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MacFarlane Memorial Room:


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Federal Period, roughly spanning the years between 1785 and the early part of the 19th century, was marked by rapid social change. The Industrial Revolution brought new techniques of mass production and helped to create a tremendous amount of new wealth. It was also a time when Americans pushed back the frontier, expanded their commercial activities to include trade with the Far East, and solidified their Federal form of government.

This new government needed buildings to house itself, buildings that would serve as monuments to newly won independence and democracy. The style chosen was based on that of the ancient Romans. This Neo-Classical style also became the model of architectural respectability for the domestic architecture of the affluent.

Ties with Britain remained strong, though the English influence on decorative arts declined as Americans became more experimental and were open to new ideas and aesthetic movements. Americans used English sources, slightly changing the proportions and decoration to make an American statement. The Federal Style was, thus, an American blending of Adam, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and French Directoire influences. There was also a breakdown of the formality which had been carefully preserved by some of the colonials. For example, innovative pieces like the sewing table were now brought into the drawing room. As was customary in Europe and in America until at least 1850, most of the furniture was pushed against the wall when not in use.

The MacFarlane Room is the only room in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection of period rooms that was not removed piece by piece from an existing house and reassembled in the museum. Instead, the room was conceived around the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper (1800-1820) which was purchased in New York by Mrs. Mable H. MacFarlane.
In the spring of 1982, the room was refurbished to represent a formal parlor of a wealthy Boston merchant, circa 1800. The woodwork (baseboards, cornice, door surround, window treatment, and mantelpiece) was copied from a room in a house designed in 1796 by the Boston architect Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) for Harrison Gray Otis, a wealthy lawyer. The house was the second of three that Bulfinch built for Otis and is probably the best known. It is an outstanding example of domestic Federal Architecture. As such, it represents the full expression of the architect's Neo-Classical design. This design was similar to the standard formula for townhouses in London and Bath, demonstrating the continued influence of England on the United States during this period (even though it was less than formerly). The house is still considered one of the handsomest houses in Boston. It is now a house and the home of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA).
THE WALLPAPER: 1800-1820
The hand-painted Chinese wallpaper illustrates the period's fascination with exotic lands, particularly China, and is a great rarity in America, though numerous rooms with similar papers have survived in England. Most of the American ones known are in New England. The papers were admired for their beauty and craftsmanship, but few have survived because their popularity declined in the middle of the 19th century.

Wallpapers which show a continuous sequence of events like this one, rather than a design which is repeated, are called scenics and were developed as a less expensive substitute for hand-woven decorative wall hangings. Imported Chinese wallpapers and printed fabrics were hung in the majority of "Chinese" rooms that were so popular during the last half of the 18th century in England. These papers were designed for the European market and were more elaborate than those painted for Chinese houses. Each Chinese paper was a uniquely painted work and not a print made in multiples as most wallpapers were; therefore, it was very expensive and hung only in the houses of the wealthy.

The Chinese designs were usually made in sets of 20 or 25 nonrepeating panels, each 4 feet wide and 12 inches long. The panels were made of joined sheets of mulberry paper and were larger than the papers made in the west. These panels were mounted on wooden frames that were lined with rice paper. These were attached to the wall. Using this method, the paper could be more easily removed intact and could be rehung if required. Sometimes the paper was colored in the pulp for a colored background, but many panels were on ungrounded papers. The outline was made in simple carbon ink, and the many elements included in the design were then colored in, leaving uncolored paper for highlights. Many simple elements were stenciled on afterwards, such as the white patches on the trees.
There were several categories for Chinese wallpaper designs, the largest of which were blossoming trees, flowers, rocks, birds, insects, and birds or animals. Others showed the production of pottery, rice, silk, and tea, while some, such as the paper in the MacFarlane Room, featured scenes of daily life amidst a landscape with buildings. The wallpaper shows a festival scene, in this case a festival for the sons of civil servants. Parent/child festivals had begun many centuries earlier in China to celebrate the important Confucian principle of family solidarity. They were a reminder that parents were meant to bring their children up diligently, giving them a good start in life, in return for which the children were to care for their parents in their old age. All the elements of a festival have been included. The festival takes place outside. Many figures carry banners, and there are boys flying kites. Souvenirs and food are for sale. These would always be specific to the time of year and the event. For example, on the right we see a father buying a scroll of calligraphy for his son (probably a copy of the Confucian classics); someone else is selling leaves (probably medicinal), another reference to the time of year or the festival. There is also entertainment. Notice the procession (on your left as you enter the room) and the dance in honor of Kuan Yu, legendary god of war, taking place in the pavilion on the right. This is clearly an auspicious outing, full of favorable symbols:
  • lanterns, representing good luck and peace
  • peaches, a symbol of long life
  • the carp, emblem of perseverance, wealth, and abundance
Between the late 18th and late 19th centuries, wall-to-wall carpets were highly fashionable. (Area rugs were not in frequent use until the late 19th century.) The design of this carpet is an exact reproduction of one made in 1796.
The fireplace mantle is made of wood. It was copied from a fireplace in one of the parlors of the Otis house built by Bulfinch in 1796. It is decorated with the following molded motifs that are also on the Otis mantle:
  • Neo-Classical swags
  • urns
  • young people dancing in a meadow, a boy playing a flute sitting on a classical funerary monument
  • All of the other woodwork was also copied from the same source.
The furniture and decorative arts included in the room are all from around the beginning of the 19th century.

