A visit to Doyle Auction’s preview for the upcoming sale on April 7, Tuesday proved to be a worthwhile expense of a few hours looking at some exceptional American furniture.
The market has seen some signs of rebound. At Doyle the lack of quantity in this sale is made up by the increase in quality. A lot of lots have the provenance of Tingey House, the official residence of the Chief of Naval Operations since 1977. Among them, there are a magnificent side table, a center tilt-top table. Both were probably made in the first quarter of the 19th century in neo-classical style. The side table, possibly made in New York, has a carved pineapple in the center base supporting four columns. The paw feet are ebonized contrasting the gilt acanthus leaves. The carving of the feet was not as deep as some empire style side tables, but demonstrates a stylized lively form: the fur is carved like shallow relief as if tightly following the skin while knuckle points are indicated by round dents instead. Like most of the antique side tables, the mahogany veneer has some chips and repair; but Geo and I both agree the estimate is a fair price.
The surprise came when we began to examine a New York mahogany sofa, another lot from Tingey House. Based on the description in the catalog, the sofa was made in New York circa 1820. It reminded me of another sofa I am quite familiar with. The crest rail, veneered with the same type of glossy red mahogany, ends in deeply carved scrolled rosettes. The scrolling arms with leafage carving taper and curve into another pair of rosette flowers. The masculine paw feet are carved with a near anatomic realism. Oriented with toes slightly forward, the feet look as if they would spring at any moment. Above the paw feet, there are cornucopias in a wing shape. Every detail seemed to tell me that the pattern is the same on both sofas, they could be of the same maker– except one important feature: the length.
Most of the sofas available in the auction houses tend to be close to 90 inches in length. In most of the New York Apartments, such sofas would look monstrous. Finding a smaller-sized antique sofa of say 80 inches can prove difficult.
There’s also a sofa with similar carving in the Brooklyn Museum. About half a year ago a curator there commented that sofa may have begun its life in a longer form. It’s unusually short, but none-the-less attractive and graceful.
It’s always fun to analyze the course of events in the life of an antique. Look at them from all angles, including underneath. Look at the seams in the veneer, the size of carvings, major deviations in the carvings, etc. The piece of furniture will speak to you. Chances are it has a lot to say.