging to JUDKINS & SENTER, in Broad-Street, where he intends carrying on the Chair-Making Business in its various branches.” The ad continues: “He will also paint and repair old and injured Chairs at a moderate rate.” Ehrenpreis further observed that “within four months of Beck’s arrival, Wendell had acquired his painted dressing table and washstand from the firm of Judkins and Senter.” It is thus likely that the Judkins and Senter bill included the services of Beck as the painter of the furniture, and because those two pieces are so close in style and decoration to the present chair, it is extremely likely that it too was a product of their partnership.