Wardrobe

about 1870
Heinrich Kuenemann II (1843–1914)


Object Place: Fredericksburg, Texas

Dimensions

221.61 x 143.51 x 59.69 cm (87 1/4 x 56 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

1990.483

Medium or Technique

Southern yellow pine

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Case furniture and boxes

By the 1840s, a wave of German immigration had spread to the Hill Country of Texas, virtually on the border of Comanche territory. The population of some towns, including Fredericksburg in Gillespie County, was about 85 percent German in the 1860s. Like English joiners in seventeenth-century New England, many Texas German woodworkers initially attempted to replicate the conditions of their mother country, producing furniture in the Biedermier style (popular in Germany and Austria, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, from the 1820s to the 1840s, featuring simple, clean lines, restrained ornament, and, often, light-colored woods such as maple). Soon, however, societal influences-among them migration and improved postal and communication systems-led to changes in the materials and design of their work.

Heinrich Kuenemann, one of at least ten woodworkers in Fredericksburg, was born in Steterdorf, Hanover, Germany, and arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1845 as a two-year-old. He married Dorothea Elisabeth Tatsch on January 3, 1869, thus becoming the son-in-law of Johann Peter Tatsch, a well-known Prussian-born woodworker with whom Kuenemann may have served his apprenticeship. Tatsch gave the newlyweds a large wardrobe that surely inspired Kuenemann when he fashioned this example.

Kuenemann’s imposing joined wardrobe, or Kleiderschrank, is an architectonic type of bedroom storage furniture favored by continental Europeans. Although the piece is Germanic in form, its mass-produced ornament, including the roundel in the cornice, the drawer pulls, and the applied rope-turned spindles at the sides, is evocative of the Renaissance and Elizabethan revival furniture made in Midwestern factories and imported into Texas at the time. Its creation from southern yellow pine, however, immediately identifies the wardrobe as a distinctly local product. The dramatic curly pine panels selected for the doors and drawer fronts present a dazzling optical effect, reminiscent of Baroque furniture made some two centuries earlier. This complex blend of attributes reflects, in three-dimensional form, the social and cultural factors that characterized life in the Hill Country in the 1870s.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.

Inscription

Drawers and shelf supports numbered in graphite "No. 1" and "No. 2"

Provenance

Purchased from Robert Borchers, Fredericksburg, Texas, on April 8, 1990, by Mrs. Charles L. Bybee, Houston, Texas; 1990, gift of Mrs. Charles L. Bybee, Houston, Texas (Accession Date: September 18, 1990)

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Bybee