Desk and bookcase

about 1830
Anthony G. Quervelle (American (born in France), 1789–1856)

Object Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Overall: 259.7 x 125.1 x 61 cm (102 1/4 x 49 1/4 x 24 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Mahogany, bird's-eye maple, burl ash, yellow-poplar, white pine, cedar, maple, glass, pressed-glass

On View

Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery (Gallery 133)




Case furniture and boxes

In two sections: the top bookcase with acanthus carved broken cornice above a conforming highly figured mahogany frieze above a pair of cabinet doors with gothic tracery flanked by tapering columns resembling quivers with carved, gilt and painted capitals resembling the feather ends of arrows and the bases comprised of acanthus carved and gilt decorated urns.
The bottom case having two central short drawers flanked by a pair of quarter round drawers projecting to support the columns above, resting on the case top above a fall front, imitation drawer having on its face a pair of cross banded rectangular panels each with horizontal lozenges in high relief with wooden drawer pulls at thier centers, the drawer opening to a desk, the writing surface with original crimson baize and bird’s eye maple vennered interior with two stacks of three drawers with pressed glass pulls flanking a wider central drawer below a valenced ebonized niche, the drawer stacks with niche punctuated by four narrow nices with gothic valences.
The desk section flanked by projecting plinths with vertical lozenges in high relief above columns with gilt bronze capitals and bases, flanking a pair of cabinet doors with a fan or sunburst of eight pie-slice shaped sections of flame mahogany veneer, each molded in high relief and each terminating in an elliptical section of burl ash at the outer end and a demi-lune burl-ash “sun” at the apex, the design framed by a proscenium arch formed of a thin wreath of carved oak leaves with acorns and having a stylized carved anthemions in the spandrels. The doors above a coved and gadrooned shelf flanked by plain plinths raised on short acanthus carved paw feet with short turned maple feet in back.

Born and trained as a cabinetmaker in France, Anthony Quervelle was in Philadelphia by 1817. He quickly became one of the most important and prolific Philadelphia craftsmen working in the late Neoclassical style, boasting in one advertisement to have “the largest and most fashionable assortment of furniture ever yet offered for sale in this city.” The craftsman enhanced his reputation by winning recognition at several mechanical arts competitions, including the Franklin Institute’s exhibition in 1827 where he was awarded a silver medal for a closely related desk and bookcase.

Quervelle merged French motifs learned during his early training, probably in Napoleon’s imperial workshops, with British forms that were popular in his adopted city. In this majestic desk and bookcase he combines the massive, architectonic form and richly grained woods derived from British designs, with tapered columns, anthropomorphic paw feet, and radiating fan doors that add a French flair. The rounded, inlaid rays of the fan doors made of exquisite mahogany and bird’s-eye maple are particularly noteworthy for their technical achievement, as are the carved, veneered, and gilded elements that lavishly ornament the piece. Quervelle also demonstrated his sure grasp of the latest styles by using newly fashionable Gothic arches on the glass doors and interior desk pigeonholes, and pressed glass knobs on the interior drawers.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at


Early history unknown; around mid-1970s, a couple in Philadelphia purchased the piece, saying it came out of a home in Germantown, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia); this couple (name unknown at present) owned it until sold to Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc., New York, New York, in May 2004, purchased by the MFA (Accession Date: September 22, 2004)

Credit Line

Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund