Material Matters Reading the Chairs of the Republican Court AMY HUDSON HENDERSON The elegant side chair, with its clean lines, green silk upholstery, and crisp, white paint, was a key piece of furniture in George and Martha Washington's presidential home. Between 1790 and 1797, when they owned this chair and its companion pieces--five more side chairs, twelve armchairs, and a sofa--it defined their best parlor as a drawing room. We know that this chair was made in France; that the Washingtons (along with many of their guests) likely sat in it; and that today it is reverently preserved at Mount Vernon, where it serves to validate the historic house experience.1 But can a chair tell us more? Does it offer evidence about the social networks and quest for national identity that drove members of the republican court--as David Shields and Fredrika Teute inform us--to make styles of manners and sociability a topic of political conversation and a cause of anxiety? Collectively, this suite of furniture from Paris heralded the intentions of the Washingtons to conduct their household, and by extension the new nation, along the Enlightenment principles of sociability: the hallmark of a genteel, polite, and civilized society.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Apr 29, 2015
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