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by Tara Gleason

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation recently added significantly to its small collection of classical Baltimore painted furniture by acquiring a spectacular suite attributed to Hugh Finlay of Baltimore, Maryland. The suite consists of seven extant pieces that descended in the family of Josiah Bayly (1769–1846) of Cambridge, Maryland, prominent lawyer and the state attorney general from 1831 until 1846.

Four side chairs, attributed to Hugh Finlay, Baltimore, Maryland, 1819–1830. Tulip poplar, white pine, walnut, maple, hickory, cane. H. 32, W. 18-3/4, D. 21-3/4 in. Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The suite of furniture, which was originally part of a larger set, consists of a sofa that retains its original upholstery foundation, two pier tables with marbleized tops, and four side chairs. All four chairs have their original slip seats, two of which are caned and two that are upholstered.1 Most likely each of the chairs in the suite originally had two slip seats: a caned one for use in the warmer months and an upholstered one for use in the cooler months.

Pair of pier tables, attributed to Hugh Finlay, Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1819–1830. Tulip poplar, walnut. H. 34-1/4, W. 37, D.19 in. Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Like the extant sofa and card table purchased by Humberton Skipwith from Hugh Finlay in 1819, the Bayly sofa’s decorative scheme does not match that of the other pieces in the suite.2 The painted motifs on the pier tables and chairs relate quite closely to the ornamentation on a suite of furniture produced by Hugh Finlay in 1819 for James Wilson of Baltimore.3

Sofa attributed to Hugh Finlay, Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1819–1830. Tulip poplar. H. 36, W. 90, D. 25 in. Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The suite will be the subject of further research and conservation prior to being exhibited at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.

Tara Gleason is Associate Curator of Furniture, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

  1. Side chairs and slip seat frames are numbered II, VII, VIII, & VIIII. Two additional upholsteded slip seats (I & X) and one caned slip seat (XII) survive as well. The caning and upholstery have been replaced.

  2. The Bayly sofa is remarkably similar in form and decoration to the documented Skipwith sofa. The Skipwith card table is presently owned by the Prestwould Foundation in Clarksville, Va.

  3. Weidman & Goldsborough, figs. 113, 120, & 128. The decorative motif on the tablet backs of the Bayly chairs and pier table skirts is also similar but not identical to the design on the skirt of a pier table (ca.1822) originally owned by Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely of Hampton and attributed to Hugh Finlay. Two other sofas similar to the Bayly example are attributed to Finlay based on the Skipwith family sofa. One is at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (#1988.530) and the other is in the Kaufman Collection.

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