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Bureau Table

Small wooden bureau with carved half-circle designs, gilded handles.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Small wooden bureau with carved half-circle designs, gilded handles.


c. 1770


Attributed to John Townsend (American, 1732–1809)
Newport, Rhode Island

About this artwork

This elegant piece epitomizes the Late Baroque style that flourished in Newport, Rhode Island. It is one of six bureaus that can be attributed to the celebrated cabinetmaker John Townsend on the basis of similar construction and design features in labeled pieces by the maker. For example, the carved shells have central C-scrolls featuring petals and crosshatched baskets, all motifs that are indicative of Townsend’s work. In addition, the top is integrated into the case by cove-and-bead molding, with smaller cavetto molding underneath. The blocking of the upper drawer continues through the side drawers and into the graceful double scroll of the bracket feet, creating an unbroken visual plane that unifies the design elements.

Kept in bedchambers, bureau tables most likely functioned as dressing tables. They were particularly popular among the Quaker citizens of Newport, who appreciated the wide array of storage possibilities they offered. According to oral tradition, Samuel Fowler originally owned this bureau. A successful merchant, Fowler frequently conducted business with the Townsend family. In 1786 and 1787, John Townsend purchased hinges, nails, and sundries from Fowler. This relationship bolsters the argument that Fowler owned this bureau, since patronage loyalty resulting from familial, religious, and trading ties was typical in eighteenth-century Newport.


On View, Gallery 167


Arts of the Americas


John Townsend


Bureau Table


Newport (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

c. 1770


Mahogany, chestnut, and tulip poplar


86.6 × 93.4 × 58 cm (34 1/8 × 36 3/4 × 20 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Jamee J. and Marshall Field

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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