English Borrowings And Transmittals

Furniture Craft Plans

Furniture Craft Plans

Get Instant Access

But England had been the source of our previous American Styles: does that source now abruptly cease to be our inspiration, or does it partially continue its influence? And if the latter be true, to what degree does its furniture differ from the French?

It is perhaps not generally realised that about the middle of the eighteenth century French was the language of the court of England and that in manners as well as in coStume the effecft of Parisian fashion was enormous, extending through the latter half of the century and the beginning of the nineteenth. The English furniture of the period is usually denominated "late Sheraton" or "late Georgian," and while, naturally, many features of Sheraton's early Style continued, that Style was almo& metamorphosed by this new French influence. As early as January, 1793, Sheraton publishes a plate of "A Dining Parlour in imitation of the Prince of Wales's" and in describing that of the Prince says: "The chairs are of mahogany, made in the Style of the French, with broad top-rails hanging over each back foot" (as in the second French chair in the series of four tracings); "the legs are turned, and the seats covered with red leather. I could not shew the curtains of each window without confusion, but they are of the French kind." From then onward the various features of the DireBoire and Empire Styles were quickly adopted in England as they made their appearance. There were always adaptations as well as adoptions, and especially in one direction. For once London was more luxurious than Paris: the ideal of Spartan republican simplicity had seized upon France, while England held to all the luxury and comfort of its pleasure-loving eighteenth century. So we find in some pieces of the Consulate Style in France a rigidity that provoked from Roederer in 1802 the expression: "I wish furniture made for me: I do not wish to remake myself for my furniture." A rigidity as regards colour was also setting in, and as in England a "full palette"

was employed, the difference in this respect, though not in Style, was more marked in the field of decoration than it was in furniture.

The difficulty in determining to what degree American Direftoire furniture owes its inspiration directly to France and how much to France by way of England will now be realised. It is a very interesting point, from its bearing on sociology as well as on furniture and decoration.

For the showing of English precedents for our own product, we to a large extent muSt look to actual English furniture of the period rather than to books; for the purer French Direftoire Style there adopted falls, in date, between Sheraton's two valuable volumes; and there were none others covering juSt this phase.

Though the laSt edition of his "Drawing Book" was published in 1802, no plates there appear dated later than 1794. This was rather early for many features of the new mode to be taken up, engraved, and published by Sheraton, and hence in this volume we do not find a great deal in that vein.

Then in 1803 arrived that chunky little octavo, his "Cabinet Dictionary," embracing the lateSt Styles in over eighty plates. It is of great aid, but does not show certain types found in existing English furniture and copied in America.

With few exceptions the case-pieces illustrated in this volume are in Sheraton's own mode, some a little, others not at all affected by the French movement. Seating-furniture and tables tell us another Story. A "Grecian Squab" (sofa), of which a tracing appears later here, is a fine piece of work. So also are many of the tables. We have the Direttoire form of chair with Straight simplified front legs and flared back legs in the tracing in Plate 97 B. The roll-back and leg flared front and back appear in the very beginning— his Plate 2, dated September, 1802. Two bergeres are quite good and there are charming small tables and sofa-tables. Besides these we have sprawling contours, awkward curves, and broken legged griffins—or some other indeterminate species of beaSt—equal to the worSt phase of the French Consulate. A " conversation-chair" (his Plate 29) is about as disorganised a piece of "design" as had till then been perpetrated upon British soil.

And so we find this book to be a Strange compound of good and bad; with fine persistence of his own qualities, excellent adoption in some pieces, and in others a wholehearted taking over of wretched design, apparently without even a qualm.

I find very little here or in Thomas Hope's book of 1807 that was diretfly adopted by our craftsmen during our Direttoire period.

Ackermann's Repository, a monthly illustrated magazine of modes, furniture, and the like, published in London, has been mentioned as of much aid to our workmen, and it no doubt was so when the Empire Style was adopted. Its publication did not begin early enough, however, to be of much value as a guide to Direttoire modes. The volume of 1809, for instance, shows a chair of Direftoire form but with an elaborate Empire back-ornament.

