Tradition in the family of Joseph C. Cabell, a longtime friend of Jefferson who helped him establish the University of Virginia, states that a set of cherry chairs of this design were given to Cabell by Jefferson. Jefferson called Cabell "the main pillar" of support for the university. It appears that the chairs were part of a larger set that may have included ten or more chairs.1
Two almost identical chairs, made of walnut, are also known and may have comprised a second tablet-backed set. The cherry chairs, however, have ovolo molded seat rails. The walnut pair, was purchased at the Dispersal Sale in 1827 by John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo in Fluvanna County; ten additional chairs from this set are in a private collection.
According to family tradition, this chair with leather seat was one of several made at Monticello from a drawing [Jefferson] made from chairs excavated at Pompeii. Although the general idea of the chairs seems to have been influenced by a "Klismos" type, it is very likely that Jefferson had seen—or owned—George Jacob’s siege hemicycle, the first models of which Jacob made for the comte de Montholon in 1786.2 This type of chair, with a concave back, similar to a Klismos chair, was very popular in the first quarter of the nineteenth century but was also known earlier. Jefferson might also have seen Klismos chairs in Washington, or drawings of them such as Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s sketches for furniture in the Greek style made for the Madison Dining Room at the President’s House.
The chairs executed by Monticello’s joiners were realized in two separate sets of cherry and walnut and conform to the French chaise hemicycle. While many of the French examples have saber legs, the Monticello-made examples have straight, slightly tapering legs characteristic of Jefferson’s furniture designs.
|Object Type||Furniture and Lighting|
|Dimensions||34 1/2 x 19 x 15 1/2 in.|