|Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854)|
New York, 1815
The hinged swiveling oblong top with canted corners, brass stringing and burl wood cross banding, opening to a well lined with patterned paper, the case with a conforming apron, the canted corners paneled with burl wood, the top edge and apron bottom decorated with brass stringing, above a pair of outward-facing gilt and vert-antique painted carved eagles, supported in the rear by gilded and painted baluster and ring turned posts all raised on an abacus shaped base its sides punctuated by gilded rosettes and at the corners, four gilt and vert-antique decorated acanthus carved hocked legs with gilded acanthus carved brackets in front, extending beneath the base to almost touch each other, the animal paw feet raised on brass casters.
Condition: Excellent; Shellac finish re-polished. A highly detailed conservators report supported by photographic documentation accompanies the table.
|Location of Origin: North America|
|Medium/Materials: brass, rosewood|
|Dimensions: H: 30½” W: 36” D: 18½”|
|Primary Classification: Folk Art and Americana : Decorative Arts and Furniture|
|Secondary Classification: Decorative Arts and Furniture : Furniture|
|This table is one of a highly distinctive group of griffin and eagle base tables that has been clearly linked to Duncan Phyfe in the recent sudy of Phyfe's career by Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011), p.84. |
In addition to the present example, the known group consists of a griffin card table in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a griffin card table at Winterthur Museum, an eagle card table in the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection at Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, a griffin card table in the collection of Nancy W. Priest, a griffin card table, eagle breakfast table and griffin center table at the Maryland Historical Society, an eagle sofa table in a private collection, an eagle guéridon in the Museum of the City of New York, a griffin sofa table and pair of card tables (the griffins in the form of harps), en suite, in a private New York collection, a massive griffin sideboard at the Los Angeles County Museum and a griffin card table in a private collection. A pair of griffin card tables at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Plate #5, figure D of the New-York Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet and Chair Work, 1817 shows the profile of these griffins’ design indicating that some, if not all, of these tables were already in existence when that price guide was published. The same plate in the price guide shows the design for the stretcher of the sofa table of the suite sold at Christies in 1988, a very distinctive design.
The specific reference for this group of griffin tables is a table in the Vatican Museum rendered and published by Charles Heathcote Tatham in 1799 in his work Etchings Representing the Best Examples of Ancient Ornamental Architecture; Drawn from the Originals in Rome. Tatham, chief draughtsman in the firm of Henry Holland, architect to the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent), was dispatched to Italy in 1794 to record ancient architectural details. His book, giving furniture designers access to accurately rendered Roman design that they might not have had the opportunity to view personally, became tremendously influential in English and American furniture design and, indeed, was reissued in 1803, 1810, 1826 and 1843!
Tatham titles his drawing, “An Ancient fragment of a table foot executed in greek marble, now placed against the wall as a basso relievo in the Vatican, the companion is in the same Museum”[sic.]. An impressive object, it had inspired Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), who published an engraving of it in his Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi, tripodi, lucerne, ed ornamenti antichidesegnati (1778). Piranesi’s work received wide exposure throughout Europe and in the United States.
It is likely that these publications inspired French design publisher Pierre de La Mésangère who issued a closely related design for a console in plate 144 in 1804 in his Collection des Meubles et Objets de Goût published serially from 1802 to 1830. Mésangère’s Collection was influential in the United States as well as in Europe, especially in New York where Honoré Lannuier’s work often reflected his designs.
Most of the tables in this American group use the griffin design directly inspired by the Vatican console, however the present example differs from the group by using a pair of eagles obviating the need for haunches as on the griffin model. The felicitous substitution of eagles instead of griffins also makes sense of the missing front paws of the American griffin model. The eagle figures require no front legs and terminate in delicate gilded scrolls, a successful innovation of the cabinetmaker. This refinement, in combination with the gilded compo rosettes around the plinth base, used on only three other tables in the group, make this table the most successful realization of the group based on this ancient design and a highly important example of the cabinetmaker’s art in New York in the classical period. In our opinion, it is a masterpiece of American furniture.
Provenance: This table descended in the family of Ezekiel Cheever. Born in 1614, he immigrated to Boston in 1637 to teach in Ipswich and New Haven. He later became famous as the headmaster of the Boston Latin School. Cotton Mather gave his funeral oration in 1708. His descendants lived in Marblehead and Manchester, Massachusetts for the next five generations. On September 3, 1815 his great, great grandson Samuel Cheever, married twenty one year old Fanny Allen (1794-1819), of Manchester. Fanny’s great, great grandfather had been among the founders of Manchester and her father, Captain John Allen (1757-1822), was a prosperous sea captain, as were her three older brothers, John, James and Samuel. (Captain Allen’s house, still standing today in Manchester, is one of the only brick houses of the period there. Local histories indicate that the brick was imported by him from England, as domestic brick was not to his taste.) The joining of these venerable and wealthy families may be the occasion for a gift to the couple of this card table.
Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854), considered the most important American cabinetmaker of the first half of the nineteenth century, worked at Partition Street (renamed Fulton Street in 1816) in New York City from 1790 through 1847. Famous and highly successful, Phyfe ran a large workshop and produced furniture throughout his long career in all the latest styles. As a fashion leader, Phyfe introduced New York to a succession of styles inspired by the renowned designers Robert Adam (1728-1792), George Hepplewhite (d.1786) and Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) in England, and the Directoire, Empire and Restauration periods in France. His clients included the great merchant and banking elite of the city, as well as wealthy and discriminating buyers from Boston to New Orleans. An innovative designer, superior craftsman and carver, Phyfe’s name is synonymous with the finest New York furniture of the period.
 Jonathan L. Fairbanks & Elizabeth Bidwell Bates, American Furniture 1620 to the Present (Richard Marek Publishers, New York, 1981), p.271.
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