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: A Card Table by John Goddard


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The recent gift of a Goddard card table from Mr. and Mrs. James Ford Bell is one that not only adds new interest to the Charleston rooms but brings to the Institute’s collections an unusual piece of furniture by one of the greatest of eighteenth-century New England craftsmen.The name of John Goddard of Newport is generally associated with the block-front desks, secretaries, and chests that he made so peculiarly his own, and the attribution to him of other furniture forms is rare. There is little doubt, however, that the mahogany card table presented by Mr. and Mrs. Bell is by his hand. It has been attributed to him because of its strong resemblance to the famous documented tea table that figured in the Flayderman sale of 1930. Except for the carving on the knees it is, moreover, almost identical with a Goddard table appearing in a later Flayderman sale.As is the case with other Goddard furniture, the Institute’s new table is in the tradition associated with Chippendale, with cabriole legs and claw and ball feet. The legs are beautifully shaped, with unusually slender ankles, and end in a rather ovoid ball grasped by attenuated claws. The square top and apron are shaped in a manner closely related to Goddard’s larger block-front pieces, and the entire feeling of the table is that of his authentic work. It is a splendid example of early American cabinetmaking, and one that shows how skillfully colonial craftsmen adapted foreign designs to the American taste.During the eighteenth century, more than at any time before or since, America was dependent on England for its ideas, manners, customs, and taste. As the century wore on colonists became prosperous, and prided themselves upon the closeness with which they modelled themselves after the mother country. They were particularly eager to live out their lives in surroundings approximately as nearly as possible those that existed in England. Countless records testify to the extent of trade in textiles, furniture, clothing, and objets d’art between this country and Europe. Yet foreign influence and tradition were gradually tempered to suit the taste of a people living in an environment different from that in which they were fostered.It is for this reason that American colonial furniture can be called an individual expression. Working from established designs and models though they were, eighteenth-century craftsmen endowed their furniture with an indigenous character that sets it wholly apart from an imitated art. American cabinetmakers such as Goddard and Savery were perfectly familiar with contemporary English design, and if few of them had actually studied their craft in England they had learned it so well under masters of the old tradition that as craftsmen they were the equals of their colleagues across the sea. In the beginning they followed more closely than later the designs of English work, but as their skill grew and the character of colonial civilization developed, their work took on an original, native flavor.Of the early American cabinetmakers, Goddard has come to be considered one of the greatest. Little is known of his life other than that he was the son-in-law of Job Townsend, a famous Rhode Island craftsman. He is known to have lived in Newport between 1724 and 1786, and it is in that vicinity that much of his work is still to be seen.The block-front pieces by which he is best known were not entirely of his own creation, for the block-front detail was known, though not common, in England and other European countries. Goddard took this detail for his own, however, and treated it in such a personal manner that it is always associated with his name. In the recent years in which his furniture has come more and more to the attention of the public, he has been declared to be not only a fine craftsman but an original designer.Goddard stands surely in the front rank of colonial cabinetmakers. His furniture, beautifully designed and executed, is as fine as any of the period. In adding an example of his work to the Charleston rooms, Mr. and Mrs. Bell are further carrying out their policy of furnishing these rooms with the most beautiful and appropriate pieces to be had.Reference Work of Art
  1. Mahogany card table by John Goddard of Newport. Gift from Mr. and Mrs. James Ford Bell
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Source: "A Card Table by John Goddard," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 27, no. 29 (November, 1938): 146-147.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009