Plate Xxxvi Card Table With Fluted Drum

Leaf and Dart. A simplified form of this occurs on the smaller mouldings of sofa arms and bed-posts. (Plate C, Figs. 1, 2, 3.)'

Palm Leaf. An adaptation of the Egyptian palm-leafed, bell-shaped capital is the form found on the top of practically all the bed-posts. The leaves, slightly carved, are merely suggested, with little or no modelling. (Plate C, Figs. 1-4.)

Lion's Foot. The fine brass feet, in the form of lions' paws, which finish most of the table legs, were varied sometimes by carved wood lions' feet, which cannot be considered a wholly successful substitution. In later work, the lion's foot and leg are used. (Plates XXX, and D, Fig. 9.)

Lion's Foot and Eagle's Wing. In Plate XVI is seen a sofa whose legs are composed of the lion's foot combined with the eagle's wing. It was a feature frequently found in later American Empire furniture, but never with such pleasing effect as in the sofa illustrated, where all the other decoration is restricted to reeding and panelling, which enhances the carving of the legs.

  1. Sometimes rectangular, or octagonal, sometimes circular, the rosettes are conventionalized forms which require no comment. They occur at the crossing of the reeded members of chair backs, on the corner blocks of tables, and on lyres. (Plates B, Fig. 6, and D, Fig. 3.)
  2. The rope motive is rarely used. It does occur between mouldings on the upper side of curved table legs and on the outside edges of lyres which have the acanthus on their faces. It is used also on torus mouldings of the bases of table posts. (Plates B, Fig. 6, and D, Fig. 8.)
  3. The fluting is well placed when it is employed on the edges of the platforms of pedestal tables, the backs of sofas, or the cylindrical drums of turned table pedestals or bed-posts. (Plates A, Fig. 3, and XL.)

Whorled Fluting. This detail occurs on the bulbous member near the base of certain table supports. The flutes are not so sharp as when straight and parallel and the effect is more nearly that of grooving. (Plates XLIII,and D,Fig. 5.)

Lion Mask. Carved in wood, the lion mask is found on table bases, at the crossing of the reversed curves of Empire sofas, and at the corners of one high-post bedstead. In brass it is used in the same position on chairs and sofas, but these brasses were, of course, not made by Phyfe and were probably imported. (Plates XVII and LV.)

This completes the list of carved decoration on the supporting members of the furniture of the good periods. Other carving occurs in panels which are framed either by one or two delicate reed mouldings or by narrow flat banding. The carved panels fall into two groups: the larger ones, which are found on chair and sofa backs; and the smaller ones, which decorate table skirtings. These panel designs may be studied in the plates of details.

  1. Two crossed cornucopise, tied by a bow-knot of ribbon. From their mouths issue heads of wheat, laurel leaves, and fruit. The cornucopiae are carved with a spiral banding. (Plates XVII and A, Fig. 4.)
  2. Crossed branches of laurel made into a symmetrical design. (Plates XVII and A, Fig. 8.)

Oak Leaves. A slightly conventionalized branch of oak leaves fills the top panel of one of the chairs. (Plates IV and A, Fig. 2.)


Drapery Swags. A double swag of drapery is caught up in the centre by a bow-knot of ribbon and a cord from which two tassels depend. The ends of the drapery are fastened at points and fall in folds. The edge of the drapery has a delicate indication of fringe. (Plates XII and A, Fig. 5.)

Wheat Ears. A group of ten wheat ears and leaves, crossing in the centre, symmetrically arranged and tied by a bow-knot of ribbon whose ends follow the symmetrical arrangement of the ears. (Plates XII and A, Fig. 6.)

  1. Five crossed "thunderbolts," arranged symmetrically and tied by a bow-knot of ribbon. (Plate XIV and A, Fig. 7.)
  2. Two small crossed horns or trumpets tied with a bow-knot of ribbon are found in a panel on one piano base.

More limited in subject are the small panels which are found on table skirtings.

Drapery Swags. Reduced adaptations of the double drapery swags of the larger panels occur as a central medallion on the skirt of card tables. Here the whole is compressed into short space, the bow-knot catches the fringed drapery in the centre, and one or two cords and tassels depend from it. (Plate XLV.)

Prince of Wales Feathers. The three feathers, heraldic device of the Prince of Wales, fill the small rectangular panels above the reeded legs of a card table. Only one example of this usage by Phyfe is known. (Plate XIX.)

Leaf Panels. In one example, a dining-table (Plates

XXXIX and D, Fig. 3), a rectangular unmoulded panel on the base is filled by four acanthus leaves and four plain leaves radiating from a centre. (Plate XXXIX.) A similar design, reduced, occurs on the base of the drop-leaf table. (Plate XL.)

There are certain other motives in which carving shares with veneering, turning, or cut-out design in the total decorative effect.

