Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854) or D. Phyfe & Sons (active 1837-1840)
New York, 1835-1840
Each with undulating veneered crest rail terminating in two scrolls with concentric circle bosses above an upholstered back and seat with a scrolled arm at one end with a matching 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″ each
Condition: Excellent: Minor abrasions to veneer at the feet restored, a crack in veneer to the back rest of one, 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 “Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency” and in “Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York.” One mahogany 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 examples. A second example, two pairs of walnut couches made by D. Phyfe and Son, c. 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 mahogany couches made for New York attorney, Samuel A. Foot, 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. The present examples have a different style of boss from the documented examples but are, otherwise, so closely related as to render this discrepancy insignificant. Indeed, this pair of couches even share with the Samuel Foot couches a small notch in the continuous vertical line where the arm becomes the leg. The use of rosewood, as in the present pair, was reserved for the finest high-style parlor furniture and was the most expensive option.
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 these couches, 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 1830’s. 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 nineteenth 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.