Card Table with Lyre Base, about 1815
Mahogany, striped and bird’s eye maple, and ebony (secondary woods: cherry, mahogany, oak, and poplar), with gilt-brass paw toe caps and castors, strings for the lyres, and gilt-brass and ormolu mounts
28 1/2 in. high, 35 in. wide, 17 1/2 in. deep (at the top), 18 in. deep (at the castors); open: 35 x 35 in.
RECORDED: J. Michael Flanigan, American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986), pp. 184 no. 73, 185 illus. in color // Henry Hawley, “Philadelphia Tables with Lyre Supports,” The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art 75 (January 1988), pp. 12 discussed and illustrated as figure 13, 26 fn. 21
EXHIBITED: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1986, American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection, pp. 184-85 no. 73 illus. in color (text by J. Michael Flanigan) // Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 2018–19, Augmenting the Canon: Recent Acquisitions of American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts, pp. 24–25 no. 3 illus. in color
ON DEPOSIT: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2012–17
EX COLL.: [Ronald A. DeSilva, Inc., New York]; to Mr. and Mrs. George Kaufman, Norfolk, Virginia, until 2017
Although it has been broadly acknowledged that the words “masterpiece” and “masterwork” have all too frequently been applied to undeserving works of art, the present lyre-base card table is, without question, to be so described. It is part of a group of related card tables, work tables, and a single drop-leaf table that were brought together by Henry Hawley, formerly Chief Curator of Later Western Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in an article titled “Philadelphia Tables with Lyre Supports” that appeared in The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art for January 1988.
By the time Hawley’s article was published, he had inventoried nine game (or card) tables, five or six work tables, and a single drop-leaf table as part of a unified group that likely originated in a single shop. Among the work tables that Hawley published is one formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. James Halpin, which uniquely provides a clue to the authorship of the tables in this group: a partial printed cabinetmaker’s label, which is largely gone except for a line reading “Philadelphie, Pa.,” which suggests the likelihood that the cabinetmaker was one of the considerable number of French émigrés residing in Philadelphia in the early years of the nineteenth century. When a related table in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was included in the landmark exhibition Classical America, 1825–1845 at The Newark Museum in 1963, the show organizer Berry B. Tracy suggested that it was “possibly by Michel Bouvier of Philadelphia. Hawley additionally suggested that Bouvier may actually have been actively engaged in the cabinetmaking trade in New York between his arrival in the middle of 1815 and his documented residence in Philadelphia in 1817.
Hawley further suggests that a possible association with the French émigré cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier of New York might explain the strong parallels between Lannuier’s work and this group of Philadelphia tables, especially the mutual use of exotically figured light-colored woods and some use of the same gilt mounts. For just as striped maple and bird’s eye maple make an important aesthetic contribution to the success of the Philadelphia tables, so Lannuier used bird’s eye maple to considerable effect on a remarkable pair of figural card tables now divided between The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the collection of Mrs. George Kaufman, and a pier table that generously employs a richly figured burl elm. This might also account for a mutual use of certain ormolu mounts, the one on the center of the skirt of the present table and the one on the platform supporting the lyre both being found on pieces of Lannuier furniture as well, but very rarely on pieces of other American furniture of this period.
The as-yet unidentified designer and fabricator of the present table has not yet been convincingly identified, but he brought to his work an ultimate level of artistry and craft, and created a masterpiece of his time and place.