The Lyre. The lyre is one of Phyfe's most successful motives. It is employed not only in chair backs—ajouré, to use a French expression—but also in sofa arms, in table supports, and as the supports of dressing glasses. For chair backs and sofa arms, the woodwork is very delicate and the carving of acanthus very subtly and plastically modelled. The strings, either four or five in number; are of brass or whalebone. The key which runs through the top is of ebony. In the crossed lyres of pedestal tables the proportions are a trifle heavier, while as end supports of library tables the thickness of the wood lyre frame is materially increased. For variations of the typical lyres see Plate B of the details.

Chair Slats. The best chair slats are those in which an uncarved medallion, oval, rectangular, or eight-sided, is supported on each side by carved scrolls or groups of leaves. (Plate B.) In some of these the little medallion is plain, but veneered with finely grained wood. In others it is a panel surrounded by a narrow, flat border.

Reeded Cross-bars. Chairs showing considerable Sheraton influence are those whose backs are filled by delicately reeded cross-bars. Straight diagonal cross-bars



are of two types, single-cross and double-cross. A small carved rosette marks the point where the bars meet. There is also a type with curved cross-bars which meet at a carved medallion. The reeding, too, differs and is made up either of three reeds close together, or of two reeds—really half-round fillets—separated by a flat channel. (Plates I and II.)

The Turning is certainly the best of its kind. The profiles for the turning are as well designed within their limitations as the carving itself and show free adaptations of the usual forms of base mouldings, necking, fillets, urns, and balusters. The best bits of turning per se are the typical Phyfe finish at the bottoms of the straight reeded legs. (Plates XIX and A, Figs 1, 3; and D, Fig 1.) On many of these legs the reeding ends some distance from the floor and the turned portion below is very delicately swelled out, then contracted. Here again the Hepplewhite and Sheraton books help us less than does an examination of the work of Jacob Frères. A few of the reeded legs show an entasis, although most of them taper gently on a straight line. The difficulty of doing fine free turning is best proved by a search for good modern turning, a search invariably rewarded.

There are also delicate little turned and moulded buttons, which are glued over the ends of the tenons of chair backs and rails, where they come through the posts and legs, also on sofa arms and on lyres.

Reeding, which partakes more of the qualities of turning and moulding than it does of carving, is found on almost every piece of Phyfe furniture. Its use contributes largely in emphasizing the slenderness of vertical elements and the delicacy of horizontal. Not only on wood but on marble table-tops do we find this reeding.

Veneering. Certain uses of veneered decoration may be considered as typical earmarks of Phyfe work. On the rectangular corner blocks which occur on many drop-leaf tables (Plates XX and XXI), the surface is veneered by a small decorative treatment. In some cases it is simply a rectangle of brilliantly grained wood surrounded by a narrow border of the wood contrasting in tone or in the direction of the grain. This rectangle is varied occasionally in two ways. In one, the upper edge of the rectangle breaks out into a semicircle, giving what we call the arched rectangle. (Plate LII.) In other cases the corners of the rectangle are cut off by quarter circles struck with the corner of the rectangle as the centre of the arc. (Plate XXI.) This beautiful treatment, so unobtrusive as to escape notice except upon close examination, is an example of how far the love of his work carried Phyfe in the perfection of craftsmanship. Only a craftsman whose affection for his work far exceeded any desire for gain or showiness could have spent the time and energy on a detail so comparatively insignificant.

These, then, were the design and decorative motives which were comprised in Phyfe's working glossary. In using them he freely changed their size and scale to adapt them correctly to the problems in hand. His combination of forms, his choice of decorative method, and his placing of ornament are all very carefully studied to produce the distinctive quality which appealed to his taste, influenced as it was by the taste of his time. His fondness for beautifully grained woods led him to emphasize this quality of his material by the treatment of veneer and by the reservation of many broad, uncarved surfaces juxtaposed to relief ornaments in panels. His carving, much of it plastic in execution, is always low in relief and avoids any disturbance of the general lines.

As much as any other factor, it is the use of certain decorative forms which gives to all the furniture of Phyfe's best period its unusual consistency. His style is a transitional one, judged by most of his work, and seldom do we find such complete harmony in the combination of elements which make up a style in which a changing taste is recorded. The explanation of this harmony lies entirely in the discrimination which chose so carefully from various styles their most desirable motives and which changed and adapted these motives to use with a feeling for scale, for placing of ornament, and for structural unity unusual in cabinetmakers of any period, and particularly so in a period when all the tendencies were pulling away from the cultivation of a discriminating taste.


chairs and benches

Chair-making in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a specialized branch of craftsmanship, distinguished from that of cabinet-making. There were journeyman chair-makers just as there were journeyman cabinet-makers who formed the fluid mass of employed labour upon which the established firms depended. Many of the contemporary newspapers contain advertisements of "fancy" chair-makers who supplied only chairs to their patrons.

Phyfe was both a chair-maker and a cabinet-maker, athough his preference seems to have been for the lighter forms of furniture more closely related in construction to chair-making than they were to heavier cabinet-making. His chief output comprised chairs, tables, and sofas, although in a later chapter will be taken up the miscellaneous articles which he made for special purposes. His chairs are of few types, and the variations of these types are chiefly marked by the decorative elements.

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