Bostonians in the first three decades of the 19th century preferred well-made, subdued, and, on occasion, slightly old-fashioned furniture to the showier, high-style furniture associated with New York cabinetmakers of the time. This sofa table embodies this aesthetic in its emphasis on highly polished, veneered surfaces, functional yet pleasing form, and gracefully articulated yet subdued carving. One drawer is fitted as a writing desk, with a mahogany board covered on one side with baize (now restored), which lifts up and can be adjusted by means of a ratchet mechanism.
Sofa tables are relatively rare in America, and the majority have lyres at either end of the base. Those published suggest that Bostonians used the form more frequently than their peers in other cities.1[See, for example, Miller 1937, 2:749, no. 1422, and 2:751, no. 1425; Nutting 1928, no. 1010; an example illustrated in DAPC, gift of Kenneth Hammit; Sack Collection, 30: P4505 and 35: P5028; and Maine Antiques Digest (December 1985), 3B.] Before being acquired by the Department of State, this table was installed in the Oak Hill parlor in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.2Letter, Edward L. Stone to Clement E. Conger, June 18, 1982, Curatorial Files, Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The table was on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1979 until 1981.
The sofa table relates to several other Boston-made examples, particularly in the use of acanthus-carved bulb shapes on the stretcher meeting at a rope-carved disk. An almost identical stretcher frequently appears on a very popular form of card table, consisting of a rectangular top with canted corners resting on four reeded columns upon four outward-curving legs with brass paw feet.3For similar examples, see the St. Louis Art Museum, acc. no. 801.1983; Christie’s, Sale 5978, October 19, 1985, Lot 176, purchased by Israel Sack, illustrated in Maine Antiques Digest (December 1985); and The High Museum, Atlanta, acc. no. 1977.1000.21.
A wine cooler from the Karolik Collection, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has the same bulbous acanthus carving and roped carved ring at the top of its finely reeded legs. The two pieces and other related examples may have been the work of one shop, or may simply reflect a popular decorative form.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.