Restauration Grecian or “Recamier” Couch, circa 1835
Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854) or D. Phyfe and Sons (active 1837-1840)
New York, circa 1835
The undulating veneered crest rail terminating in a scroll with a characteristic rimmed disk boss above an upholstered back and seat with a scrolled arm at one end with a matching rimmed disk boss in the volute. The highly figured seat rail raised on flat rectangular legs terminating in suppressed demilune feet with recessed casters.
H: 34″ L: 74″ D: 24″
Condition: Excellent: Minor abrasions to veneer, re-finished with shellac in the manner of the period. Modern upholstery.
The attribution to Duncan Phyfe is based on very closely related couches documented to Phyfe and published in Nancy McClelland’s Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency and in Peter Kenny’s Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York. One couch, was made by D. Phyfe & Sons for Phyfe’s daughter, Eliza, and her husband William Vail, Jr. This is almost identical to the present example. A second example, made by D. Phyfe and Son, circa 1841 for Governor John Laurence Manning of Millford Plantation, South Carolina, is also closely related with identical arm, legs, feet and seat rail. A third example, a pair of couches in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is attributed to Phyfe on the basis of family tradition and close relationship to the two aforementioned pieces, all bearing the same signature rimmed convex disk bosses, a device recognized as a Phyfe design.
The scrolled-end form, derived from ancient Greek and Roman day beds with “fulcrum ends,” was adopted by furniture designers of the early 19th century and used on beds, sofas and couches. Jacques-Louis David’s 1800 portrait of Madam Récamier posing on a Grecian couch, among other such paintings by David, connected the Grecian style to the revolutionary spirit of Republicanism and received wide exposure. American cabinetmakers would have known the form through multiple publications showing multiple iterations such as Pierre de la Mésangère’s 1805 Lit romain (pl. 171), Lit étrusque (pl. 178), and 1829 Restoration-style Canepé (pl. 656). English designs such as Thomas Sheraton’s 1803 Grecian Squab (pl. 50), and George Smith’s 1808 French Bed for Recess and Chaise Longue (pls. 63, 64, 65, 66), would also have been very influential.
The unadorned style of this couch, now referred to as Grecian Plain style, is closely related to the French Restauration style of Louis XVIII and Charles X and was popular in the United States throughout the 1830s. Phyfe’s firm was the uncontested master of this style in America.
Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854), considered the most important American cabinetmaker of the first half of the 19th century, worked at Partition Street (renamed Fulton Street in 1816) in New York City from 1793 through 1847. Famous and highly successful, Phyfe ran a large workshop and produced furniture throughout his long career in all the latest styles. As a fashion leader, Phyfe introduced New York to a succession of styles inspired by the renowned designers Robert Adam (1728-1792), George Hepplewhite (d.1786) and Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) in England, and the Directoire, Empire and Restoration periods in France. His clients included the great merchant and banking elite of the city, as well as wealthy and discriminating buyers from Boston to New Orleans. An innovative designer, superior craftsman and carver, Phyfe’s name is synonymous with the finest New York furniture of the period.