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High Chest of Drawers and Dressing Table

Attributed to John Head, American, 1688 - 1754. Made for Catherine Johnson, and Caspar Wistar, American (born Waldhilsbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany), 1696 - 1752.

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Walnut, yellow pine, cedar; brass

High Chest: 66 15/16 × 42 1/8 × 23 1/4 inches (170 × 107 × 59.1 cm) Dressing Table: 30 11/16 × 33 7/8 × 23 1/4 inches (78 × 86 × 59.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Fairmount Park Houses, Cedar Grove, Second Floor, Master Bedroom

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Lydia Thompson Morris, 1928

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    The parents of Catherine Johnson of Germantown, Pennsylvania, commissioned this high chest and dressing table from furniture maker John Head for her marriage to Philadelphia merchant Caspar Wistar in 1726. Born and trained as a joiner in England, Head made the pieces in the latest English style. The pair’s slender legs, turned in the shape of a trumpet, are supported by horizontal stretchers, which curve to mirror the arched bottom rail. The locally sourced walnut, specifically chosen for its swirling grain, is solid, not veneered, a distinctive feature on furniture made by and for Quakers, who objected to the use of deceptive facades. Alexandra Kirtley, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 258.

  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    While a high chest of drawers with a matching dressing table had become unfashionable in Great Britain by the end of the seventeenth century, such furniture remained popular in stylish American households for most of the eighteenth century, and this Museum's collections include several spectacular pairs. Although such items regularly appear in early Philadelphia inventories, these examples, made by John Head for Catherine Johnson and Caspar Wistar shortly before their marriage in 1726, are the only known surviving pair made in the city during this early period. Wistar, a prominent merchant, furnished his home according to the latest tastes, and this chest and table are typical of earliest case furniture fashioned by Philadelphia's best craftsmen using local materials. While London examples of these forms are most often embellished with figured grained veneers, here the case, drawer fronts, legs, and stretchers are constructed of solid black walnut, with highly figured grains carefully selected to give the effect of veneer. The refined skills of Philadelphia's early cabinetmakers are further evident in the crisp profiles of the turned legs, the curves of the arched skirts and stretchers, and the solidity of the drawer cases. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 256.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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