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Pier Table
by Charles-Honoré Lannuier
1815–19
Purchase, Ronald S. Kane Bequest, in memory of Berry B. Tracy, 2018
2018.30a, b
Episode 4 / 2018
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Featured Work

...the mirrored surfaces of the pier table would have shimmered for onlookers in a spectacle of Leray's prosperity."

Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779-1819) was a talented ébéniste (cabinetmaker) who migrated to New York from Paris at the age of twenty-four. The motivations for his move are unknown, but he came of age during the French Revolution and gained his training in the competitive Parisian furniture trade. From 1803 to 1819, Lannuier's activity in New York permanently changed the quality, complexity, and sculptural nature of furniture produced in America.

The table embodies the blending of French traditions in America, and hints at the lifestyle that French exiles fleeing the Revolution reconstructed abroad. Throughout his career, Lannuier borrowed heavily from French sources that inventively resurrected forms from classical antiquity. He tempered sumptuous French Neoclassical designs to suite the tastes of clients in New York and beyond. This pier table was made for Jacques-Donatien "James" Leray de Chaumont (1760-1840), a wealthy French merchant and land speculator in upstate New York whose family was also close friends with Benjamin Franklin.

No expense was spared in the craftsmanship of this pier table. Lannuier hired skilled furniture makers, often trained in the French guilds, with a deep understanding of quality. The Lannuier workshop applied flashy, crotch-grain mahogany veneers to the frame that create a theatrical interplay of pattern and reflection. The carved wood caryatids supporting the top have layers of meticulously sculpted gesso that provide crisp contours to the birdlike female figure. Lannuier procured costly gilt-brass mounts from France in the form of a Roman mask (placed at the center of the apron) and flanking lyres (on the canted corners), which harmonize gracefully with the Neoclassical fervor of the period. In daylight or candlelight, the veneered, gilt, brass, and mirrored surfaces of the pier table would have shimmered for onlookers in a spectacle of Leray's prosperity.

Alyce Perry Englund
Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts
The American Wing
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