Archive for the furniture Category

Gems of the Centennial Exhibition, part I

Posted in 19th cent., Allen & Bros., Centennial Exhibition, furniture, Gothic Revival, Minton, Neo Grec, Philadelphia, Renaissance Revival, Tiffany & Comp. on July 29, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As I am always keen on the topics of Design Exhibitions and my beloved Philadelphia, I was very pleased when the exhibition catalog “Gems of the Centennial Exhibition” became available.

I have been aware of miscellaneous objects created for our Exhibition, but to tap into contemporary criticism is a great privilege.

If you wish to take a peek, follow this link,Gems of the Centennial Exhibition .

Part of the  fun is to be able to find clues as to why certain design decisions were made. I can think of no other time in which peculiar little quirks drive me mad. Other centuries seem to have allowed reason and conventional notions of beauty  to influence aesthetic decisions. The 19th century, in it’s mad dash quest for novelty, progress, and historicism , produced many perplexing details.

Once such example is this Neo Grec  centre table.

Centre Table
Messrs. Allen & Brother
Philadelphia, Pennsyslvania
ca. 1875
Cherry with opaque white paint, marble.
approx. dimensions 32x45x30
Brooklyn Museum
Although this particular piece was not exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition, Messrs. Allen & Bros. did exhibit two equally peculiar cabinets.
I admire the Neo Grec treatment of ivory paint, the incised decoration being gilded, the attempt at restraint.. Although aspiring for Classical refinement. I find the legs with their scrolling vine work to be in the Neo Gothick style of the Audsley Bros. From my perspective, this centre table is a hybrid Neo Greco-Neo Gothick.
But I digress, back to peculiar design decisions.
The curtain rod rings, why? Was fabric to be hung? That would conceal the handsome palmette on the brace. If it had been a folio cabinet containing  light sensitive watercolours  and engravings, perhaps a hanging would make sense, but this is a centre table. Perhaps a decorative lambrequin-like hanging was employed. It is puzzling.
I was unable to find an answer, just another peculiar example in the “Gems of the Centennial…”
Pardon the quality, I scanned it myself, rather poorly.
What is apparent on this cabinet are the rings. Once again employed as a decorative motif, once again making no apparent sense,although this time they appear fixed, merely a conventional treatment. This particular image is on page 145.
Not a great mystery, just one of those little peculiarities that fascinates and piques  the interest of this Victoriana Nerd.

On to other objects listed in the “Gems”.

This great beauty by Tiffany has been making the rounds of the more exuberant blogs, It is certainly a treasure.
Fruit Dish in Silver, by Messrs. Tiffany & Co., New York
And here it is , page 15,
A great favorite of mine is this circular settee.
by Marchand?
The text does not attribute the maker, although the photo seems to say by Marchand.
The text of “Gems…” goes on to describe this marvel of the up-holster’s art as being 14 feet high, 10 feet in diameter. It is in the Renaissance style, and covered in green satin. I would have thought charcoal from the image.This bit of fantasy is topped with a functioning fountain of red marble and bronze, lovely with the green satin.To finish off the confection”the whole is gracefully surmounted by a chandelier of fifty burners.” I love the purple prose, I love the setee.
A lovely Aesthetic Movement chimney piece follows.
Love the lady casually reading, oblivious to the maddening crowd.
and now, pg. 97
This fascination with contemporary images and responses may appear silly, it most likely is. But it helps to answer a few of the oddball questions I have whenever I gaze upon a 19th century room;particularly one before the Reform Movement had great influence. With the endless draping of mantle pieces, jardinieres, “artistic” easels, and Turkish Corners, I am often puzzled . The “Gems of the Centennial Exhibition” puts the period in context.
I end with a few gems that had exhibited at the Exhibition.
“Monumental Centerpiece”
made for “76 Exhibition
27″w x 24″d x 33 1/2″h
Wilson Sewing Machine
LOVE the Herter Bros. influence on so modest a piece of “furniture”.
Burdett Organ
trade card
the proper title of the catalog is as follows:
Gems of the Centennial Exhibition:Consisting of Illustrated Descriptions of Objects of an Artistic Character, in the Exhibits of the United States, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Russia, Japan, China
Perhaps the most exuberant title ever.
The poor dears were really trying to prove their legitimacy.
Good Night

The Great Exhibition 1851

Posted in 1851 Great Exhibition, 19th cent., Crystal Palace, furniture, Henry Cole, Prince Albert, Pugin, Queen Victoria on June 24, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Last weeks post featured a really magnificent sideboard that had been presented at the Great Exhibition of 1851, I felt the Exhibition itself was worth exploring.

