Late Neoclassical (Empire) style, 1832
Baltimore; made by John Finlay (fl. 1799-1840)
This unusual and elaborate sofa is the centerpiece of the greatest documented suite of all Baltimore late Neoclassical furniture. In October 1832, John and Eliza Ridgely were billed for 17 pieces of painted and gilt furniture by John Finlay, a set intended for use in Hampton’s spacious Drawing Room. On the bill, this piece is listed as “1 Sofa with Gilt swans and chimr [sic] legs without Damask for Covering …$80.00.” The “chimr legs,” from a chimera or mythological monster, refer to the gilded lion's paw feet. The fully carved swan arm supports, another motif derived from ancient classical art, can also be found on some of the earliest French Empire designs drawn by Napoleon’s court designers Percier and Fontaine and executed for the Empress Josephine, whose device was the swan.
The sofa is an important early example of original spring seating, dating from just a year after this innovation was introduced to Baltimore. The original crimson silk damask upholstery fabric has been reproduced. The Hampton sofa is considered one of the finest pieces of American-made seating furniture of the era. It is truly a custom order for clients of great wealth and sophistication.
Poplar and other woods. H 98.4, W 207.5, D 60.5 cm
Hampton National Historic Site, HAMP 1160