An artistic achievement of exceptional importance, this slab table is the earliest known masterpiece of the renowned cabinetmaker John Goddard (1724-1785) and its production in 1755 hails the introduction of serpentine furniture in eighteenth-century Newport. Surviving with its original top and bill of sale, the slab table is critical evidence of forces that shaped Newport's cultural and economic milieu during the city's "Golden Age." One of only eight examples of furniture signed by or documented to John Goddard, the table has a deserved place of prominence in the scholarship of American cabinetmaking and has featured in every major study of Rhode Island furniture.
Combining mass and elegance, the slab table has been widely celebrated for its design. The table's cabriole legs, weighty and rounded in profile, represent a departure from Newport's earlier attenuated and squared forms and with this table, Morrison H. Heckscher credits Goddard with introducing the new style (Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker (New Haven, Connecticut, 2005), p. 75). With broad sweeping planes, uninterrupted legs and robust pad feet, this table has been described as a "sculptural success achieved by line alone" (Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, New Jersey, 1984), pl. 6). Similarly, a closely related example (fig. 2) with ball-and-claw front feet, attributed to Goddard based on this table's bill of sale, has been noted to demonstrate "the bold severity of Goddard's craftsmanship, the almost total reliance on shape and form" (Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., The Arts and Crafts of Newport Rhode Island, 1640-1820 (Newport, 1954), p. 100). Here, another source of ornament was the wood itself. Following the movement of the front rail, the grain of the mahogany was deliberately chosen to maximize the impact of the design. Both this table and its close parallel in fig. 2 are similarly constructed with their substantial frames double-pinned at each juncture with the legs, alleviating the need for cross braces. In the case of the table offered here, the only supporting elements are pairs of tall chestnut glueblocks of almost equal height as the rails placed either side of the tops of the inner legs; similar glueblocks, with one placed at each front juncture and two at each rear juncture are present on the table in fig. 2 (Joseph K. Ott, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture (Providence, 1965), p. 52; Philip Zea, "The Serpentine Furniture of Colonial Newport," American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1999), pp. 263-265, figs. 15-19).
These two tables are part of a select group of serpentine furniture that illustrates the sophistication of Newport's fashion-conscious elite and Goddard as the city's principal practitioner of this style. As discussed by Philip Zea, the city's serpentine furniture, comprising tables, commodes and chairs, were exotic forms made in eighteenth-century America that reflect an awareness of French taste as interpreted by English cabinetmakers and were primarily owned by the region's wealthy, Anglophile citizens. The majority of surviving forms in this style are documented or attributed to John Goddard and as the table's bill of sale suggests, this slab table may be the first example from the group to have been made. In his discussion of the group, Zea attributes most of the examples to after 1760. Two tables discussed by Zea and a third marble slab table attributed to Goddard represent the only other Newport serpentine forms that bear date ranges beginning in 1755, a date established by this table's bill of sale. The first (fig. 2), discussed above, and third have ball-and-claw front feet and were most likely made after the table offered here and the same is true of the second table, which features similar construction details but more complex shaping to the rails (Zea, pp. 264-265, figs. 17, 20; Christie's New York, Highly Important American Furniture Deaccessioned from Stratford Hall Plantation, 4 December 2003, lot 6). The slab table offered here was thus probably John Goddard's first effort at crafting serpentine furniture and, in addition to tables, influenced his other forms of similar design. The profiles of the curves on the table's front and side rails, notes Zea, are closely related to the skirt of a commode (fig. 1) made for Robert Crooke (c. 1717-1802) dating from 1760 to 1775 and both forms display identical pad feet and serpentine shaping on the front legs (Zea, pp. 254, 263, fig. 2).
Slab tables, requiring marble tops that were shaped to fit the frames, were among the costliest furniture forms in early America; their expense yielded limited production and this table is one of only about ten to survive from pre-Revolutionary Newport. In addition to the other three serpentine examples discussed above, the known Newport marble-top tables include examples with straight rails, such as that made for Captain Thomas and Elizabeth Wanton Wickham now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Adding to the rarity of the table offered here, at least two tables from this group have replaced marble tops (for Newport marble-top tables with straight rails, see Ott, pp. 32-33, 50-51, 54-55, cats. 30, 39, 41; Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles (New York, 1985), pp. 159-160, cat. 95). In Newport, the penchant for such furnishings may have been influenced by Godfrey Malbone, Sr. (1695-1768), whose stone house and marble interiors were lauded by visitors. Just six years before this table was made, Malbone contracted John Stevens, Jr. (1702-1778) to install a marble fireplace with serpentine shaping that echoes the curvature of the marble tops on Goddard's furniture. Established on Newport's Thames Street in 1705 and still in operation today, the Stevens shop included John, Jr. and his brother William (1710-1794) in the 1750s. Located in close proximity to Goddard's shop, these preeminent artisans stand as likely candidates for the stonecutters who finished the marble top on the table offered here. The relative cost of the marble top can be inferred from the 1755 bill of sale and the values assigned to such tables during the time period. While their size, age and design are unknown, two "Marble Side boards," another period term for the form, were listed in the 1756 inventory of Jonathan Nichols, a neighbor of Goddard's whose home, Hunter House, stands today. Valued at L130 each, these examples and Goddard's charge of L30 for this table's frame suggest that the tops were in the region of three times the expense of the wooden components (Zea, pp. 267-269, fig. 27; John T. Brennan, Ghosts of Newport: Spirits, Scoundrels, Legends and Lore (Charleston, South Carolina, 2007), p. 25).