Folding Card Table
Boston, c. 1800.
Mahogany and birch; secondary woods, white pine and maple.
Satinwood inlay.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.7.6

Folding Card Table
American, possibly Salem, Mass., c. 1800.
Mahogany and birch veneer; secondary wood, white pine.
Satinwood inlay.
Gift of the Friends of the Institute. 24.55

In the late 18th century, lighter and more delicate furniture became more popular. For example, notice that the heavier cabriole leg has been replaced in these tables by a slender, reeded, tapered leg with a small ornamental knob two inches above the foot. Similarly, the heavier ornamental details of the Chippendale style have been superseded by more dependence on veneering and inlaid work for decoration, as we see in the oval mahogany medallion in the satinwood frieze under the tabletop. (Satinwood, a yellow-toned timber from the East and West Indies, was the most widely used material for inlay. It was often combined with natural mahogany, as in this table.)

Card playing in America was almost as popular as it was in England. The tables could be used as pier or side tables when not in use. A third table is displayed open with cards and fish chips to show a game in progress, while a fourth is set for tea.

Work Table
American, Mass., c. 1800.
Mahogany; secondary wood, white pine.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.7.2

The work table, a new form of furniture in America, appeared shortly after the Revolutionary War. Mending and sewing materials were stored in the bottom drawer, which was in the form of a silk bag suspended from the frame. During this period, such tables were used in parlors and drawing rooms, an indication of the relaxation of formality present during the Federal period. Sewing was also important as an indicator of social accomplishment for women.

Secretary/Bookcase, 1807
Probably Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Mahogany, bird's eye maple, birch veneer, and pine
Gift of Mrs. W.C. MacFarlane by exchange, and Rosalee and Wayne MacFarlane 94.13.a-p.

This secretary/bookcase would have been used for reading and writing. It is a good example of the new Federal style.

Easy Chair
American, Boston, c. 1800.
Mahogany; secondary wood, white pine.
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Wayne H. MacFarlane. 83.100

This is a mahogany Chippendale chair with a serpentine crest rail, wonderfully shaped wings, horizontally rolled arms, and molded front legs. All of the legs are connected by stretchers. The upholstery on this chair matches that on the sofa, two side chairs, and drapery and is a fabric produced by Scalamandre as a reproduction of a color and design that was available during this period. The original upholstery was possibly by Moses Grant.

American, around 1785-95
Mahogany, maple and ebony inset panels
The MacFarlane Room Fund 92.116
(See Arts copy December 1992, back cover)

This type of armchair, known as a lolling chair (also called a "Martha Washington" chair), is named for its use. Its comfortably inclined back and low seat made it one of the less rigid 18th-century furniture styles.

The armchair is a superb example of the Federal Style in Massachusetts around 1785-95. Outstanding features of the style exhibited by this piece include the maple and ebony decorative inset panels and the feeling of lightness created by the sharply raked back, the tapering front legs, and the graceful curves of the arms.

American, Mass., Federal Style, c. 1805.
Upholstered mahogany; secondary wood, white pine
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.7.1

By the end of the 18th century, sofas had come into widespread use
among the wealthy. Like the majority of tables made during this time, the width of the sofas (rather than the height) was emphasized to give the rooms an overall feeling of horizontality. The bow-shaped back, narrow arms connected to the legs by reed supports, and inlaid tapered legs contribute to the light, delicate feeling which is characteristic of many Sheraton sofas made about this time.

Pair of Hepplewhite Mahogany Side Chairs
American, Mass., attributed to Stephen Badlam, 1779-1815
Mahogany; secondary wood, maple.
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Wayne MacFarlane. 83.78.1,2

These side chairs have a beaded Gothic arch with acorn finials, carved husks, and ears of wheat which extend onto the serpentine crest rail. The seat is saddle-shaped, and the molded legs are connected by stretchers. Stephen Badlam was a leading American cabinetmaker during the Federal period.

