An Important Inlaid Drop-Front Desk
An Important Inlaid Drop-Front Desk
executed by the Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Eastwood, New York
together with an original glass inkwell executed by Steuben Glass Works
oak with copper, pewter and fruitwood inlays and wrought iron hardware
marked with the firm's decal
46 3/8 x 41 7/8 x 11 1/2 in. (117.8 x 106.4 x 29.2 cm)
Overall in very good condition. The oak surfaces throughout appear to retain their original finish, displaying an exceptional wood selection with rich, warm color and strong figuring. The oak surfaces throughout present with scattered very light scratches and minute abrasions consistent with age and gentle use, with a few minute indentations concentrated to the edges of the case and overhanging cornice. The proper left and right sides of the desk each with a small dark discoloration approximately at the height of the bottom of the drawers, only visible upon close inspection. The lower shelf with a small indentation to the edge measuring approximately 1 inch and only visible upon close inspection. The proper right door presents with a very small diagonal indentation to the wood above the keyhole measuring approximately ¾ inch and only visible upon close inspection. All of the inlay decoration is intact and appears original and undisturbed. The left flower presents with a minute loss of fruitwood to one petal, measuring approximately ⅛ inch and not visually distracting. The iron hinges and drawer handles are in very good original condition and present with minute abrasions and traces of oxidation consistent with age and gentle use. The central section of the desk is fitted with a drawer and 14 compartments. The interior presents with light surface soiling throughout and scattered ink stains to three compartments consistent with use. The interior also features three carved recessions designed to hold inkwells and writing implements. The desk is offered together with one original glass inkwell in very good condition with scattered air bubbles inherent to production as well as a few minute chips to the edges and light surface soiling to the interior. With a replica key. Examples of the model are in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago. A wonderfully well-preserved example from Harvey Ellis’ distinguished tenure at the Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
In the spring of 1903, Gustav Stickley hired a talented architect by the name of Harvey Ellis to execute designs for his Craftsman Workshops in Eastwood, New York. Ellis had garnered success in his hometown of Rochester but had grown dissatisfied with architecture and pursued work in fine arts, illustration and design. Upon joining Stickley, Ellis found his new niche and created a unique series of furniture distinguished by lighter, sophisticated lines and inlaid decoration articulated in copper, pewter and contrasting woods. In January 1904, this series was the subject of an article entitled ''Structure and Ornament in the Craftsman Worskhops'' in Stickley’s magazine, The Craftsman. The article underscored the three formal qualities that made Ellis’ furniture successful: simplicity, lightness and structure. Through its honest construction from high-quality materials, his furniture line also embodied the reform ideals of the American Arts and Crafts movement that Stickley dedicated his career to promoting: “These pieces, in every case, boldly assert the purpose for which they are designed… The principles upon which they are based follow Nature, and must, therefore, be sound and true.”
The drop-front desk presented here perfectly demonstrates these principals. The strong architectonic design of the case, the basic form of which Stickley had conceived for earlier models, is relieved by the slender overhanging cornice at the top as well as the graceful sweeping line of the lower arched apron. The composition of the interior is equally light and functional, offering a series of drawers, shelving compartments and carved slots to hold writing utensils and inkwells. Ornament is reserved solely for the central drop-front panel, which features three delicate flower inlays produced by George Henry Jones’ marquetry workshop in New York City. As poetically described in The Craftsman article, the inlay “bears no trace of having been applied. It consists of fine markings, discs, and other figures of pewter and copper, which, like the stems of plants and obscured, simplified floral forms, seem to pierce the surface of the wood from beneath.” Fruitwood composes the four curved petals and two supporting sepals of each flower, out of which extend two copper anthers. The flower heads are encircled by a ring of pewter, which pops brightly against the rich brown oak surface. Pewter is used again to establish the thin, long stems that accentuate the verticality of the desk. Through the selective addition of this decoration, Ellis astutely alleviated the piece of any heaviness or plainness, and achieved a model that was indeed sound and true.
In the same month of the article touting his achievements and only seven months after joining Stickley’s firm, Ellis died of heart disease, but the designs he created during his short tenure left an enduring legacy on the firm's repertoire. This fall-front desk, other examples of which are in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Art and Art Institute of Chicago, presents a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire an exemplary piece from Ellis’s fleeting but refined career with great significance to the American Arts and Crafts movement.