This title plate from the souvenir folio “Recollections of the Great Exhibition, 1850, London, Lloyd Bros. & Comp., Sept 1st 1851″, expresses the international participation that Prince Albert had hoped for when planning the exhibition with Henry Cole and  fellow reformers.

(The dome is from Coalbrookdale, the statue of Wm. Shakespeare by John Bell.)

The influence of the Great Exhibition was significant, setting off a chain of similar design exhibits. This focus on design, with it’s lofty intentions of raising aesthetic standards, is so rare in our present society, the focus being profit. The luxury of building the Crystal Palace to showcase goods, often as banal as fire grates, is almost  incomprehensible .

As much as I may admire the intention, their were contemporary  critics who felt differently, Pugin called the Crystal Palace a “glass monster”, Carlyle derided it as a “big glass bubble”; and the influential Ruskin dismissed it as a “conservatory”. The above plate of this controversial structure was by G. Baxter

The following plates are from the “Recollections” folio.

Plate 10, Furniture Court #1 (by Wilson)

Ecclesiastical and Civil

Plate #12

Part of the Birmingham Court (by H.C.Pidgeon)

Plate # 15

Part of the China Court (by J. Absolon)

Plate #20

Turkish Hall

It would be ridiculous not to include some of the fancy goods set out to entice and bewitch a design hungry crowd. Some lovely, some vulgar, all from my perspective, beguiling.

Sideboard by Gutta Percha Company

I love the over florid “naturalistic” ornament, seems unlikely that they were able to carve so many tendrils, I imagine it was flattened in construction.

Viennese Flower Vase by Johan Gaster

Gothic metal stove

by Augustus Welby Pugin, manufacturer John Hardmon & Comp.

I guess Pugin  got over his disgust and decided to peddle his wares in the “glass monster’ after all.

Heating Stove in the form of a suit of armor.

Really it doesn’t get better then this.

This is the reason critics lampoon the 19th century, and why anachronistic old farts like myself adore it.

Another bit of Great Exhibition ephemera, “Lane’s Telescopic View of the Ceremony of Her Majesty Opening the Great Exhibition of All Nations”, designed by Rawlins, London, August 15th 1851

With that , thank you your Majesty.

Queen Victoria

ca. 1842

by Franz Xavier Winterhalter

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the Bal Costume of May 12th 1842


dressed as Edward III (1315-1377) and Queen Philippa (1314-13690)

Good night

by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer ( 1802-1873, London)

A Passion for Renaissance Revival

Posted in 1851 Great Exhibition, 19th cent., furniture, Memphis, Renaissance Revival, Sambin, sideboards on June 4, 2010 by babylonbaroque

The cumbersome and ungainly, always a personal passion. The more I explore the decorative and fine arts, architecture, music, or fashion, the more drawn I am to the overwrought, the over-stated.

WHEN I worked, I would inwardly cringe as a client , most often a second tier designer, would pedantically explain to me “that less is more” ;  code for “we haven’t the budget”.

In celebration of abundance, I present the following extravaganzas.Sideboard 1854

Several years back, 2005-2007, the Getty Center, presented a show, “A Renaissance Cabinet Rediscovered”. They bent over backwards trying to claim the legitimacy of a piece that Getty purchased ages ago. His advisors claimed it was a fake, he went with his gut, and it is now believed to actually be 16th cent. with late 19th century additions.


ca. 1580, with late 19th. cent. additions

walnut, oak, paint, brass, iron, linen and silk liing

approx. 10 ‘x 6’x 2′

Getty Collection

I didn’t particularly care, I would have actually preferred the 19th century fake. I love how the Renaissance was interpreted in the mid to late part of the century.

French 19th century

Shown at Great exhibition 1851

The monumental sideboard, the darling of the social climbing nouveau riche, was often based upon designs inspired by the architect, sculptor, designer, Hugues Sambin of Dijon. The following are a few of his wildly inventive designs.