Along with John Townsend (1733-1809), John Goddard stands as colonial Newport's most celebrated craftsman. Long associated with some of Newport's acclaimed block-and-shell desk-and-bookcases, Goddard was the city's wealthiest cabinetmaker during the 1750s and 1760s and during the 1770s, his position was less only than that of Townsend, a kinsman almost ten years his junior. Born to Daniel (d. 1764) and Mary Tripp, Goddard is thought to have trained with Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1765) as he married the latter's daughter Hannah in 1746. His shop stood in Newport's Easton Point neighborhood on Washington and Willow Streets and at the time of his death contained five workbenches suggesting a sizable work force. The only furniture known to have been made by Goddard prior to this table are three slant-front desks, which though accomplished, were relatively modest products probably made for export. The only examples of furniture signed by Goddard, these desks together with five examples of furniture documented to Goddard, including this table, provide the body of evidence for Goddard's cabinetmaking practices (the other documented examples comprise a tea table made for Jabez Bowen in 1763 (see lot 147, fig. 1), a tea table made for John Brown in 1760 and a fly tea table and dining table both made for James Atkinson in 1773; see Brock Jobe, "The Lisle Desk-and-Bookcase, A Rhode Island Icon," American Furniture 2001, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2001), pp. 122-123; Moses, pp. 195-200, 201, 204, 207-213, pls. 7, 14, figs. 4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.6, 4.7; Nancy E. Richards and Nancy Goyne Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (Winterthur, Delaware, 1997), pp. 238-240, cat. 123; Sotheby's New York, Property of the Goddard Family, 22 January 2005, p. 36, fig. 7; Sotheby's New York, 23 January 2005, lots 1201, 1202).
The table is further enhanced by its ownership and descent in the Low and Arnold families, whose careful preservation of the table's top and bill of sale speaks to the table's esteemed regard over the course of two hundred years. As the bill records, the table frame was purchased by "Capt Antony Low" for L30 in 1755 and, referenced in Joseph K. Ott's papers, the table was owned by his great great granddaughter, Hettie Frances Arnold (b. 1869) in the early or mid-twentieth century. Anthony Low (1725-1802) was born and lived his life in Warwick, just thirty miles from Newport across the Narragansett Bay. The eldest son of Captain John (1702-1756) and Frances (Holden) (1701-1732), Anthony Low married Phebe Greene (1732-1759), a third cousin of General Nathaniel Greene (1742-1786) of Revolutionary War fame. Their marriage, in January 1754, was the first recorded in Warwick's old meetinghouse, and probably occasioned the purchase of this slab table a year later. Phebe died just four years following and in 1766, Anthony married for the second time Sarah Stafford (1737-1832). Goddard's clients from Warwick may also have included John Tibbits (1737-1817), who owned a circa 1760 block-and-shell bureau possibly made by the master cabinetmaker (see Eben Putnam, The Holden Genealogy, vol. 1 (Boston, 1923), p. 391; Adelos Gorton, The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton (Philadelphia, 1907), p. 220); Oliver P. Fuller, Historical Sketches Churches of Warwick (Providence, 1880), available at http://www.archive.org/stream/historicalsketch00full/historicalsketch00 full_djvu.txt; Christie's New York, 18-19 January 2007, lot 593; for the Low family, see "Descendants of John Low," available at http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/f/o/r/Beverly-A-Ford/PDFGENE 13.pdf).
