1159

Details & Cataloguing

Important Americana

|
New York

Very Fine Matched Pair of Classical Ormolu-Mounted and Figured Mahogany Box Sofas, School of Duncan Phyfe, New York, Circa 1820

Provenance

Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.

Catalogue Note

One of the handsomest forms of furniture produced in the United States from the late 1810s into the 1830s was the so-called "box sofa," which was presumably named for its rectilinear, box-like form. These sofas relate stylistically to a group of sideboards, cellarettes, various card and center tables, etc., that refer for their inspiration to furniture in the Restauration taste in France, as illustrated in the pages of Pierre de la Mesangere's Collection des Meubles et Objets de Gout, which appeared serially in Paris from 1796 to 1830, and to English Regency and William IV designs, as popularized in various English design books issued during the first quarter of the 19th century. Indeed, the prototype for the form may be a group of three designs for a "library sofa" reproduced by George Smith in his A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration in the Most Approved and Elegant Taste (pI. 60), which was published in 1808 by J. Taylor of 59 High Holborn based on plates that he had designed when he was at 38 High Holborn in 1805. The accompanying text notes that the "Three Designs for Sofas [are] intended for Libraries" and suggests that "the frames ... should be of mahogany." Not surprisingly, all of the examples that have appeared have been mahogany, including the present pair, except for a very elaborate example in rosewood that also features, in addition to ormolu capitals and bases on its freestanding columns, a suite of three ormolu mounts across the seat rail, brass line and die-stamped inlay inset with rosewood, and very elaborate gilt-brass castors (see Elizabeth Feld and Stuart P. Feld, Of the Newest Fashion: Masterpieces of American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts, exhib. cat. [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2001], pp. 50-51, 92 cat. 17]).

Sofas of this general design must have been especially popular, as a number of examples have appeared. Although most have been attributed to New York, occasional examples have been assigned to Boston or Philadelphia, but with no apparent and justifiable reason. The sofas vary considerably, some having flattened and paneled crest rails (for example, one formerly in the collection of James Ricau, Piermont, New York [see Berry B. Tracy and William Gerdts, Classical America 1815-1845, exhib. cat. (The Newark Museum, New Jersey, 1963), p.63, no. 57]) that represent a retardataire element that demonstrates how these sofas evolved from the earlier design of New York sofas of about 1810-15 (see Nancy McClelland, Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency 1795-1830 [William R. Scott, Inc., New York, 1939], p. 277 pl. 264). Others, like the present examples, incorporate a crest rail that is circular in section along both the sides and the back that effectively contributes to the success of their unified composition. It is indeed the simplicity of their design that is their most arresting feature, although their freestanding columns are ornamented with French ormolu capitals and bases of very fine quality.

Oftentimes, the only other decorative devices above and beyond the use of beautifully figured mahogany and mahogany veneers are their carved feet, where considerable variation has been noted, some of which seem too vertical in composition, others of which display a mixture of carved designs that are not well integrated. The feet on the present near pair of box sofas represent the most beautiful design of support that has been encountered in sofas of this form, with tightly organized acanthus carvings surmounting melon-lobed feet, all of which sit on gilt-brass castors whose presence suggests that the sofas, like much furniture of this period, were meant to be able to be moved around with ease when occasion demanded.

Important Americana

|
New York