Images ca. 1572-73

I searched for pieces attributed by Sambin and came up rather short.  I will explore in more depth. I predict I will enjoy the renderings more them the finished carvings if the following panel is any indication.

Figurative panel

French ca. 1560


Now on to what I truly love, mis-guided mis- interpretations of Renaissance propriety.


ca. 1855

Black walnut

Alexander Roux, 1813-1886

American, born France

approx. 49″x$9″x 24″

Brooklyn Museum

I’m particularly drawn to the hunt motif, the addition of a hare head of great interest to me.


ca. 1870

Gerrard Robinson

carved oak, mirror glass, and brass handles

Victoria & Albert

Another whimsical piece by Robinson, also in the V&A, a sideboard with the peculiar theme of Robinson Crusoe.


Carved oak, upper part pine with oak veneer

English, signed and dated 1857

Gerrard Robinson

This is apparently the first known piece by Robinson, with a quirky subject which he re-explores in a piece shown at the International Exhibition of ’62. I have to research that.

To conclude I present another sideboard. also of the More Is Better school of design. I first saw this piece in Philadelphia, soon after production. I am still ambivalent, but I still want it.

Casablanca Sideboard

Memphis 1980-85


wood, plastic laminate

Brooklyn Museum

Enjoy your weekend.

Good Shabbos chair, week 5

Posted in Aesthetic Movement, chair, Chas. Tisch, furniture on March 26, 2010 by babylonbaroque

My thoughts this week have been of home, I am currently taking a U.S. History course, and my beloved Philadelphia continues to pop up.

When I think of Philly, Federal architecture of course comes to mind, but I also recall the wondrous beauties of the American Aesthetic/Queen Anne movement.If you wander along Pine or any little side street  behind Rittenhouse Square you will stumble upon jawdroppers. The Centennial influenced much of this nostalgic architecture, but I imagine fashion, fashion from our Mother country, Great Britain held greater influence.

With that said I present this broken pedimented beauty by Charles Tisch

Side Chair

Charles Tisch,  active 1870-90

Rosewood, misc. woods, brass, silk upholstery

Possible Place Made, NY, NY

ca. 1885

approx. 39x23x20

Brooklyn Museum

I love this period, it’s rigid interpretation of Queen Anne, the ebonized Aesthetic Movement influence. This is a very American spin on the Aesthetic Movement, it lacks the grace of Godwin, but what it lacks in poetry it compensates with comfortable proportions.

There is a vulgarity to the chair, but of course that is what draws me to it.

A really wonderful book exploring both English and American versions of the Queen Anne Movement is “Sweetness and Light, the Queen Anne Movement 1860-1890″, by Mark Girouard, published by Yale Press. It is a marvelous resource.

Well, I must return to my studies, curious as to how this Revolution thing turns out.

Good Shabbos

Good Shabbos chair, week 4

Posted in 19th cent., bergere, chair, Egyptian Revival, furniture, P.E. Guerin on March 19, 2010 by babylonbaroque

This frankly forlorn looking Egyptian Revival bergere may seem an unlikely candidate for a Shabbos chair, but I am a sucker for faded beauty.


Pottier & Stymus


mounts, Guerin, New York

Rosewood,burl walnut, gilt, and patinated metal mounts, original upholstery

ca. 1870

approximate dimensions:38x30x29

Brooklyn Museum

This chair, also manufactured by Pottier & Stymus(last weeks Neo-Grec by P&S) has mounts made by (P.E.)Guerin, and original uphostery. The Brooklyn Museum, seeing the value of the original covering is treating it as an upholstery document. It is worthy of such archival care. The unfigured green silk is to compensate for losses. The green silk damask is original (cleaned in place if you were concerned). The trim is modern but era appropriate.

I wish I had access to the mounts, P.E. Guerin and their wonderful workshop on Jane St. is a wonder. I am so happy there is still room for the quality and beauty they offer.

In keeping with the Egyptomania theme, I close with this sweet image of baby Moses and his adoptive parent.

Good Shabbos

Good Shabbos, chair 3

Posted in 19th cent., chair, furniture, Pottier & Stymus Mfg. on March 12, 2010 by babylonbaroque

In my continued effort to find the perfect chair for Shabbos I present this neo-Grec beauty.

