Tiered Table in the Aesthetic Taste, about 1880
A. & H. Lejambre (active 1865–1907), Philadelphia
Mahogany, with inlays of brass, copper, and pewter, and brass moldings, straps and sabots
27 in. high, 20 in. wide, 20 in. deep
This remarkable table is identical in form and nearly identical in design to that of a table that bears the stamped mark of the Philadelphia firm of A. & H. Lejambre in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. The two tables appear to be the same with the exception of the composition of the mixed media inlays that adorn their tops and the pattern of carvings used on two brackets beneath the upper plinth on each table. In fact, the brackets on the present table are unique amongst the known examples by Lejambre, featuring winged creatures rather than merely foliate designs. Three other tables, extremely close in configuration and ornament, are in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These tables feature variant foliate carvings on the brackets and different patterns of brass “strap” hinges on each plinth corner. As well, a table with a simpler base, bearing a paper label from the shop of A. & H. Lejambre, in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is very similar to the present table in both form and applied decoration, once again featuring a similarly inlaid top, as well as the use of applied brass “strap” mounts on the sides of the plinth and graceful brass sabots.
Several other tables by Lejambre, and also featuring similar inlaid designs, have appeared, including an elaborate example (Art Institute of Chicago), featuring an elongated lozenge-shaped top inlaid with brass, copper, shell, ebony, and mother-of-pearl. Another table, now in the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York is a more eclectic composition reflecting in form and in some detail (including the faux doré “ormolu” mounts, stamped by the New York metalwork firm of P. E. Guerin) the Neo-classical style of furniture popular in France during the reign of Louis XVI, as well as the architectural style of the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886) and his contemporaries. This table also features a very unusual top, with extremely elaborate inlays of mixed materials.
The base of the present table (and the Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, and St. Louis tables), with a stepped plinth, and twisted support columns and carved brackets, much in the style of Richardson, as well as a more complex Asian-inspired diaper fretwork at the plinth level, is more elaborate than the simpler bases on several other known examples, including the labeled table at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one in a private collection in New York City, and one in a private collection in New York State. The two types of square tables in this group feature either brass ball and cup sabots, reminiscent of those used on Louis XVI furniture, or curved brass sabots (as on the Saint Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Met, Chicago, and present tables), which are more Anglo-Japanesque in feeling.
Indeed, both the style and the inlaid decoration on the present table reflect the Anglo-Japanesque influence of the English Aesthetic architect and designer, Edward William Godwin (1833–1886). Specifically, the clever balance, compositionally, of solids and voids, lights and darks, the overall lightness of scale, the asymmetry of the inlaid elements, the interplay of ornamented versus plain surfaces, and the use of aesthetic strap details and brass sabots, clearly illustrate the relationship between Godwin’s designs and those executed by Lejambre. Although some have questioned the American origin of these tables, the presence of original mounts marked by the New York metalwork firm of P. E. Guerin on the Munson-Williams-Proctor table certainly confirms their American origin.
The cabinetmaking firm of A. & H. Lejambre was an outgrowth of the upholstery business in Philadelphia begun about 1825 by Jean Pierre Alphonse Lejambre (1786–1843), who was first listed in the Philadelphia City Directory in that year. A French émigré craftsman who had come to America during the second decade of the nineteenth century, after he had served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars, Lejambre worked on Joseph Bonaparte’s home, “Point Breeze,” on the Delaware River near Bordentown, New Jersey, which in its day was considered the most “French” house in America (see Peter L. L. Strickland, “Furniture by the Lejambre Family of Philadelphia,” The Magazine Antiques CXIII [March 1978], p. 600). His output was subsequently marked by a distinctly French sensibility, offering simplifications of designs published in France by Pierre de la Mésangère in his Collection des Meubles et Objets de Goût, which appeared serially between 1802 and 1835, and also strongly inspired by Desiré Guilmard's Le Garde Meuble Ancien et Moderne (1839–80s) and Victor Louis Quétin's Le Magasin de Meubles. In 1853, under the leadership of Lejambre's widow, Anna Rainier, the firm began to manufacture its own furniture, and, in 1867, its name was officially changed to A. & H. Lejambre to reflect the partnership of Anna and Henri Lejambre (her son-in-law and cousin), which was begun in 1865 and which would carry the firm into the twentieth century. As A. & H. Lejambre, the business produced mostly adaptations of 18th-century French forms decorated with French Renaissance details and was known for mixing styles and periods within a room as well as in single pieces of furniture.
Today, however, the firm is remembered essentially for a small group of Aesthetic furniture, including a group of tables such as the present example, that, both technically and aesthetically, are among the finest pieces of furniture produced in the United States in their day. Curiously, while all of these tables seem to share the same type of Godwinesque inspiration, none of the tables that have come to light are identical. This highlights the fact that the firm of A. & H. Lejambre sought to offer each client a unique production.
CONDITION: Excellent. The mahogany surfaces have been cleaned and French polished to replicate the original surface. The brass elements have been cleaned and coated with a tinted lacquer to reproduce their original appearance.