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Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House

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Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House
Tags: American

From the Curator
"Old money. High risk trade. Quaker ideals and Episcopalian aspirations. Social ambition--and its strains. Bankruptcy. The story of Classical Splendor shows how all of the above combined to create one of early Philadelphia's most fabled settings for a set of surviving furniture designed by architect B. Henry Latrobe for the house he designed for China trade merchant William Waln and his wife Mary. Standing on the corner of Chestnut and 7th Streets, the majestic house encased a suite of drawing rooms with walls painted by one of the leading artist of the day who painted the furniture to match. With its strong nod to the arts of ancient Greece and Rome, the sleek furniture reveals the timelessness of classical design. Reconsidered after a 5-year research and conservation treatment, the story of the Walns' furniture is told in the same collaborative manner that its extraordinary creation also required."     
—Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, The Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts


About the Authors:
Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley is the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts and Peggy A. Olley is the associate conservator of furniture and woodwork, both at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Jeffrey A. Cohen is senior lecturer and chair of the Growth and Structure of Cities Program at Bryn Mawr College.

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This handsome book explores in depth a group of stunning painted and gilded furniture designed by the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, best known for originating the plans for the United States Capitol. The furniture was made in Philadelphia for one of the city’s finest houses—the home of William and Mary Wilcocks Waln, which Latrobe also designed. Drawing on a multiyear conservation and research project, Classical Splendor reveals new insights into the patrons, makers, and history behind these extraordinary pieces. In addition to extensively documenting each item, the book attests to Latrobe’s significant contributions to American furniture design—his pieces for the Waln house introduced, and served as exemplars of, a classical style rooted in ancient Greek and Roman design.

  • Hardcover
  • 160 pages
  • 11" x 10"
  • Yale University Press, 2016
  • ISBN: 978-0300221718
Editorial Reviews

“A remarkably detailed, skillfully arranged, and visually rich account. . . . A model for future detailed studies . . .  presenting a complex and nearly comprehensive portrait of a singular project in the history of American material culture.”

—Winterthur Portfolio 51, no. 4 (Winter 2017)


“A compelling work of scholarship. . . . One finishes Classical Splendor with the sense that the subject has been exhaustively covered and that the book will be considered definitive for many years to come.”

—American Furniture 2017

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