After Low's death in 1802, the table was probably owned by his widow, Sarah (Stafford) Low, who outlived her husband for thirty-five years, and subsequently descended through four generations in the family. Assuming that the table descended directly, it was inherited by Anthony and Sarah's youngest son, Samuel Low (1771-1863), who like his father was a Captain and shipowner. He is recorded as the master of the Charlotte in 1796, the America in 1800 and 1802, and the owner and master of the Antelope in 1817. Later in life, he appears to have turned his attentions toward farming as his occupation is listed as "Agriculture" and "farmer" in the 1850 and 1860 Federal Census records respectively. In 1797, he married a distant relative, Elizabeth Holden (1770-1842) and their daughter, Phebe Ann Low (1801-1876) most likely inherited the table after her father's death. She had married William Utter Arnold (1800-1877), a mill owner and investor from Providence. The couple moved to New York City, but returned to live in the Arnold family homestead in Lakewood, Rhode Island near Warwick. The table probably then passed to their son, William James Arnold (1842-1922), who like his father lived for a time in New York and worked in mills, the first as a machinist and later as an owner. In 1868, he married Abbie Frances Stone (b. 1848) and they lived in Providence where he established a planing mill on Fountain Street. William J. Arnold retired in 1892 and restored an old farm in Buttonwoods, a neighborhood of Warwick, where he built a studio for his only child, Hettie Frances Arnold (b. 1868), an artist and last family member to own the table. Hettie (or Hattie) is listed as divorced in the 1910 US Federal Census and was living with her widowed mother on Aponaug (now West Shore) Road in Warwick in the 1930 US Federal Census, the last known record of her life. She is mentioned in a draft of a letter Joseph K. Ott wrote to his insurers in 1963, the same year he noted that he purchased the table from Harry Arons (see Gorton, p. 302; introduction to Eliza Robarts Letters, Hargrett Manuscripts, The University of George Main Library, available at http://hmfa.libs.uga.edu/hmfa/view?docId=ead/ms2783(m)-ead.xml; The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, vol. 5 (Biographical) (New York, 1920), pp. 64-65; Letter, Joseph K. Ott to Mr. Allen H. Chatterton, Newell Insurance Agency, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 27 January 1963, Joseph K. Ott Papers; Joseph K. Ott, "Fine Arts Items," 7 March 1967, Joseph K. Ott Papers).
THE CAPTAIN ANTHONY LOW QUEEN ANNE MAHOGANY MARBLE SLAB TABLE
Together with the table's original handwritten bill of sale signed by John Goddard: Recd: Newport, Sept. ye 15th 1755 of Captain Antony Low Thirty Pounds in payt for a Mahogany Table Frame. John Goddard
18th Century, pier table, Furniture & Lighting, table, mahogany, Americas, Queen Anne
Providence, The John Brown House, The Rhode Island Historical Society, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture, 16 May-20 June 1965.
Washington D.C., The National Gallery of Art, In Praise of America: Masterworks of American Decorative Arts, 1650-1830, 17 February-6 July, 1980.
American Furniture & Decorative Arts
27¼ in. high, 45½ in. wide, 22 in. deep (2)
Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury, vol. III (New York, 1928-1933), p. 431 (line drawing).
"The Editor's Attic: Documented Goddard," The Magazine Antiques (July 1933), p. 2, fig. 1.
Wallace Nutting, "A Sidelight on John Goddard," The Magazine Antiques (September 1936), p. 120, fig. 2 (bill of sale only).
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., The Arts and Crafts of Newport Rhode Island, 1640-1820 (Newport, 1954), p. 100 (referenced).
Joseph K. Ott, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture (Providence, Rhode Island, 1965), pp. 52-53, 164, cat. 40. Joseph K. Ott, "The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture," The Magazine Antiques (May 1965), p. 566, fig. 7.
Joseph K. Ott, "Some Rhode Island Furniture," The Magazine Antiques (May 1975), pp. 948, 951, fig. 10.
Wendy A. Cooper, In Praise of America: American Decorative Arts, 1650-1830 (New York, 1980), p. 28, figs. 26, 27.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, New Jersey, 1984), pp. 196, 203, 209, 210, 216, 219, pl. 6, figs. 4.3, 5.2, 5.5.
Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles (New York, 1985), pp. 159, 218 (referenced).
Philip Zea, "The Serpentine Furniture of Colonial Newport," American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1999), pp. 263, 264, 273, figs. 15, 16, fn. 25.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend Newport Cabinetmaker (New Haven, Connecticut, 2005), pp. 44, 45, 74, figs. 31, 32.
The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery, RIF348 (forthcoming).
Captain Anthony Low (1725-1802), Warwick, Rhode Island
Probable line of descent:
Sarah (Stafford) Low (1737-1832), Warwick, wife
Samuel Low (1771-1863), Warwick, son
Phebe Ann (Low) Arnold (1801-1876), Warwick, Providence, New York City and Lakewood, Rhode Island, daughter
William James Arnold (1842-1922), New York City, Providence and Buttonwoods (near Warwick), son
Hettie Frances Arnold (b. 1869), Warwick, daughter
Harry Arons, Ansonia, Connecticut
Purchased from above, 23 January 1963