By Carswell Rush Berlin
Originally published by Antiques and Fine Art Magazine.
When Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) arrived in cosmopolitan Philadelphia in 1798, the city had been the capital of the “new Republic” of the United States for eight years. By introducing Philadelphians to Grecian-influenced architecture with his Bank of Pennsylvania, completed in 1801, he ushered in a new style, already transcendent in Europe, that would come to dominate American design in the first half of the nineteenth century. Latrobe was to help make Philadelphia what, in 1811, he predicted it would become; “the Athens of the Western world.”1
There is no purer or more evocative furniture form in the lexicon of neo-classical furniture design than the Greek Klismos chair. Klismos chairs were found painted on Greek vases unearthed in southern Italy throughout the eighteenth century, and seen in wall paintings excavated at Herculaneum and Pompeii.4 As the quintessential expression of Greek furniture design, interpretations were published by every important furniture designer of the first half of the nineteenth century. With its curving tablet crest rail extending beyond the rear stiles and front and rear saber legs, it represented not just a radical departure from rococo furniture popular only twenty years earlier, but a complete departure from the neoclassicism of Adam and Hepplewhite, and designs from Sheraton’s Drawing Book, known here as Federal furniture.
Continue reading Classical Furniture in Federal Philadelphia.