Side Chair


attributed to Pottier& Stymus Mfg. Corp.


walnut, mahogany,

rosewood, cedar,

enameled porcelain medallion

approx. 37x18x18

Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is an old favorite of mine, I always look for it when visiting the Met.

I have long favored 19th century Neo-Classical designs for the very reasons  that they are disparaged. I love how the initial plan was for some Grecian purity, then the designer’s mind wandered over to the Egypto palm designs. Owen Jones made it way to easy to pop over from one century and country to another.

For that I am thankful.

I first came to love the prettiness of pale pinks and blues because of this lovely medallion.

I love the lotus patterns, picked out in gilt, the incised decoration lending a refinded barbarity to the chair.

Really, it’s just a fantastic chair.

Good Shabbos.

The Great Exhibition-design reform and bias

Posted in 1851 Great Exhibition, 19th cent., furniture, Rococo Revival with tags on March 1, 2010 by babylonbaroque

The Great Exhibition, or it’s really cumbersome proper name, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Continents ( you really just have to  admire 19th grandiosity) ran from May 1st through Octobere 1851. Conceived by the dashing Prince Albert (of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in case you forgot) to set an example of what the Industrial Revolution was capable of.

Very fine intentions.

Of course the never happy reformers tore it to bits, so many objections, lack of “honesty”, naturalistic floral designs for carpets and fabrics, putti scampering up and down,revival styles such as Modern French, Rococo Revival ( see the lovely Belter,previous post), many grave sins for the public to adore.

Poor Morris, Eastlake, Ruskin, Dresser et al ,it must have been painful. I sympathize, truly.  I love and respect their principle. I love what they produced.

But I also sincerely adore what they despised.

The following were entries that must have spun their rarefied heads :

Monumental pieces such as sideboards seem to have been a designer and/or manufactures favored way of promoting their virtuosity. Love the eagles.

Never afraid to shy away from narrative, decorative figures from a work by Sir Walter Scott.

As a vegetarian, I am crazy for hunt allegories in the dining room. It’s the perfect addition to my 900 sq.ft. W Hollywood condo.

Every lady requires a “rustic” little secretary.

Not to mention a place to do ‘lady-work”.

The screen with it’s ridiculous base would have drove Eastlake bonkers with it’s lack of “integrity”; I understand what he is saying, but how do you resist such delightful fluff?

Perhaps a modest little State chair, for the Lord and Master.

I’m a sucker for lion-headed anything.

Striving for cultural sophistication was an accepted norm, grand housing for your library, essential.

Mock Elizabethan?

In my world  Gothic Revival is a neutral.

A little “sweetness and light”.

At days end…this can not be beat.

A fantastic closing view,

for now.

good shabbos chair/ week 1

Posted in 19th cent., Belter, furniture, Rococo Revival on February 26, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As the Lord seems intent on our taking a day of rest; I have decided to highlight one fantastic chair per week. If we must rest, the chair better be beautiful.

For my first chair, I have chosen a slipper chair by John H. Belter, it is part of the Met’s collection. I have had ambivalence concerning Belter for most of my life. Perhaps because most of Belter’s designs were in the Rococo Revival style,and my love of “true” Rococo prevented my appreciating what a novel and  truly wonderful aesthetic he created.

Slipper chair, 1850-60

John H. Belter (American, born Germany, 1804-1863; firm active New york City, 1844-66)

Rosewood, ash

The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

I no longer have any hesitation at all, I have fully embraced “the modern French style”; so complete is my conversion that I dream of finding a piece at some obscure auction. That of course is ridiculous, price is always ‘upon request” when Belter shows up. Perhaps some forlorn knockoff will appear at Bonhams.

This is indeed a beauty, the shallow carvings are a writhing mass of foliate excess, no hint of French origin. This is German, German, German, with a layover to say hello to the Pompadour.

My family has a apocryphal tale that my Nana’s family, German Jews who came over mid-19th century were fine cabinet makers. I have found no proof of Whittenborn/burg glory, yet I still hold on to this tale. It explains  to me my fascination with German fastidiousness and finesse; which can  truly border on the vulgar, nonetheless  I am wild for it.