It would have been interesting to illustrate here more a&ual English furniture, but due limits confined me to a few chairs, sofas, and tables. Plate 91, figures 7 and 8, shows two side chairs. Phyfe's chair-forms are usually French, but a glance at the two English chairs in Plate 97 A and Phyfe's arm-chairs in Plate 96 leave us in little doubt as to his immediate inspiration in these cases. Particularly lovely are the two Phila-

delphia late Sheraton arm-chairs with low backs in Plate 99. The French Revolutionary chair in Plate 97 C shows their ultimate source, but the two are not especially close and there was probably an English intermediary.

MoSt of us are familiar with the low-backed late Sheraton chairs, of which there were a number of variations, but a decidedly unusual pair appears in Plate 102. As mentioned in the previous chapter, either Sheraton muSt have designed much furniture that does not appear in his books or his followers did it for him, for there are many varieties of these chairs in England and a number of derivations here. For the moát part they combine features both French and English.


Three principal types of Direfîoire sofa appeared in America. The firSt of these originated in the laát years of Louis Seize. It is exemplified by the lit de repos made by the elder Georges Jacob and Stamped with his name (Plate 103 A) and by the altogether beautiful example of Mr. ReifsnyderV in Plate 104, made in Philadelphia but which would do credit to Paris itself. Then there was the "Grecian bed," of which in 1790 Talma the popular young French tragedian had the only specimen in Paris, but which soon found its way to popularity. Sheraton of course adopted it, and it is shown in Plate 109 A as traced from his "Cabinet Dictionary." An American example, made in the South, appears in Plate 105.

And finally we have the roll-arm sofa, exemplified here in Plate 106. This is by Phyfe of New York. These three locations, alone, show the extent to which the Directoire Style penetrated in this country, and there are also other specimens made in New England.

Photograph by Dillon


Note legs as well as back By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq., Philadelphia


"LATE SHERATON" CHAIRS AND TABLE WITH END SUPPORTS By Courtesy of A. F. C. Bateman Co., Philadelphia

B. ENGLISH DIKECTOIRE SOFA, SCROLL-END TYPE By Courtesy of Frederick Treasure, Preston, England, and New York

Photograph by Dillon


DUNCAN PHYFE SERPENTINE-BACK SOFA From the Collection of Alexander M. Hudnut, Esq., Princeton, N.J. By Courtesy of American Art Association, Inc., New York City

Much beautiful furniture has been constructed through the ages of decoration, but if anything more graceful than these three American pieces has been produced I do not know where to look for it.

In England there were Grecian sofas so close to the American example as to show the source common to both. Sheraton embellished his design by an elaborate ornamentation of acanthus leaves (Plate 109 A) but it is open to anyone to question how long the scroll under the head-reSt would endure without breakage. The English sofa shown in Plate 103 B is a trifle "fussy."

And perhaps I may be excused if I prefer the graceful Philadelphia-made roll-arm sofa in Plate 108 to Sheraton's rather Stodgy example in Plate 109 B with its huge pedeStal feet.

The charmingly curved upholstered back in Phyfe's sofa (Plate 106) is, so far as known, a unique specimen of this treatment. This sofa belonged to the collection of Alexander M. Hudnut, Esq., recently sold by the American Art Association of New York. It came from a mansion at OySter Bay, L. I., where it had been for about seventy-five years. The sofa with double-lyre arms (Plate 107), a famous piece belonging to Mr. Halsey and loaned by him to the Metropolitan Museum, is one of the fineSt specimens of Phyfe's work. It will be noted that all the American sofas illuálrated here have the graceful "sabre" legs, two of them being finished with brass caps.

Phyfe also adopted the curule form for sofas— either single or double curule according to the length of the sofa. Caned seats and backs were often used.

A chara&eriátic treatment of the back-rail of many of his sofas is that seen in Plate 59, composed of three panels with carved ornaments—the horn-of-plenty, the thunderbolt, drapery-swags, trumpets, wheat-ears, oak-leaves and laurel were all used. Rarely all three ornaments were alike; usually one of them was selected for the centre panel with another for the side panels. He sometimes used these decorations for the top-rails of chairs and drapery swags on the roll tops of the bedfteads he copied from the type shown in Plate 110 C.

