Imagine the great comfort this chair provided with its wide seat, reclined back, and plush padding on the arm rests and seat. The sturdy, straight mahogany legs carved with stylized Gothic arches and Chinese fretwork speak to the influence of Rococo designs published in 1762 by Thomas Chippendale—most closely to plate 19 for a "French chair." This armchair relates to a suite commissioned by John Penn (1729–1795), grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, and the last governor of the colony before the American Revolution.
This set of chairs, together with a monumental sofa with identical leg carving, now at Cliveden the Chew family seat, have long been associated with John Penn, lieutenant governor of the Province of Pennsylvania from 1763 to 1771. Benjamin Chew may have acquired the sofa when he purchased Governor Penn's Third Street house in 1771. Early on, however, the chairs appear to have been split up in pairs and distributed to various individuals. One pair, now owned by Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, was the gift of Samuel W. Fisher, in 1817, to the Friends Hospital of Philadelphia. In the original list of "Donations to the Asylum," they are recorded as "2 Large Armchairs formerly ownd by Governor Penn." Another pair, on deposit at the Philadelphia Museum by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park, descended in the Waln family. A nineteenth-century label affixed to one of them reads "Chair belonging to Richard Penn." A third pair, now in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State, descended in the Morton family. A single chair, at the Winterthur Museum, descended in the West and Smith families; another, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in the Brooke family; a third, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is without known provenance. Others, also without known provenance, are in private hands: ex coll. Jeffords (sold Sothebys 2004); the Levy Gallery, New York. (There is rumor of a fourteenth chair, with new legs, in a southern private collection.) The specific provenance of the chair on offer has not yet been determined.