Dorothy McIlvain Scott collection installed in redesigned galleries

October 11, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

The 7-foot-long, eight-sectioned sideboard, attributed to New York cabinetmaker William Whitehead, is not only big, it is especially rare because two bottle drawers still contain all eight original square bottles made to fit snugly in them.

The Massachusetts desk and bookcase and the Philadelphia dressing table both bear strong similarities to examples in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A pair of Maryland side chairs and a card table were originally owned by Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Chase. The Connecticut chest-on-chest has design features derived from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, yet is nevertheless distinctly Connecticut.

These are among 52 pieces of 18th and early 19th century furniture that have come to the Baltimore Museum of Art as gifts and promised gifts from the collection of Dorothy McIlvain Scott, the Baltimore collector and philanthropist who has been assembling her collection of decorative arts, primarily American furniture, over the past half-century.

Although the collection is not yet officially owned by the museum, it is there permanently now that Miss Scott has moved from her former Baltimore apartment to a retirement community. And it has just opened to the public in two galleries redesigned for it by the museum.

Although the Scott collection contains Maryland pieces, it is primarily composed of objects from other major cabinetmaking centers in the northeast, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston. And that is how it principally affects the museum's decorative arts collections, according to BMA consultant curator William Voss Elder III.

"It adds significantly in the overall representation of major

cabinetmaking centers, particularly those in New England. We did have some very fine things from other areas, but this puts us over the hump in being more than a local collection," Mr. Elder said. According to BMA director Arnold Lehman, the Scott pieces "have given this collection an astounding leap for-ward."

And, Mr. Elder notes, the collection also particularly adds case pieces, as distinct from chairs and tables. There are more than a dozen case pieces, including the sideboard, desk and bookcase and chest-on-chest.

The furniture, together with a selection of silver and ceramics also from Miss Scott's collection, has been installed in two galleries that Miss Scott's generosity enabled the museum to design in 1981, at which time they were named in honor of her uncle, Alexander Anderson McIlvain.

At that time they were installed with a selection of Maryland decorative arts of 1730 to 1830, which have now been put in storage to make way for the Scott collection. But decorative pieces have not been lost to the public indefinitely, for when the museum's wing for 20th century art opens in about two years, a major space in the existing museum will be freed for decorative arts.

Miss Scott also funded the recent redecoration of the McIlvain galleries to receive her collection, which was accomplished with the cooperation of antiques dealer and former curator Stiles T. Colwill. The rooms are now much more open in feeling, thanks to the removal of partitions in the larger gallery and the opening of a doorway between the two. Architectural details of a period flavor enhance the galleries, and the walls have been given an effective treatment. Faux painter Harry Lendrim of London gave them depth and texture by lightly sponging and glazing over the base yellow color.

The larger of the two galleries is installed with Queen Anne and Chippendale period pieces of the 18th century, with Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York objects on one side of the room and New England objects on the other.

They include a set of eight Queen Anne side chairs (1740-1760) from Philadelphia, together with three others of very similar design. They are distinguished by slightly serpentine, fiddle-shaped backs and shell carvings on crest rail and on the knees of the cabriole legs.

The Philadelphia dressing table (1750-1785), one of four dressing tables in the collection, has distinctive shell and foliage carving on the central drawer and additional carving on the knees and knee brackets, all of which is similar to that on a Metropolitan high chest of drawers.

The Massachusetts desk-and-bookcase (1785-1800), probably from the Newburyport area and possibly attributable to the shop of Abner Toppan, has a carved dove holding an olive branch above bookcase doors with figured veneers in scallop-shaped borders and a block-fronted desk section.

Here also are a New York Chippendale card table (1760-1790), a Philadelphia chest-on-chest (1770-1780) and a Boston area high chest (1760-1780), as well as chests of drawers from Boston (1750-1780), Danvers-Salem in Massachusetts (1775-1800) and Philadelphia (1775-1780), and a Pennsylvania, possibly Lancaster County, cupboard (1760-1780).

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