American Decorative Arts Forum Lecture: Dressing Philadelphia’s Finest Furniture: Upholstered, Covered, and Hung, by Alexandra Kirtley

19th-century chairs

Chairs, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe; possibly painted by George Bridport. Gesso, paint, tulipwood, and maple. Images courtesy of the speaker

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Koret Auditorium

Soon after their marriage in March 1805, Philadelphians William and Mary Willcocks Waln retained architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (British, 1764–1820) to design and build a new mansion at the corner of Seventh and Chestnut Streets. After three years of construction, Latrobe also began to design the furniture and the painted wall ornament for the drawing room, the social center of the house. The drawing room furniture is all that is left of the house, which was razed in 1843, and it embodies the aspirations of its designer and the merchant who commissioned the furniture.

The Walns’ furniture has long been admired for its sleek profile,  lavishly painted surfaces, and shockingly innovative upholstery. These pieces have been the subject of a five-year examination, analysis, and conservation effort by the Philadelphia Museum of Art utlizing documentary research of period design books as well as the physical evidence of the chairs themselves. Reupholstery of the Waln family chairs was conducted using information on the history of upholstery and upholsterers in Philadelphia.

Alexandra Kirtley will speak on the Waln furniture’s upholstery, the most crucial element of a room’s design for 18th- and early 19th-century Philadelphia patrons. Kirtley graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in art history, interned at the New-York Historical Society, and earned a master’s degree from the Winterthur program in early American culture. Since 2001, she has occupied a series of progressively more responsible curatorships at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Author of numerous publications and articles, including “The 1772 Philadelphia Furniture Price Book Rediscovered,” Kirtley returns to the de Young to present her latest research findings. 

Ticket Information

Free to members of the American Decorative Arts Forum; $20 general. No advance purchase or reservations. Museum is closed. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse (across Hagiwara Tea Garden and down the steps opposite the museum’s main entrance).

Contact Information
Gordon Fine
(415) 346-4856