In the Manner of Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854)

New York, 1805-1815

The crest rail sub-divided in thirds, the central panel with intertwined laurel branches carved in relief, flanked by panels with carved drapery swags tied at the center with bow-knotted ribbon, the rail continuing to in-curving reeded arms scrolled at the terminations, supported by a acanthus-carved baluster and leaf-carved standards continuing past the reeded balloon seat to turned and reeded vase-form legs with a ring turnings at the top and terminating in vase-form feet with brass ferule socket casters.

H: 36½”  W: 79”  D: 28½”

Condition: Very Good: One center rear leg is a replacement.  There is an old repair to the proper right arm support.  The casters are replacements and the turning above the brass cup and stump inside the castors are replaced. Modern upholstery with original webbing on back and arms.

Many examples of this beautiful Sheraton form with incurving arms and conforming reeded balloon seat rail are known including a labeled one by Michael Allison at the Art Institute of Chicago, yet they are traditionally and habitually attributed to Duncan Phyfe although no example of the form is documented to him.  This is because of the presumption that the very best must be by Phyfe.  Indeed, the legendary furniture historian, Charles F. Montgomery said, “The epitome of excellence reached by New York cabinetmakers is exemplified in this [form of] sofa.”[1]

This example incorporates the finest and most desirable characteristics of this form and has all of the hall marks traditionally associated with Phyfe.  The laurel branches carved in the center panel of the crest rail appear on chairs and sofas by Phyfe and the drapery festoons are also deeply associated with Phyfe.  The festoons can be seen on a caned sofa by Phyfe made for William Bayard in 1807 and the crossed laurel branches appear on a curule-base arm chair and caned sofa attributed to Phyfe in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[2]

Other closely related examples to this sofa are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Henry Ford Museum.[3]  Other related examples with in-curving arms are pictured in Nancy McClelland, Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency (New York, 1939), pl. 236 & 257.

A closely related sofa is categorized as a “Masterpiece of New York Sheraton design” in Albert Sack’s The New Fine Points of Furniture (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 253.

This sofa is inspired by designs published by Thomas Sheraton in his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book (London, 1793) probably using the Sofa Bed illustrated in pl. XXXI and the idea of curving arms from pl. XL, the Alcove Bed as well as the prototypical Sofa illustrated in pl. XXXV.  These illustrations fostered sofa designs reflected in drawings published in The London Chair-Makers’ and Carvers’ Book of Prices for Workmanship of 1808, that relate closely to the present sofa.  The scrolled and carved crest rail is inspired by French Directoire design, a pairing of English and French influences often seen in the finest New York furniture of the early 19th century.

Provenance: Anthony A. P. Stuempfig
Private Collection

[1] Charles F. Montgomery, American Furniture: The Federal Period (New York, Viking Press, 1966), p.310, pl. 277.

[2] Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011), 162, pl. 4, 178, pl. 13, 181, pl. 15.

[3] Kenny & Brown, p. 166-167, pl. 6.

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