The exhibition “A Collector’s Vision: Highlights from the Dietrich American Foundation” opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the first week of February 2020 and was scheduled to run through June 7, 2020. On March 13, all of the museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia announced they were closing to help stem the spread of COVID-19. The closures currently extend to June 30. Whenever the museum reopens, it is hoped exhibitions whose viewing times were drastically cut short by the closure, will be held over so those who planned to attend but could not, may do so. Until February 28, I was employed as the Dietrich American Foundation Project Conservator of Furniture and Woodwork at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and surveyed all, and treated most, of the furniture in this exhibit, working on objects in the exhibit up until mid-January when the art handlers at the museum moved the last objects treated across the building to the exhibition space. I had only a few weeks to enjoy the exhibit myself, taking a few colleagues for tours, and one morning, making some photographs to document the exhibit for myself. Objects under gallery lighting are notoriously difficult to photograph and I wasn’t working with a tripod. But as access to the exhibit has been curtailed, I’ll let this stand as a virtual tour.
The photos can be enlarged by right-clicking and opening them in a new tab.
A publication, In Pursuit Of History: A Lifetime Collecting Colonial American Art And Artifacts, with highlights from the Foundation’s collection, was released to coincide with the exhibition and can be found here. More information about the exhibit and its founder, H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. can be found here.
10 thoughts on “A Collector’s Vision: Highlights from the Dietrich American Foundation”
Congratulations Chris, on a fine looking exhibition.
With the high chest of drawers, I see mention of maple veneer: Where is the veneer employed? Is this a clue that the japanned decoration was applied at a later date?
Is the inlay on the front of the tall clock coeval with its construction?
Jack, thank you. The drawer fronts, lower rail, and mouldings are maple veneer over white pine. The drawers are through-dovetailed. All other Boston japanned chests have solid maple drawer fronts with sides lap-dovetailed to the fronts. We believe the joiners felt maple was a better surface for japanning though the sides are always white pine, as they are secondary surfaces. John Brocas immigrated from England to Boston at the very end of the 17th century. As you know, he would have been familiar with lap-dovetailed drawer construction having walnut veneers, herringbone, stringing, etc. The majority of his work in Boston would have employed this construction, though no other work of his has been identified. He stayed with what was familiar for this japanned chest when others had made the move new drawer construction techniques.
Yes, the inlay on the clock is original. Several other objects – clock cases, a wardrobe – attributed to make of the clock case have similar inlay. The wardrobe on the base panel of the clock case is identical to that of on the panels in the doors of a wardrobe, though on the wardrobe the inlay is done in sulfur. I’ve yet to find the source of the design, perhaps a sort of lover’s knot.
Why do you think the inlay design on the clock base is askew with the rest of the clock? The inlay design is symmetrical yet is askew with panel of the base and the clock case as a whole. If it were rotated about 15 (?) degrees either direction it would align. This surely must have been an intentional feature on the part of a quality furniture maker. Was the wardrobe inlay similarly rotated?
Also,what part of the clock is mulberry?
That’s a good question. I have done preliminary research about the design but have not found an answer to that question or a design source for the inlay on the base panel of the clock case. It is intentional, the wardrobe is rotated in the same manner. I’ll show the wardrobe and clock case together in a post this weekend so all can compare. I’d like to find the precedent and will give credit to anyone who can shed light on this!
The sides of the lower section of the hood, the sides of the waist and base, the base moulding and feet are made of red Mulberry (Morus rubra). The front framing members of the case are cherry. The turned corner columns of the waist and base are black walnut.
Thank you for the clarification and additional details.
Beautiful selection of objects and the composition of Chinese influenced pieces especially attractive.
Please alert me when the PMA reopens and you would be possibly on hand to
discuss the pieces on display.
The Foundation’s collection includes a large sample of Chinese Export porcelain made for the American market. A section is on display in the American Art galleries next the the current exhibition. When I hear news of an opening date for the museum I will post it here. We all want to go back!
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Outstanding examples, sorry the virus disrupted the exhibition.
On that slate top table, is the top imported from Switzerland as is usual or, is it American? Any photos of the top?
The top was imposted from Switzerland. See William Ames, “Swiss export table tops”, The Magazine Antiques, July, 1961, pp. 46, 48-49, figs. 1, 6, 8 for a discussion of these table tops. The table has been published since 1939 when it appeared in The Magazine Antiques, April 1939, Frontispiece. Then next in The Magazine Antiques, January 1941, p. 18. These images of the table may not include clear images of the top. The Foundation has images of the top for study.