Object Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Overall: 238.8 x 188 x 63.5 cm (94 x 74 x 25 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oak, yellow-poplar, marble
Forkner and Gill Family Gallery (Gallery 238)
The lavish, naturalistic carving on this massive sideboard-including a stag’s head, dead game birds, bulging clusters of fruits, and grotesque animal faces-may be unsettling to viewers today. However, to affluent Americans of the 1850s and 1860s, this imposing object signified the owner’s wealth and power, and its emblems of hunt and harvest celebrated abundance and prosperity. The sideboard’s fine workmanship and large scale created a dramatic presence in the dining room, where it displayed costly silver objects and set the scene for elaborate dining rituals. In a metaphoric sense, as scholar Kenneth L. Ames has argued, sideboards like this one represented the transformation of hunting and eating into a refined and domesticated experience and thus symbolized for their owners the triumph of human civilization over the natural world.
Sideboards trace their form, function, and iconography to noble homes in Europe, where such pieces had been in use since the fifteenth century. The seminal examples of nineteenth-century sideboards with dining-related carvings originated in France, as did many of the immigrant craftsmen who produced similar works in the United States. Ignatius Lutz was one of several French-trained cabinetmakers who dominated the high-end furniture trade in America, bringing European styles and craftsmanship to a wealthy and fashionable clientele. Lutz’s shop, employing thirty craftsmen, was among the largest in Philadelphia and relied upon handwork rather than power machinery to produce masterpieces such as this sideboard.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Stencilled on back:
No. 121 S. 11th St.
About 1970, purchased (possibly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania) by Mr. and Mrs. David Deitz, Trenton, New Jersey; June 18, 1980, sale 768, Victorian International IX, Sotheby's, New York, no. 669, to Peter Strickland, Philadelphia. By 1981, with Kurland Zabar, New York; 1990, sold by Kurland Zabor to the MFA. (Accession date: January 24, 1990)
Museum purchase with funds donated by the Estate of Richard Bruce E. LaCont