Museum Object File Information:
Accession Number: JM76.216
Collection: Laurence Gouverneur Hoes Collection
Category: Building Furnishings
Description: A ceremonial French empire-style chair made of mahogany. The chair has a straight, squared-back topped with an arched brass crest. The crest of the chair is hand-carved with an eagle motif. The eagle, depicted with its wings spread, is standing within a laurel wreath holding a scrolling ribbon in its talons. On the top-most portion of the crest rail is a carved sheaf of wheat with floral and oak leaf decorations. The stiles of the chair resemble fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, the side-rails are cushioned in the center and the hand grips are fluted. Supporting each padded arm rest, is a winged lion head, sitting atop a block corner, then decorated with an applied flower. The front legs end in claw feet, while the back legs are slightly raked and tapered. The full back cushion is surrounded by decorative beading. The seat, back and arm rests are upholstered in a gold and green striped silk fabric provided by Scalamandre in New York. The entire piece, with the exception of the upholstery, is gilded.
[C. G. Sloan, “Appraisal of the Collections at the James Monroe Museum” (unpublished, 1989), 45.]
Family tradition suggests that Monroe owned the piece and used it in the President’s house from 1817 to 1825. Today, a large group of pieces are now on view at the White House, on long-term loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art [William G. Allman, the White House, to Rosalie Sullvian, James Monroe Museum, TLS, July 22, 1983. This letter is in the Curator’s files, “JM76.216.” The Philadelphia Museum of Art received its set in 1931 from Henry Livington Lee, descendants of May Digges Lee, second wife of Samuel L. Gouverneur, Sr. the set was loaned to the White House from a New York source and a private donor. Monroe’s entire original suite may have been sold by Samuel L. Gouverneur, Sr., c1852 when he sold Oak Hill after Maria Monroe Gouverneur’s death].
The origin of the chair is unknown though research suggests that it was one of a large suite made in Italy. The Minneapolis Institute of Art owns such a chair with a “Fine Italian Empire” attribution and found that there were others at the Villa Demidoff a San Donato near Florence [Jennifer Komar, Minneapolis Institute of Art, to Lee Langston-Harrison, James Monroe Museum, TLS, March 17, 1995. Ms. Komar included a copy of a catalogue entry from an auction at Christie’s in New York (1994). Christie’s suggested the “Italian” origin]. However, there is a strikingly similar chair at Josephine Beauharnais’ home Malmasion, near Paris, that has been referred to as a French “Ceremonial chair” or an “a la Reine” chair from a set made for Napoleon in 1810 [Alvar Gonzalez-Palacios, The French Empire Style (London: Hamlyn Publishing Co., Ltd., 1966), 112].
Provenance: James Monroe – – – Marian Campbell Gouverneur – Mrs. John Cropper who returned it to Rose Gouverneur Hoes as part of her estate – Laurence G. Hoes – JMMF – State of VA.
Collector: James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library
Used: President’s House, 1817-1825
Originally Owned By: James Monroe
Place of Origin: France, Italy or United States
Citation:“White House Chair.” JM76.216. James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library.
Sloan, C.G. “Appraisal of the Collections at the James Monroe Museum.” 1989.
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar. The French Empire Style. London: Hamlyn Publishing Co., Ltd., 1966.