Monumental American Classical Hand-Painted and Gilt Pier Mirror
At one time, looking glasses of this form were thought to have been made exclusively in Albany, New York. “Albany glasses,” many of which have been found in the Hudson River region, are generally ornamented with eagles, festoons of small gilt balls, and other Federal emblems.1See Comstock 1968, 23. The Collection’s mirror is cited in ibid. A comparable mirror was illustrated in Comstock 1964, 440, and described as “a Sheraton looking glass typical of Albany.” They are further distinguished by a carved, gilded cornice, surmounted by triangular eglomisé mounts on each side, and a central rectangular eglomisé panel. Charles F. Montgomery noted that their makers and dates are unknown and that they are made principally of white pine, without the presence of European woods.2Montgomery 1966, 277. This is true of the Collection’s example.
Concerning the birthplace of the glasses, Rodric Blackburn writes that “the talent and some demand for such looking glasses was in Albany” during the earliest years of the 19th century, but he adds that “Albanians in the late 18th century were ordering much of their better furniture from New York City.”3See correspondence with the author, May 19, 1989, and August 30, 1989, in the Curatorial Files, Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Contemporary newspaper advertisements indicate that these mirrors were manufactured both in Albany and New York City and that this style received considerable acclaim, accounting for the wide circulation of such looking glasses throughout New York State and beyond.4Fonney and White of Albany advertised on June 23, 1808, that they had “on hand of their own manufacturing, an extensive assortment of twisted, single and double pillared Gild Looking Glasses of the newest and most approved patterns, with or without tops . . .,” Albany Gazette.
In 1913, a very similar looking glass, illustrated in Lockwood’s early book on American furniture, was owned by Annie B. Swan of Providence, Rhode Island. Another looking glass of this same form and decoration bears the label “George Dean, agent in Salem for Stillman Lothrop’s Looking Glass Manufactory, Boston.” Perhaps Lothrop was importing these glasses from New York.5Illustrated in DAPC.
The subjects of the eglomisé panel at the top of these mirrors varied from landscape to marine to figural to historical in theme. In this case, the scene is classically inspired. While not unique to this looking glass, a figural subject for eglomisé panels is relatively rare (see for example, Acc. No. 85.36).
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.