- Of the Period
- Place of origin
- Date of manufacturecirca 1810
- Materials and techniques
- WearWear consistent with age and use. Minor losses.
H 27.88 in. x W 18.13 in. x D 16.75 in.
H 70.82 cm x W 46.06 cm x D 42.55 cm
- Seller locationNew York, NY
- Reference numberf107581601193885123fs
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About Duncan Phyfe (Cabinetmaker)
Duncan Phyfe was arguably the greatest early American cabinetmaker — and undoubtedly the most prominent. In his long tenure as the furniture provider of choice to wealthy and fashionable New Yorkers, Phyfe promoted a unique interpretation of the neoclassical style that set a standard for elegance and taste that remains influential in the United States to this day.
Born Duncan Fife, he immigrated with his family from Scotland to Albany, New York, in 1784. Precisely where Phyfe received his training in woodworking and joinery remains unclear, but by 1794 he had moved to New York City, married, made the distinctive change in the spelling of his family name and established a cabinetmaking workshop and showroom in lower Manhattan. Phyfe likely drew inspiration for his wares from the designs published in pattern books by Georgian-era English furniture makers like Thomas Sheraton. To these, Phyfe added his own variations on carved details that referenced antiquity: lyres, fasces, paw-shaped feet, fluted column-like legs and curved or scrolled armrests. The elegant neoclassical aesthetic helped shape the unformed tastes of clients like fur trader and landowner John Jacob Astor, whose patronage drew other members of the city’s growing merchant class to Phyfe’s door. By the early 1800s, Phyfe had a skilled workforce of more than 100 craftsmen.
Phyfe would dabble in several other furniture styles — Empire, Rococo, Gothic Revival — as decorating trends came and went, but neoclassicism remained the keynote of his work. Assisted by his sons, Phyfe stayed in business until 1847 and retired as one of the richest men in the city. He seldom applied a label or maker’s mark to his workshop’s creations, perhaps believing his signature style and outstanding craftsmanship spoke for themselves.
Despite his company’s large output, relatively few pieces can be conclusively ascribed to Phyfe, and most of those are in museums. A popular 1922 exhibition of Phyfe’s work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York revived interest in his work and made his name a byword for fine American antique furniture. As a consequence, Duncan Phyfe attributions abound in stores and galleries. Collectors are advised to buy only from dealers with the highest reputation, and to display that purchase proudly if you do. Furniture by Duncan Phyfe is a true national treasure.