Monday, July 16, 2012

Celery at the Dining Table

Fig. 1  Celery vase with celery
stalks. Photograph©The Strong
Museum, Rochester, NY
No dinner in the Victorian period was complete without a side of celery.  For most of the nineteenth century, celery was perceived as a high-status food and occupied a prominent position on the dining table.  From approximately 1830 to 1890, celery was served “in the rough” with the leaves still attached, in a celery vase made of blown or pressed glass.  Together, the leafy celery and glass vase created a decorative accent for the dining table, similar to a bouquet of flowers (fig. 1).

Fig. 2  Celery vase, E. V. Haughwout
and Company (active 1855-1861), 
1855-1860, New York City, New
York. Cut glass. Dallas Museum
of Art, Dallas, TX
Celery vases consist of a tall, narrow, tapered bowl above a pedestal base. These vases were made in blown glass with cut and faceted motifs or in pressed glass shaped and decorated in a mold. Some examples were produced in earthenware with a Rockingham or flint-enamel glaze (fig. 5).  The form always remained essentially the same—that of a vase—but the decoration varied from the geometric to the naturalistic.

Fig. 3  Celery vase, 1850-1870,
America. Pressed glass. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY
The most expensive celery vases were made of blown glass cut either with slightly concave panels or with faceted motifs such as relief diamonds (fig. 2).  Occasionally the cut patterns were combined with engraved decoration.  Pressed glass examples were much less expensive and therefore accessible to middle class families (fig. 3).  Whether blown or pressed, celery vases were typically made to match a glass table service consisting of wine glasses, water goblets, compotes, pitchers, decanters, and other pieces (fig.4).

In the final decades of the nineteenth century, celery dishes appeared alongside traditional celery vases.  A celery dish usually assumes the form of a long, narrow oval, frequently with handles at the ends.  Unlike the tall and vertical celery vase, the celery dish is low and horizontal.  Both forms were offered by manufacturers into the early twentieth century.

Fig. 4  Wine glass, celery vase and water bottle from
a cut-glass table service, Bakewell, Page and
Bakewell (active 1808-1882), 1829-1830, Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. Cut and engraved glass. Collection
of the White House, Washington, D.C.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, celery dishes were manufactured in a variety of materials including porcelain, cut glass, and pressed glass.  Examples made of porcelain frequently feature painted decoration of sprays of flowers and a border of slightly raised gilt scrolls.   A large proportion of porcelain celery dishes were manufactured in Europe by companies such as Haviland of Limoges, France, and R.S. Prussia in Germany.

Fig. 5  Celery vase, Lyman,
Fenton & Co. (active 1849-
1852), 1849-1852, Bennington,
Vermont. Earthenware with
flint-enamel glaze. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY
At the turn of the twentieth century, porcelain dinner services made in France, England and Germany flooded the American market.  These services usually included a dish for celery in addition to many other serving pieces.

Between 1890 and 1920, celery dishes were also manufactured in American Brilliant cut glass (fig. 6).  Made of a heavy lead glass deeply cut with diamonds, stars, fans, hobnails, and other faceted motifs, Brilliant glass celery dishes beautifully refracted the light and, in combination with other cut-glass tableware, created a lustrous effect at the dining table.

Fig. 6  Celery dish, 1890-1900, America. Cut glass.
Historic New England, Boston, MA
The patterns in pressed glass celery dishes made at the turn of the twentieth century frequently imitate the high-relief faceted shapes found in Brilliant cut-glass examples.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Grecian Couch


Fig. 1 Design for a Grecian couch, attributed to Gillows (active 1730-
1897), c.1820, Lancaster and London. Ink and gouache on paper.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
In the early nineteenth century, reclining was all the rage.  It was considered quite elegant for a woman to appear recumbent on a couch, or daybed, her legs outstretched on the seat while she rested the upper part of her body against one end.  In many of the recent film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, the Regency-period fashion of reclining on a couch is beautifully depicted in a drawing room scene where a classically garbed female in a high-waisted gown lolls on a daybed arranged with cushions and bolsters.

