Thirteen Years Short of a Century, Phyfe at the Met

Designs by Duncan Phyfe
Designs by Duncan Phyfe

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.

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 will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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