Square pier table with canted corners (one of a pair)
Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (American (born in Scotland), 1770–1854)
Object Place: New York, New York
Overall: 84.5 x 101.6 x 48.3 cm (33 1/4 x 40 x 19 in.)
Medium or Technique
Rosewood veneer, mahogany veneer, mahogany, white pine, yellow-poplar, paint, brass, marble
Not On View
In the second decade of the nineteenth century, New York City cabinetmakers produced a variety of sculptural furniture featuring three-dimensional winged caryatids, swans, eagles, dolphins, and, as seen here, mythological griffins (or gryphons). Charles-Honoré Lannuier, Duncan Phyfe, and the firm of Barzilla Deming and Erastus Bulkley were among the leading producers of these classical forms derived from English and French design books issued by Thomas Hope, George Smith, Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Lèonard Fontaine, Pierre de la Mésangère, and others.
This pier table (one of a pair) is part of a group of griffin furniture produced by an as-yet-unidentified shop. Often associated in the past with Lannuier, more recent scholarship has tentatively suggested that the group might have come from Phyfe’s shop. Careful conservation of this table revealed the original burnished gold leaf on the eagle heads and the green paint (antique vert) on the lion bodies. The gold-leaf ornamental detail around the table’s top is typical of New York workmanship and represents a less expensive alternative to imported French ormolu (gilded brass or bronze) mounts.
Griffins (called by Aeschylus “the hounds of Zeus, who never bark, with beaks like birds”) combine the head and wings of an eagle with the body of a lion. The example on this table is similar to one depicted in plate 5 (part D) in The New-York Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet and Chair Work, published in 1817. Such carved figures were an expensive option for this type of stylish furniture.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
By 1974/1975, Parke-Bernet auction, New York; 1974/75, Purchased at auction by Bernard & S. Dean Levy, Inc, New York, working on behalf of the Museum, with funds provided by the William N. Banks Foundation (Accession Date March 12, 1975)
Museum purchase with funds donated by the W. N. Banks Foundation