Fig. 2  Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825), Juliette Recamier,
1800. Oil on canvas. Musee du Louvre, Paris
The Grecian couch (fig. 1), as this seating type was described in the early decades of the nineteenth century, was at the height of popularity during the Regency period in England and the Empire period in France.  The new furniture form appeared in the United States during the late Federal years, 1810-1830. 

The Grecian couch is alternatively referred to as a Recamier, after Madame Recamier, wife of wealthy banker Jacques Recamier and famed leader of Parisian society during the years following the French Revolution.  Napoleonic court painter Jacques-Louis David executed a portrait of Madame Recamier relining languidly on a couch, her back resting against one end arranged with bolsters (fig. 2).

Fig. 3 Couch, 1st-2nd century A.D., Roman. Wood, bone and
glass. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Grecian couch was considered de rigueur for fashionable drawing rooms and parlors.  When made as a pair, the couches were typically arranged symmetrically at right angles to the fireplace in the drawing room (fig. 4).   As a result of this placement, the couches projected into the center of the room and occupied a prominent position among the other drawing room furnishings.

Fig. 4  Design for a drawing room at Taymouth in Perthshire,
Scotland, Sir John Soane (British, 1753-1837), 1808. Watercolor
on paper. Sir John Soane's Museum, London


Grecian couches are comprised of a long seat, scrolled ends in which one is typically raised higher than the other and a back that extends approximately either one half or three quarters the length of the seat (figs. 5, 6 & 7).  The seat was usually arranged with a cushion, bolsters and pillows for comfortable reclining.  Sofas of the period exhibit the same scrolled outline, but are easily distinguished from couches by arms of equal height and a back that extends the full length of the seat.

The legs on which couches stand vary from a type called “saber,” borrowing its curved outline from the sword of the same name, to turned legs to carved animal legs terminating in paw feet.  The combination of classical legs and scrolling ends lends the couch an archeological quality while the partial back, which usually curves downwards, adds a touch of elegant asymmetry.

Fig. 5  Grecian couch, c.1825, New York or Philadelphia. Cherry 
with rosewood graining and gilt decoration, brass. Carnegie Museum
of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Details such as the scrolled ends and saber, turned or animal-shaped legs derive from ancient Greek and Roman furniture. Archaeological investigations into the remains of ancient cultures inspired the European taste for furniture with an “antique classical” appearance.  These methodical studies, conducted during the eighteenth century, uncovered examples of ancient furniture that survived the millennia relatively intact as well as temple fragments, grave steles, vases and urns bearing scenes of daily life that clearly depicted the types of furnishings found in Greek and Roman households.  Such artifacts served as prototypes for European designers and craftsmen who catered to the taste for archaeologically inspired classical furniture during the years from 1800 to 1830.

Fig. 6  Grecian couch, c.1825, Boston, Massachusetts. Rosewood
with rosewood graining, brass. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

The model for the early-nineteenth-century daybed was the Roman couch (fig. 3). Used in antiquity for the purpose of dining, the couch featured a long seat on which guests reclined.  The seat was fitted with a headrest and a footrest of scrolled profile to facilitate reclining and provided with a cushion to make the couch more comfortable.

Fig. 7   Grecian couch, c.1815-1825, New York City, New York. 
Ebonized wood with gilt decoration, gilding, vert antique. Baltimore
Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Grecian couches made in America between 1810 and 1830 emulated primarily English Regency examples with scrolled ends of unequal height and an asymmetrical back. The details and decoration varied according to the client's tastes and size of his pocket book.  Examples were made in a variety of materials including mahogany, rosewood and ebonized wood.  The frames were embellished with different types of decoration such as carving, brass mounts and gilt ornament.  Furniture makers in the cities of Baltimore and New York produced some of the most elaborate and elegant examples of Grecian couches, which featured a combination of carving and gilt decoration (fig. 7).