The quantity of American Direftoire furniture made was evidently less than that of the preceding and succeeding Styles, but probably much remains in private homes. Direftoire sofas seem to have been particularly popular in the South: merely to mention a few instances there are, or were a few years ago, examples at Sabine Hall, Carter's Grove, and Brandon, all in Virginia, as well as at Whitby Hall, Philadelphia.


The late Sheraton era was profuse in charming small tables, for which pedeStals were used of the types illustrated in Plate no A. These are of the same character as those appearing in France, but Sheraton might quite as well have derived them from Adam and probably did so. There were, too, dining-tables with multiple pedeStals. Sheraton also embraced with avidity the Direftoire idea of tables with two endsupports, and in his "Cabinet Dictionary" of 1803 gives a number of designs, both with and without bars or Stretchers between the two supports. In these supports he uses the lyre form, the curule, columns, and scrolls.

These types were the fashionable tables in London and were produced here by Phyfe and other cabinetmakers. The lid so often employed by Phyfe is seen in his four-support table in Plate in and the source from which it derived is shown dire&ly opposite—Plate no B. The lion-head drop-ring handle appearing in this table is that of Sheraton's later period. A number of these tables have the pendants so familiar in French Renaissance furniture.

The lyre is adopted for the other pedeStal table— Plate 112. This is a little heavier than some of his other examples and is probably later, showing the forthcoming thickening of the Empire period—of which a mere love of lumber was a prominent characteristic. This table is not an extreme example, but Phyfe in his later days—after 1825—went the way of all others in deterioration. There seems to have been something fatal in the Empire Style to everyone who touched it; or else that Style was coincident with the lapse of good decorative design.

The sofa-table was another of Phyfe's successes and a fine example appears in Plate 113. Two of Sheraton's pouch-table designs in the "Cabinet Dictionary" (his Plate 65) are very suggeStive of this, but, again, Phyfe's work closely resembles existing English examples of the period, one of which I have traced and show in Plate 112 B. Though, owing to the perspective, they are not clearly seen, there are two column supports at each end, as in Phyfe's table.

Charming little tables of Direftoire type are seen in Plates 101, 102, and at the extreme right of 136. That in Plate 101 is' especially delightful. The laSt was made at Newport, R. L, the source of many attractive examples.


In his earlier years Phyfe made simple sideboards of the Hepplewhite type but he is also represented by his deep-end sideboards such as that illustrated in Plate 114.

The deep-end sideboard is commonly considered an

American development, but if anyone wishes to see an English example, deeper yet, he will find it in the London Connoisseur of July 1924 among the wedding furniture in 1802 of a young woman on the borders of Suffolk.

It would appear that British influence in America was not yet dead: it would appear that our craftsmen and their clients of these years were much taken with the^ new modes, but, when they found such excellent derivations in England, they were content to use either those or the originals, as was at the time moft convenient.

All this was entirely to the good, and is one more of the many instances of the solidarity of peoples in the social and mobiliary worlds. Art and the amenities of life draw nations; together: it is the inhuman rivalries of trade and politics that cause them—as during this very period—to fly at each others' throats.


Phyfe worked in the tradition of fine furniture-making and his forms and decorations can be traced to their sources. His chairs seem sufficiently various, and it is rather ¡Startling to find on analysis that all are composed of half-a-dozen types of back and half-a-dozen types of leg in various combinations. So far as is known, he made none of those important pieces of cabinet - furniture, secretaries, desks, china closets, cheats of drawers, or bookcases.

■c i?'then' Phyfe Was in no large sense an originator, if his product was rather limited in scope, wherein re£s his right to fame? The answer is readily given. Though some of us may much prefer Corot's more vital figure work, everyone is familiar with the Corot landscape. He, too, "worked in the tradition'—his

DUNCAN PHYFE LYRE-ARM SOFA Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum, by R. T. Haines Halsey, Esq., New York City

AMERICAN DIRECTOIRE ROLL-ARM SOFA MADE IN PHILADELPHIA By Courtesy of The Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia


Was this article helpful?

0 0
How To Sell Furniture

How To Sell Furniture

Types Of Furniture To Sell. There are many types of products you can sell. You just need to determine who your target market is and what specific item they want. Or you could sell a couple different ones in a package deal.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment