Duncan Phyfe, Take Two

Today’s blog entry in our “20 Reasons To Love Americana” series profiling standout Americana at the Winter Antiques Show expands outward to several “must-see” destinations in New York City.

Duncan Phyfe writing table and bookcase, 1820, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With the start of Americana Week events less than a week away, it seems as if we have received a press release via email every day relating to Duncan Phyfe. With a blockbuster exhibition on Phyfe on view through May 6 at the Met, many antiques dealers and galleries have jumped on the Duncan Phyfe bandwagon. Any why wouldn’t they? This talented and prolific American furniture maker is well suited to tie-ins with Americana Week, so let’s take a look at some of the places Phyfe will be popping up in New York City this month.

First and foremost is the Met exhibition, “Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York,” which features nearly 100 works from private and public collections throughout the United States. Highlights of the exhibition include some never-before-seen documented masterpieces and furniture descended directly in the Phyfe family, as well as the cabinetmaker’s own tool chest.

In the early 1800s, furniture from the workshop of New York City cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854) was in such demand that he was referred to as the “United States Rage.” This exhibition — the first retrospective on Phyfe in 90 years — reintroduces this artistic and influential master cabinetmaker to new fans.

The full chronological sweep of Phyfe’s distinguished career is featured, including examples of his best-known furniture based on the English Regency designs of Thomas Sheraton, work from the middle and later stages of his career when he adopted the richer “archaeological” antique style of the 1820s, and a very refined, plain Grecian style based on French Restauration prototypes.

The Metropolitan Museum is at 1000 Fifth Avenue. For more information, www.metmuseum.org or 212-535-7710.

A suitable companion exhibition is on view through February 17 in the galleries of Hirschl & Adler and is titled “The World of Duncan Phyfe: The Arts of New York, 1800–1847,” a multimedia exhibition of more than 100 pieces that together illustrate the strength and breadth of the artistry and craftsmanship in New York during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe, recamier sofa with winged paw feet, about 1815-20; courtesy Hirschl & Adler

“‘The World of Duncan Phyfe’ at Hirschl & Adler Galleries is not an attempt to duplicate the show simultaneously opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” according to the gallerists. Instead, the gallery will present an addendum to the focus on Phyfe, by including not just works by Phyfe from each of his various periods, but also representative pieces by competing cabinetmakers in New York. The addition of furniture by craftsmen such as Charles-Honoré Lannuier, Michael Allison, Thomas Constantine, and J. and J. W. Meeks, as well as pieces that have thus far defied meaningful attribution, gives weight to the exhibition and tells the larger story of furniture making in this period and epitomizing the essence of “New York style.”

Also included is a variety of other decorative arts dating from Phyfe’s period of activity, including examples of silver, porcelain, metalwork and lighting made in New York, or in many cases produced abroad for an American clientele, together with a group of New York-centric paintings, works on paper and sculpture.

Duncan Phyfe chairs courtesy Joan Bogart

Exhibition highlights include a choice set of dining chairs made by Phyfe about 1810 for wealthy merchant Isaac Bell from New York. In sharp relief to their early, reeded aesthetic, largely derived from the English Regency, a long set of 16 dining chairs en gondole known to have been made by the Phyfe shop in 1835 for Stephen Van Rensselaer IV of Albany, are simple and bold, with their figured mahogany veneers as their only adornment. A group of figural furniture, featuring winged ladies, griffins, lions, harps and lyres ascribed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, helps to define the middle years of Phyfe’s long career.

Hirschl & Adler is in The Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue. For more information, www.hirschlandadler.com or 212-535-8810.

Antiques dealer Joan Bogart, Long Beach, N.Y., decided to capitalize on Phyfe-mania and will focus on classical American pieces in her booth at Stella Show Mgmt Co.’s January 20–22 Antiques At The Armory Show at the 26th Street Armory.

A centerpiece in Bogart’s booth will be a set of six Duncan Phyfe dining chairs, New York, circa 1830. The chairs are identical to a set made by Phyfe for his daughter Eliza and reportedly were displayed in public rooms in the New Jersey governor’s mansion until they were sold off.

For more information, www.joanbogart.com or 516-764-5712. For show information, www.stellashows.com or 973-808-5015.

Carswell Rush Berlin, New York City, is an exhibitor in the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory as well as a contributor to the Met’s Phyfe exhibition. Furniture lent by the dealer to the museum dominates two of the exhibition’s three main galleries.

Duncan Phyfe eagle splat side chairs courtesy Carswell Rush Berlin

In its booth at the Winter show, the dealer will offer for sale important examples of Phyfe’s work, as well as very fine pieces of New York furniture that share many of the characteristics long associated with Phyfe; among these is a masterpiece scroll back Sheraton sofa, a pair of eagle-splat side chairs and a one-of-a-kind Sheraton pedestal base desk.

For dealer information, www.american-antiques.net or 212-721-0398 and during the show at 646-645-0404. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

—Andrea Valluzzo


1 Comment

  1. I have a fascination with the Duncan Phyfe Lear Back Chair Architecture. Found your post a very interesting read. Thanks! ~Gerean

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