IMPORTANT RENAISSANCE REVIVAL CONGRESSIONAL OAK ARM CHAIR from the Chamber of The US House of Representatives
Bembe & Kimbel (active 1850-1870), After Thomas U. Walter
New York, c. 1857
Congressional Oak Arm Chair with bowed crest rail centering a carved United States shield with three stars nestled in carved oak and laurel leaves above an upholstered back held by elaborately foliate-carved styles continuing to padded arm rests with scrolled hand rests. The upholstered slip-seat above a seat rail with guilloche-pattern carving on massive, turned and lotus-carved legs.
H: 39″ W: 23½” D: 23″
Condition: Excellent: Surface cleaned and re-polished. Later leather upholstery, lacking casters.
Two hundred and sixty-two oak desks and chairs were made for the U.S. capitol in 1857, designed by Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1887), the architect of the Capitol Building. Half the chairs were made by the firm of Bembe & Kimbel, located at 928 Broadway, New York City. The other half were made by the Desk Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, according to the website of the US House of Representatives. The chairs were used in the House chamber for only two years and many were auctioned off in 1859. Chairs were acquired by photographers Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner as a studio props. They famously photographed President Abraham Lincoln sitting in them. The Walter-designed desks and some of the chairs remained in use until 1873. The “Design for chairs of the Halls of Congress” by Walter is in the Library of Congress. The oak and laurel branches represented on the crest rail around the stars and stripes shield symbolize longevity and victory.
Examples of this chair are held in the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, the Indiana State Museum and the Massachusetts Historical Society. There is a slight variation in the treatment of the arm supports in this model, which may reflect the two different makers. We are only aware of one marked chair, bearing the stencil of Bembe & Kimbel, and that chair has the same arm rest treatment as the present example.