The oak chest is one of only four known examples of a “Hadley” polychrome — or multicolored — piece believed to be decorated by the same artist.
“Anyone who gets this piece has an instant collection, all in one piece,” said John Hays, deputy chairman and specialist of American furniture at Christie’s, where it will be offered on Jan. 22 as part of its Americana Week.
What distinguishes them from other Hadley painted pieces is that they have a white background that was then embellished with a polychrome palette of orange, green, black and red and laid out in a compass-work design.
“The decorations on all the pieces are similar but the delicate painted squiggles and fine line details are virtually untouched on this piece,” said conservator and paint analyst Susan Buck.
While subsequent layers of varnish have darkened its appearance, the Christie’s piece “appears to retain the most intact paint decoration of the four,” she said.
The chest’s design, featuring dartboard motifs and compass circles, also is unencumbered. “You can actually see the scribe lines of his compass work,” said Hays.
Hadley pieces derive their name from the region where they were made around Hadley, Massachusetts, from the late 17th through the early 18th century. The majority were carved with a floral pattern and used as dowry chests with the owner’s initials carved into the piece.
The Christie’s piece is not initialed. It is believed to be descended directly from Hadley and is being offered for sale by a West Coast family.