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Art & Design

Sydney Richmond Burleigh, Shakespeare chest, ca. 1900, Gift of Miss Ellen D. Sharpe

Sydney Richmond Burleigh Potter and Company

Shakespeare chest

Sydney Richmond Burleigh, decorator American, 1853-1931
Potter and Company, cabinetmaker
American, fl. 1878-1910
Shakespeare chest, ca. 1900
Ebonized cherry with painted decoration
55.2 x 101.6 x 55.6 cm (21 3/4 x 40 x 21 7/8 inches)
Gift of Miss Ellen D. Sharpe 28.046

Characters from William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor adorn the front panels of this chest, while the sides and back portray subjects from The Merchant of Venice, Antony and Cleopatra, and As You Like It. Burleigh’s chest incorporates not only a variety of Shakespearian tales but also refers to several design movements of the late nineteenth century. The furniture prototype, a seventeenth-century American joined oak chest, demonstrates Burleigh’s appreciation of the Colonial Revival movement, although his use of dark stain to “ebonize” the wood departs from colonial tradition in its reference to the equally popular Japanese aesthetic. By employing his own hand to paint the panels and by adhering to a flattened perspective, Burleigh also marks his interest in the Arts and Crafts movement’s doctrines.

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