Speaking of Sofa’s: A Look at Furniture in the Upcoming Doyle Auction

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.

Tingey House, Washington DC
Tingey House, Washington DC

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.

Lot 139 of Sale 09AM01 at Doyle Auction
Lot 139 of Sale 09AM01 at Doyle Auction

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.

Lot 162 of Sale 09AM01 at Doyle
Lot 162 of Sale 09AM01 at Doyle

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.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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