Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Pre-Closet Era

Object: Corner Cupboard
Accession #: 1944.0002

This corner cupboard is an example of British and American furniture form of the 18th and 19th centuries and was intended for storage.  Constructed of walnut, it was probably produced in the Shenandoah Valley. It has a molded cornice above four shelves which are over a single paneled door. The whole cupboard rests on ogee bracket feet that have a vertical profile in the form of an S-curve, convex above and concave below. Cupboards first appeared in America in the 17th century and movable corner cupboards were in general use by the 18th century. The Randolphs may have used a piece of furniture like this one to keep their array of clothing folded and accessible. 
One historian explains that if a cupboard is 7.5 or 8 feet high it is probably a product of the South where rooms such as those at the Wilton House had high ceilings.  Cupboards with paneled doors were also a popular product of the South. The term cupboard began to be used in the Middle Ages and referred to the assembly of boards to be used as shelves to display cups, goblets, and similar items. Most were designed to use the upper part for display and the lower portion for storage. Featuring four shelves without enclosure and single door below them, this cupboard appears to be designed for these purposes as well. If the Randolphs kept their clothes in a cupboard such as this one they undoubtedly would have wanted to display the finery they owned. The Randolphs were a family of means who could afford to be fashionable, as anyone who saw what was put on those shelves would be reminded.

Corner Cupboard, 1750-1790, American: South, Virginia,
Walnut, Yellow Pine, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The elite spared no expense when it came to keeping up with the latest styles and best materials. As one historian describes the dress of a daughter of a typical Virginia planter in the 1770’s, she “could have worn at the same time a gown of silk from China, underclothing of linen from Holland, and footwear made in England – all shipped in a vast network of trade from their places of origin to a shop or warehouse in London, where they were selected by a merchant, [and] packed for a lengthy voyage across the ocean in a ship”. Much of what women wore could be purchased through import trade. Upper class men as well could afford to have their outfit custom-made in London to fit their exact measurements, specifications for expensive fabrics, and embellishments such as imported buttons. A cupboard like this one was a very useful piece of furniture used to store the many neatly folded and meticulously pressed articles of clothing owned by a wealthy family like the Randolphs.


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Image Credit*&deptids=1&what=Softwood%7cCupboards&pos=16-