He set up his shop in Dorchester Lower Mills, Massachusetts, and was one of the few cabinetmakers to mark his furniture with a stamp.

Fire Fender
American, c. 1800.
Brass and steel.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.8.6

These screens were placed in front of the fire to prevent brands or coal from rolling into the room. They had been in use since the 17th century.

American, c. 1800.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.8.1,2

The andirons terminate in what are known as "lemon tops," one of a variety of finials used on brass andirons in the 18th century. They stand on ball and claw feet, a detail adapted from Georgian and Chippendale furniture.

Liquor Chest
Spanish or Bohemian, c. 1780-1800.
Oak and iron fittings, non-lead glass.
Gift of the Decorative Arts Council. 81.59.1-17

This is a portable chest in which bottles and glasses were stored. The chest could have been used on long journeys or picnics when alcoholic beverages were consumed.

Anglo-Irish, c. 1800.
Lead glass.
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Wayne H. MacFarlane. 73.23.1a-m; 73.23.2a-m

This candelabra is labeled Anglo-Irish because of its date. Glass of this type was produced in England through the late 18th century. At that time, the English government added heavy taxes to glassmaking, and, as a result, some craftsmen moved to Ireland.

Prismatic cutting is a technique of making cut glass used on teardrops and was very popular in the early 19th century. Candelabras such as these were often exported to the States to be sold to wealthy merchants. The term "candelabra" is derived from the French word for tree branch.

English or Irish, c. 1800.
Crystal, lead glass.
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Wayne H. MacFarlane. 67.58.6

The light, graceful furniture of the last quarter of the 18th century was enhanced by the use of the cut glass chandelier. Hurricane shades, as seen on this chandelier, were not generally used in England. However, English chandeliers made in the latter part of the century were designed so that shades could be added if the colonials so chose.

Pole Screen
American, c. 1800
Mahogany, painted canvas.
The MacFarlane Room Fund 90.47a,b

Pole screens were used as protection against the heat of a large fire. Ones like this were often referred to as table screens because they could be drawn up to a table to protect a candle from a draught or the make-up of the sitter from the heat. (The base of lady's make-up was quite often wax and could melt if it became too warm.)

Pair of Looking Glasses
Probably Continental, c. 1800.
Pink marble, gold leaf over gesso and carved wood, gilt wire.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren MacFarlane. 64.4.1, 2

These mirrors are of a type that were imported from Europe at the end of the 18th century and into the beginning of the 19th century. They are often distinguished by their pink frame of marble, which is frequently combined with gilded open work ornamentation. These mirrors are no longer only utilitarian; they provide an important part of the decorative scheme as well.

Bull's Eye Lamp
English, c. 1800-1859.
Sheffield plate.
Anonymous gift. 57.61a-c

This was an improved reading lamp and a common source of light during this period. Lamps at this time used whale oil.1 The whale oil was held in the drum-shaped font; the wick extended into the oil and was lit to create light. The glass then magnified the very small light onto the reader's page. Compare this source of light to the candles that were the source of light in the Connecticut and Charleston rooms.

Teacups and Saucers
Chinese for the European Market, c. 1800.
Hard paste porcelain.
Gift of the Winifield Foundation.,2
56.21.134; 56.21.135

Child's Tea Set
Chinese, for export
about 1800

Dishes of this type were made in China for export to Europe and North America. The Chinese adapted their porcelain patterns and designs to fill the requests of their overseas buyers. For example, saucers were supplied with teacups, plates were made with wide flat rims, and vases were made in sets of three or five to form "garnitures de cheminée." Since the journey by sailboat to China took nearly a year, the buyer often had to wait two years for the service to arrive.

The cups and saucers on the table are good examples of the mixtures of styles. Note that the cups are handleless in the Chinese style but are accompanied by saucers. They demonstrate the continued importance of tea as a social beverage at this time.

Tea Caddy
American or English, ca. 1800.
Mahogany with light-colored wood inlays; secondary wood, pine
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. James S. Bell, 29.22

This is a container for storing tea. Made primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tea caddies came in a wide variety of shapes and designs. This one is rectangular with two compartments which would contain two different types of tea, either Chinese or Indian, or a variety of Chinese teas called green tea. The compartments each have a tightly fitting lid and are, in turn, enclosed in the caddy which also has a lid that may be locked. Tea was very expensive in America, even after the American revolution, and this helped to prevent pilfering by the servants. The word "caddy" comes from the Malay word, "Kate," which means a weight equivalent to 11/15 of a pound, the weight by which tea was sold.

