Side chair

Herter Brothers American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 743

William H. Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, inherited a vast fortune and a lucrative transport business, which he expanded exponentially, becoming one of the wealthiest men in America. In 1879, to mark his elevated social and economic status, he built a mansion that spanned an entire city block on Fifth Avenue, between Fifty-First and Fifty-Second Streets. He commissioned Herter Brothers, one of the premier cabinetmaking firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish his home. In devising distinct decorative schemes for each room of the mansion, Herter Brothers drew inspiration from a wide range of historical styles and utilized expensive, exotic materials.

Vanderbilt’s library was conceived as a masculine, solemn, and quiet space to house antique works of art and bound volumes. The woodwork and furnishings were rosewood carved in a Renaissance style and inlaid with brass and mother-of-pearl swags utilizing a graduated pearl motif, recalling a similar leitmotif from the drawing room. The ceiling was embellished with gold and small pieces of mirror glass. The delicacy of this side chair, one of a pair, belied the heaviness and monumentality of the room, notably the large library table, also in the Museum’s collection. The design on the chair’s back is virtually identical to that adorning each corner of the tabletop. The sumptuous quality of the room was accentuated by its fabric wall covering and upholstery in a rich cut velvet design, a contemporary replication of which now covers the chair.

Side chair, Herter Brothers (German, active New York, 1864–1906), Rosewood, brass, mother-of-pearl, and reproduction upholstery, American

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