If you’ve ever been to the New York Historical Society, you might have noticed Duncan Phyfe’s toolbox. While Duncan Phyfe didn’t make everything that came out of his shop himself, a lot emanated from that box. Today it may be said that the style “Duncan Phyfe” is more widely known than the cabinetmaker. Yet, they are unseperable and that his work inspired not only immitators, but generations of furniture of varying qualities bearing his name, is reaffirmation that Phyfe is America’s best-known cabinetmaker.
The largest showcase of Phyfe’s work was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1922 when the last pieces to emmanate from his shop crossed the threshold of being an antique with 100 years of age. In just under a century, a large collection of Phyfe’s work will be on display again at the Met January 19- April 25, 2010.The exhibition will cover the full chronological sweep of Phyfe’s distinguished career, including his earliest and best-known furniture based on the published designs of Thomas Sheraton as well as work from the middle and later stages of his career, when he adopted the richer “archaeological” antique style of the 1820s and a refined plain Grecian style based on French Restauration prototypes.
Born Duncan Fife in Loch Fannich, Scotland, he immigrated to Albany, New York, at age 16 and served as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. In 1792, he changed the spelling of his name, moved to New York City, and opened his own business in 1794, which eventually employed over a hundred workers.
The show will also appear at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I’m not sure how they will manage the April 13, 2010 opening when the show is scheduled at the Met through April 25, however.