Tea Urn
English, 1775-1776.
William Holmes and Nicholas Dumee.
Partnership active 1773-76.
Bequest of Mrs. Warren C. MacFarlane. 73.8.7a,b

Tea urns were introduced about 1769 when a need arose for larger vessels to hold hot water as tea parties became more popular. The urns were made with a compartment inside to hold a piece of hot metal. This was heated in the kitchen and dropped into the urn. It kept the water hot for hours.

Like so much of the furniture in the room, the tea urn is in the Neo-Classical Style. In particular, note how closely it resembles an early Grecian urn, illustrating how this style was influenced by Greek and Roman artifacts.

Patent Timepiece
American; Concord, Mass., 1815-1825.
Probably by Samuel Whiting.
The MacFarlane Period Room Fund 86.49

This clock is made of mahogany with chestnut and white pine secondary woods and has glass with reverse painting. It has an eight-day brass weight powered movement that is pendulum regulated. The clock is wound once a week.

The MacFarlane Room is a re-creation of a parlor from a wealthy Bostonian's house at the beginning of the 19th century. The trade and prosperity of the period is reflected in the many imported items, including the liquor chest and looking glasses from the continent; the chandelier, candelabra, candlesticks, tea urn, and bull's eye lamp from England; and the export china and wallpaper from China. Even the many American pieces in the room continue to reflect the strong influence of English design. At the same time, what is most noticeable is that the majority of the furniture is American-made, in a distinctly American style, the Federal Style. Unlike the earlier Chippendale style with its curves and heavy ornamentation, the Federal Style is characterized by delicacy, balance, and mostly straight lines (or gentle, simple curves, such as we see in the aprons of the folding card tables, 73.7.6 and 24.55). The scale of Federal pieces is also lighter, and their forms are primarily rectangular. Legs are straight and rectangular, as illustrated in the Badlam chairs, 83.78.1, 2, or straight and tapering, and frequently reeded, as we see in the folding card tables, 73.76 and 24.55. These tables also demonstrate the new emphasis on inlay. Chair backs generally become shield-shaped oval, rectangular, or heart-shaped and are narrower, as we see in the Badlam chairs, which are shield-shaped. The classical influence on the Federal Style is apparent in the decoration of the mantelpiece, the shapes of the silver tea urn, and the straight lines and decorative motifs on the furniture. Some of the activities which took place in this room are suggested by the articles displayed with the furniture: one table is set for tea while another shows a game of cards in progress; a book lies open on the secretary/bookcase.
Hayward, Arthur H., Colonial Lighting, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1927.
Well-written and illustrated by an early 20th-century collector of lighting fixtures of the American colonies. Enjoyable to read.

Lynn, Catherine, Wallpaper in America from 17th Century to WWI, A. Barra Foundation, Cooper-Hewitt Museum Book, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York, 1980.
Excellent history of American wallpaper. Easy to read, well-documented and illustrated.

MacFarlane, Wayne, Family of room's donors, Telephone conversation, June 1983.

McClelland, Nancy, Historic Wallpapers, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia & London, 1924.
Book is of historic value with color-plates and cover sheets. Beautifully printed and illustrated. Reference base for Catherine Lynn's book.

Montgomery, Charles F., American Furniture The Federal Period, 1788-1825, A Winterthur Book, Viking Press, New York, 1966.
Excellent reference. Illustrations and brief descriptions very helpful for docents.

Musgrave, Clifford, Adam and Hepplewhite and Other Neo-Classical Furniture, Faber & Faber, 24 Russell Square, London, 1966.
Brief descriptions of English furniture pieces, makers, and processes. Illustrations separate from written text.

Oman, Charles C. and Jean Hamilton, Wallpapers (An International History), Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, 1982.
An encyclopedia of wallpaper designs, pattern books, and designers based on the Victoria & Albert Collection in London. Very brief history of wallpaper in introduction.

"The Second Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston," Antiques Magazine, October, 67:536-41.

In addition to the general tour tips on pages 221-222, use this room for the following tours:
  • American Art
  • Decorative Arts and Period Rooms
  • People and Their Environment (alternate)
  • People and Places
  • Classics and the Classical Influence
  • Chinese Art (as an example of the china and wallpapering the Chinese made for export)
  • On a general tour with a How People Lived focus

Compare the important role of "correct taste" in the Federal Style to the comparable concern in Georgian England, illustrated in our Northumberland Room.

  1. This pre-dated kerosene lamps.
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Source: Docent Manual entry for <i>MacFarlane Memorial Room,</i> The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Education Division (1998).
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009