This chair, just creeps to the edge of extreme, I am struck by the proportions, the height 44 “, with a relatively low seat, it IS of course a slipper chair.

The fine blue silk is a happy nod to the House of David.

Good Shabbos.

Exciting News For L.A.

Posted in furniture, Huntington, mackmurdo on February 23, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Huntington museum in Pasadena has long been a treasure to L.A. and it’s inhabitants. It offers bucolic beauty, architectural grandeur, stunning gardens, the roses seduce one and all. But for me the real treasure is it’s art collection, a comprehensive collection of grand English portrait painting, most 18th cent. plus so much more.

I was tickled to find a very wonderful collection of the English Arts and Crafts Movement; I expected  the Pasadena school of prairie inspired Craftsman,which they do indeed represent admirably. The American Craftsman movement  however lacks the narrative and decorative qualities that I so love in the English Craftsman tradition. I encourage everyone to check out this treasured collection, I plan to feature a few favorite pieces in the near future.

That said, Huntington and LACMA made a recent joint acquisition, The  Chair,which I refer to as the Whiplash chair  is a forerunner of the Art Nouveau movement. The chair designed by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942), was made in 1882 of mahogany, leather, and painted decoration. It was created for the Century Guild, and only five exist. What is clear is the visual reference to the  title page for  “Wren’s City Churches”, which was designed by Mackmurdo.

title page design for

“Wren’s City Churches”


What a boon for this City of Angels. Are we civilized yet?

If you notice, you will discover the wonderful whiplash movement of the odd foliate matter, seaweed, poppies, grasses?

Doesn’t matter, sheer lovely inventiveness.

I am just so happy to have this in my adopted city, I so often pine for my favorite treasures at the Met and the Phila. Art museum, now I have a local treasure.

I look forward to sharing some of my favorite local oddball holdings.

Burges Mystery Solved

Posted in burges, furniture on February 18, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I recently attended a lecture at LACMA, sponsored by the wonderful Decorative Arts Council of which I am a proud member. The guest speaker was the European Decorative Arts curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Christopher Monkhouse. a very charming, intelligent man. The topic was wine and the beautiful objects designed around it’s use. Mr. Monkhouse had put together a very broad collection for his recent exhibit, A Case For Wine.

At one point in the slide presentation, amidst the punch bowls and fine Venetian goblets, a beautiful, wondrous bit of polychromy appears. I knew it’s maker immediately, the hand of Burgess was all over it. So exciting, I adore Burges, his wit, his vigor, his unabashed love of narrative and color.

William Burges


The piece Monkhouse was illustrating was a recent acquisition for The Art Institute of Chicago. It was the Sideboard and Wine Cabinet, 1859, painter Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake 1833-1921,  maker:Harland & Fisher,London.

As you can see it is a great beauty, allegories of vine varieties are featured in the bottom decorative row of quatrefoil; misc. figures grace the front including Bacchus, now St. Bacchus ( of  SS Serge and Bacchus fame?, the great homoerotic duo, beloved of Brazilians and gay folks?), and inside, apparently a portrait of Temperance. Mr. Monkhouse has promised me a peak at Temperance if I venture to Chicago, I plan to have him keep his word.

All very wonderful of course, but the mystery. The mystery being this piece has been missing for years. I knew of it from various textbooks, always as having been part of the 1862  London International Exhibition, but now lost.I have always been saddened by that, how? how does something so  wonderful become lost? I understand tastes change, but what a tragedy.

But now it has been found.

The sideboard is visible next to the famous Yatman Cabinet, now at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Although the quality is poor I believe you can make out both the Yatman and the Chicago Sideboard.

This of course is very exciting for a Burges fan. To have a lost treasure found is a thrill. It seems , according to Mr. Monkhouse that it had been in private hands ( a rectory?, I cannot remember the details) and had been in use until the Institute purchased it. What has happened to the Orientalist over-decoration is anyone’s guess. It may or may not be by Burges.

I am just so tickled that the sideboard is in safe hands.It will be well loved.

Other  Burges sideboards also exist.

The V&A has the Wine and Beer sideboard.

Detroit has the the St. Bacchus (do we have a theme? )Sideboard.

and now Chicago has it’s own treasure, congrats!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers