Houston’s main claim to fame is arguably its international Space Centre. However, until 9th September, visitors have a rare opportunity to see antique marquetry furniture by Duncan Phyffe, America’s most famous cabinetmaker, in an exhibition at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
The touring exhibition “Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2011, moving to Houston on 24th June. It was the first such retrospective of Phyfe’s work since the New York Met exhibition of 1922; the first in the world dedicated to a single cabinetmaker. Now, people can once more admire the antique dining tables, Open Bookcases and other works produced at his Fulton Street workshops in a show which chronicles the entire career of America’s best known and most revered cabinetmaker. The many highlights include an antique chest containing the master craftsman’s own woodworking tools.
Although Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854) is relatively unknown in Cumbria, his antique balloon back dining chairs and other furniture often looked to English designs. A Scottish immigrant who moved to New York City in 1791, his work in the early Regency period was heavily influenced by English designers, although by the 1820s he had developed a more opulent, Grecian style sometimes known as “American Empire”. In the 1830s, his antique dining chairs and tables became sleekly minimalistic in what is called the “Grecian Plain” style, influenced by French Restoration designs.
As with Robert Gillow in Lancashire, the antique oak pedestal desks and other furniture made by Duncan Phyfe have been widely recreated. Look in areas like Preston, where antique marquetry furniture of similar quality can be found at good antique dealers.
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