Purchase, Margery Masinter, Sheila Wood Schwartz, Gloria Wells Sidnam, Julie Graham, Diana C. Landreth and Steven M. Kossak Gifts and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1994
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 743
This is one of several side chairs known to survive from the dining room Christian Herter designed for William H. Vanderbilt's (1821-1885) house at 640 Fifth Avenue, New York. An iconography of bounty governed the room, drawn from Renaissance precedents as was popular during the period. The lush swag of flowers, nuts, and berries sculpted on the chair’s crest rail was one of several such motifs unifying the room’s carved oak furnishings and paneling: contemporary photographs show that on either side of the built-in buffet pairs of plump putti held similar swags aloft. The legs and stretchers, however, bear no relationship to European precedents and distinguish this chair as one of Herter's most original designs. The stretcher is a complex composition of interlocking parts held in taut balance by equal forces of vertical and horizontal tension. A pendant bow-shaped loop is connected to a pair of square rings mounted on a rod, which is braced against the legs by spreading palmettes; a carved sash, woven through the rings, curls around this element. Nineteenth-century seating furniture for dining rooms was typically upholstered in leather for ease of cleaning. The original covering of this chair was described in a period source as being a "dull-red, stamped leather, of special designs, relieved with gold in Cordova fashion." The gilded leather, in a modern replacement, and shaped brass mounts contrast brightly with the richly colored oak.
Marking: [impressed on underside rear of proper right stretcher]: 137 [incised inside seat rail]: XVII