Federal Mahogany Cabriole Sofa, Baltimore, c.1800
This Baltimore cabriole sofa, arguably the most fully developed variant of the form, exemplifies both the design and quality for which the City was so well renowned; in excellent overall condition, the continuous carved mahogany arm and crest rail, and the inlaid serpentine mahogany front rail, typically areas of heavy distress, are both in exceptional states of preservation; there is an old repair to the proper center right front leg where it meets the rail, visible only from the back; the two diagonal “English braces”, which had been removed in the 20th Century to accommodate springs, have been replaced; glue blocks at the four corners of the seat rails, and at the junctures of the two central rear legs and rail, were added and/or replaced in the 20th Century; the brass casters are replacements based on late 18th Century English originals; now upholstered in a period appropriate salmon colored horsehair fabric by Emil Rotter, Berlin; dimensions: 37 5/8″ height @ crest rail x 78 1/8″ width @ from rail x 29 5/8″ wall depth (Please scroll down for commentary.)
The condition of the stringing and apron banding is exemplary; refreshingly, with no possibility of “after production” or later pictorial inlays having been added.
Like our example, the McCormick Family sofa has a continuous carved mahogany back rail, a veneered front rail, and appears to lack any bellflowers on the legs. Considering both artistic license and rarity of form, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the two could be one and the same.
In this family portrait, also by the “brass tack” artist, the sofa has an over-upholstered back rail, a money saving measure despite the extravagance of the form.
Plate 24 from George Hepplewhite’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’d Guide
This design includes the continuous, serpentine-back, versus the single curve-back illustrated below in Plate 22.
In keeping with the “continuity of line and curvilinear form”1, Hepplewhite’s cabriole sofa designs employ crisp, but softened corners for the upholstering of the front rails.
In designing his more rectilinear, square-back sofas, Hepplewhite instituted sharp, orthogonal corners for the upholstering of the front rails, achieved by using a web-raised edge combined with a stitched roll at the corner.
from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg, pictured @ museum.history.org
from the collection of Hampton National Historic Site, pictured @ nps.gov
from the collection of The Baltimore Museum of Art, pictured in Elder’s and Stoke’s American Furniture 1680-1880
from the collection of Bernard and S. Dean Levy, pictured @ http://www.levygalleries.com
from Christie’s January 18, 1992 Americana Sale
from the collection of Albert G. Towers, pictured in Edgar G. Miller’s American Antique Furniture
from the collection of The Maryland Historical Society, pictured in Gregory Weidman’s Furniture in Maryland, 1740-1940
from The Kaufman Collection at The National Gallery of Art, pictured @ nga.gov
another of J. M. Flanigan’s “Levin Tarr group”, single curve-back cabriole sofas at Winterthur
This “Levin Tarr School” frame includes the longer English braces at the front corners.