Philadelphia Museum of Art has agreed to purchase the exceptional mahogany dressing table that has been on loan to the Museum for 36 years.
Made in Philadelphia in the late 1760s or early 1770s,
the table is the mate to the Museum’s monumental high chest, which was
donated in 1957 by Amy Howe Steel Greenough. The dynamic carved
decoration on both the high chest and the dressing table depicts a scene
from Aesop’s fable of “The Fox and the Grapes” on their central
drawers. The impressive proportions of these remarkable examples of
18th-century craftsmanship echo the architectural framework of the
bedchamber for which they were made.
Together, they epitomize the
elegance and sophistication that distinguish Philadelphia furniture as
the finest produced in British colonial North America.
“The Museum has now realized its cherished dream of keeping ‘The Fox
and the Grapes’ dressing table together with its companion high
chest,” said Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and
Chief Executive Officer. “The two anchor our galleries of early
American art; and now that their future together is secure, we can
continue to display and interpret them as superlative artistic
The high chest was known to Museum curators early in the 20th
century when it was borrowed from Mary Fell Howe for the 1924
exhibition Philadelphia Chippendale. Lauded for its stately
presence, highly figured mahogany, abundant carved ornament, and the
rare depiction of a narrative from one of Aesop’s fables, the high
chest also generated curiosity about whether or not its companion
piece—the dressing table—was still in existence.
“The Fox and the
Grapes” dressing table was soon discovered and made its debut in
William MacPherson Hornor, Jr.’s 1935 publication The Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture: William Penn to George Washington.
Joseph Kindig, Jr., the preeminent York, Pennsylvania, furniture and
gun dealer, purchased the dressing table from Miss Eliza Davids in the
late 1930s. Though Kindig was an antiques dealer, the dressing table
was not offered for sale. Instead, it remained in the Kindig’s
private home. Mr. Kindig died in 1971, and soon thereafter a friend of
the Museum alerted curators to the whereabouts of the coveted “Fox and
Grapes” dressing table. The Kindigs agreed to lend the dressing table
so it could be displayed next to its high chest in 1976 for Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art,
the great survey celebrating American art exhibited at the Museum
during the bicentennial year. The two looked superb together—each had
found its accompaniment—and after the exhibition closed, the dressing
table remained on loan to the Museum.
The purchase of the dressing table will be funded by gifts already
received or to be solicited from generous individuals over the next
several years as well as through funds raised by the deaccession and
sale of less significant furniture in the Museum’s collection.
deaccessioned works of art include a Philadelphia easy chair dating to
about 1755 that the Museum purchased in 1925 and two colonial side
chairs that will be sold at the September Americana sale at Christie’s
in New York. Ten pieces of American furniture, including a colonial
Philadelphia high chest, dressing table, turret-topped card table, and
tilt-top tea table as well as an 1829 painted chest of drawers from the
Mahantango Valley, will be sold at Sotheby’s in New York in January.