Tall Case Clock

Cabinetmaker Joseph B. Barry, American (born Ireland), 1757 - 1838

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Mahogany and mahogany veneer; yellow poplar, white pine, brass, steel, iron, glass

8 feet 1 inches × 23 3/4 inches × 10 3/4 inches (246.4 × 60.3 × 27.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 107, American Art, first floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. E. Newbold Smith, 2001

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  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    For the amount of early nineteenth-century furniture attributed to Philadelphia cabinetmaker Joseph B. Barry, it is remarkable that only eight objects can be documented to him. Newspaper advertisements and contemporaneous references proclaimed Barry’s talent as far exceeding that of other craftsmen. Yet his documented work is limited to a group of chairs, a sideboard, a bed, three pier tables, a bookcase, and this clock—the Museum’s first documented and signed Barry object.

    Barry was born in Dublin and trained in cabinet shops there and in London. He immigrated to America and began his career in Philadelphia in 1794 as the partner of cabinet maker Alexander Calder. Beginning in 1797, he operated an independent shop, and in 1805 settled at 134 South Second Street. Barry made brief forays into the furniture markets of Baltimore and Savannah, which helped to disseminate his name and style. In 1811 he traveled to London and Paris, returning with a shipload of European furnishings for sale and a reinvigorated creativity and new sophistication—two attributes synonymous with his furniture.

    Barry’s remarkable tall case clock is best categorized as classic with a distinctive twist. The hood, or structure that encloses the clock face, was conceived in the traditional style of other eighteenth- and nineteenth century examples. The carving and veneers are characteristic of nineteenth-century Philadelphia furniture and also demonstrate Barry’s signature design: bold, well-conceived, and finely executed. The broken pediment gives rise to a spirited spread-winged eagle. The carved female caryatids, which flank the clock face, are unparalleled in their placement as well as their conception and diminutive size. On the case, the smooth and polished door nearly obscures the inlaid pattern created by the figured veneer. The realistically carved claw-and-ball feet vividly allude to the ancient symbol of the eagle’s talons grasping the pearl of wisdom.

    Today, when comparing the quality of Barry’s furniture design and craftsmanship to that of other American cabinetmakers, it is clear that he still deserves the praise that was bestowed upon him during his own lifetime. Alexandra Kirtley, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 58.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.