Fig. 8  Parlor. Picnic House, built c.1835, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Klismos-Form Chairs

Fig. 1  Stele (grave marker) of a man,
c.375-350 B.C., Greek, marble.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY
In the eighteenth century, a renewed interest in classical antiquity was spurred by the discovery and subsequent excavation of the ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.  Shortly afterwards Greek cities such as Athens and Palmyra also became the focus of archaeological investigations.  The new information yielded by these archaeological studies inspired a full-scale revival of ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture.  The new fashion, described as Neoclassicism, dominated English and French architecture, interior decoration, furniture and other decorative arts from the late eighteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. 

Fig. 2  Side chair, attributed to 
Samuel McIntire (1757-1811),
1794-1799, Salem, Massachusetts.
Mahogany. The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Neoclassical style appeared in the United States shortly after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.  Its adoption coincided with the forming of the new American government, a period described as the Federal years.  The style was deemed appropriate for the fledgling nation because of its associations with the democratic ideals of ancient Greece and the republican virtues of early Rome.

Between 1790 and 1810, American furniture featured the straight lines, geometric shapes and classical decoration associated with the Neoclassical style (figs. 2 & 3).  In the opening years of the nineteenth century, Neoclassicism entered an archaeological phase, when designers and cabinetmakers copied the forms of ancient Greek and Roman furniture.  Archaeological prototypes dominated American furniture design into the 1830s.

Fig. 3  Sideboard, c.1790, New York City, New York. Mahogany.
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

One such antique model was the klismos, a distinctive type of chair used in ancient Greece (fig. 1).  The klismos chair stood on deeply curved legs, described as “saber” due to their similarity to the sword of the same name.  A deep crest rail that curved to accommodate the back of the sitter surmounted the outswept support, both of which echoed the curves of the saber legs.

Fig. 5  Scroll-back side chair, 1810-1820,
New York City, New York. Mahogany.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York, NY
Fig. 4  Tablet-back side chair, attributed to John
and Hugh Finlay (active 1800-1833), 1815-1820,

Baltimore, Maryland. Maple with painted
decoration. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY
The Greek klismos was the most popular archaeological model for chairs made in the Unites States between about 1810 and 1830.  American Neoclassical chairs of klismos form stand on downswept saber legs that frequently terminate in carved lion's paw feet.  The stiles, or vertical supports, elegantly curve out from the sides of the seat and rise to a crest rail, which either scrolls toward the back or takes on the form of a rectangular tablet. Depending on the shape of the crest, the chair is identified as either tablet-back (fig. 4) or scroll back (fig. 5)  The backs of chairs with scrolled crest rails feature a splat in the form of a lyre or harp, curved or straight cross bars (fig. 6) or a center rail comprised of a tablet flanked by acanthus leaves.  Motifs commonly found in the carved decoration on scrolled crest rails include cornucopias, ribbon-tied reeds and strands of wheat.  Legs, stiles and seat rails are typically decorated with reeding.

Fig. 6  Scroll-back side chair, attributed to Duncan
Phyfe (1770-1854), 1810-1815, New York City, New
York. Mahogany. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY

Klismos-form chairs were made in a variety of woods including mahogany, rosewood and maple.   Some examples feature painted and/or gilt decoration on a red or black ground (fig. 7).

The American taste for archaeologically inspired furniture coincided with the emergence and dissemination of the Greek Revival style in architecture and interior decoration.  A thoroughly "Grecian" interior featured decoration of Greek Ionic or Corinthian columns, pilasters, architraves and a full entablature, complemented by furniture based on archaeological models, including klismos-form chairs (fig. 8).

Fig. 7  Tablet-back side chair, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe (American, 1764-1820), c.1808, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Yellow poplar, oak, maple and white pine with painted and gilt decorationHigh Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

Fig. 8  Design for double parlors, Alexander Jackson Davis (American, 1803-1892), c.1830. Watercolor on paper. The New-York Historical Society, New York, NY