The Furniture

miscellaneous pieces

The large number of miscellaneous pieces bearing the mark of Phyfe's handiwork belies the statement that he did not do case furniture. Certainly he did many pieces of so-called case furniture, but these were probably made on special order to go into rooms where his tables, chairs, or sofas had delighted their owners with their beauty and their livable qualities.

One of the most interesting problems which Phyfe had to meet occasionally was that of the pianoforte. Very few of these survive. The one illustrated herewith (Plate LII), dating from about 1820, contains an instrument by John Geib, Inc., whose work in New York began before 1800 and continued until after 1825. Phyfe is supposed not to have made piano cases, but only the trestles which supported the cases. This case, however, bears so many unmistakable signs of Phyfe's handiwork as to leave little doubt that he made both case and trestle. The case is veneered in brilliantly grained wood, is inlaid with brass, and the vertical blocks, which divide the front into three

sections, are veneered with the typical arched rectangle. Reeding, too, is used, and carved rosettes. The composition of the front of the case is well studied. It is divided into three sections, the two to the left lifting up and disclosing the keyboard.

The trestle is designed on a basis of Phyfe's typical motives—the urn, the curved legs with acanthus and reeding, the reeded stretcher, and at the end a carved flower instead of the more probable lion's head. A lyre in the centre suggests the original presence of pedals, but it would appear upon examination that pedals never existed. The strings of the instrument are covered by a thin, hinged wooden lid painted green with a flower border.

Another piano trestle (Plate LV) differs in detail from the first. The urns here are carved with acanthus, the stretcher is not divided into two parts as was the other, and its end, where it mortises into the block below the urn is treated with a lion's mask. Its proportions, too, are lighter, since it probably supported a smaller case without pedals.

The little sideboard (Plate XLVII) and the serving tables in Plates XLVII to L are consistently Sheraton in derivation. The sideboard is a most surprising find— a complete piece of Phyfe case furniture handled in masterly fashion. Here veneering forms the chief decoration including arched rectangles with borders mitred up to them, veneered borders on the drawers and around the top, the edge bounded by two half-round fillets and a flat channel, the reeded legs topped by acanthus leaves and finished at the bottom with the typical turning. Surely a fine, simple, dignified little sideboard, worthy descendant of Sheraton's design.

The serving table and buffet are Sheraton, too, but of simpler forms and less elaborate decoration. The legs are reeded and carry up to the top, which curves out over them at the corners. They preserve the same simplicity as do the tables of the first type.

The cheval glass (Plate LI) makes us wonder why Phyfe did so few of these graceful articles of bedroom furniture. He did dressing-table glasses of the same general character although more carefully decorated. One dressing glass is swung between lyres turned at right angles to its axis and rests upon a base with three drawers. The edges of the lyres are roped, the base between the drawers decorated with little turned colonettes.

His beds were derived both from Sheraton and Hepple-white models. The one shown in Plate LII has four carved posts, although some of them have only the two footposts carved, the headposts being simply turned pieces. There are seven different known designs for bedposts, four of which are shown in Plate C of the drawings. The decoration includes reeding, acanthus, water-le^f, drapery, wheat-ears, and palmetto, combined in various charming ways. One handsome bed, not shown, has a footboard filled with cane and with lions' masks at the corners of the heavy posts.


Much discussion in recent years has centred around the "humanities," the related study and cultivation of the languages, literature, history, and archaeology of Greece and Rome. It is the conviction of their value as a moral or intellectual discipline and as refining, cultivating, and humanizing influences which has led their supporters to include the "humanities" as a necessary part of a liberal education. The resultant knowledge which such studies give creates a background for modern life and a sense of values that are difficult if not impossible of attainment in any other way.

As a part of a liberal education to-day, the scope of the so-called "humanities" has necessarily widened beyond the original limits, and in the new sense must include much of the literature, history, and art of epochs of the world's development successive to the times of classic Greece and Rome. This wider application of the term may justly be employed if we think of the "humanities" as an investi-

gation less of things Greek and Roman than of things secular and human.

In humanizing any period of the past, the study not only of the contemporary languages, literature, and history is important, but that of the artistic expression of the time must also be closely related to them. The four major arts do not alone suffice to tell the human story of a time gone by. They indicate frequently the highest aspirations or accomplishments which marked the summit of a people's development. For the more true, more accurate story, filled with human interest and marking a high average of general taste, we must turn to the decorative and utilitarian arts with which that people surrounded themselves in their daily life.

We may learn of the great movements of races, the international give-and-take of territory or riches; we may fill in this knowledge with a just proportion of economic detail and of religious and moral influences; but to round out the picture of a particular people at a particular time we must appreciate the intellectual, artistic, and social elements which entered into their daily life, which influenced them continually and responded to their tastes and preferences, aesthetic and practical.

The study of the finest work of the cabinet-makers of the past thus bears a distinct relation to the general humanizing investigation of any period of world history, and the importance of such study is in direct proportion to the importance of the period in question.

The short space of a quarter of a century in New York which we have striven to portray was certainly one of the most important in the whole history of the city's growth. It was marked by a striking increase in economic prosperity and commercial expansion, a growth of civic consciousness and pride, a vivid interest in artistic and intellectual pursuits, a horizon widening from that of a provincial town to that of a metropolis, with the emphasis upon foreign taste and foreign ways which was a natural accompaniment. The War of 1812 was a quickening influence in the direction of consolidating this civic consciousness, as it was in binding together all parts of the Union. The Constitution had weathered its first real storm and the policies of its creators were justified. The economic revival after the war was rapid, and the city and nation entered upon a fortunate period of peace and prosperity.

In the qualities of the furniture which Duncan Phyfe made for the people of New York at this time may be seen the results of the varied influences which distinguished the period, not only in the city but along the whole seaboard. The demand for fine craftsmanship and materials arose directly from both the increasing wealth of the population and the artistic appreciation which they possessed. 'The unanimity of taste which resulted from the growth of a compact metropolitan society is reflected in the consistency and restraint of the furniture design which appealed to them, a design whose simplicity recalled in romantic association the glories of an earlier republic, that of Rome. Their widening horizon is shown in the European flavour which permeates much of this work, partially English in response to inherent British preferences, but French in many elements of form where fashion dictated. The intellectual

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