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Multiform Table

On view

Multiform Table

Artist: Charles A. Baudouine (1808-1895; active New York, New York, 1829-c.1854)

Date: 1852
Medium: Rosewood, ash, black walnut, unknown tropical wood, modern felt, leather
Dimensions:
Half table: 29 3/8 x 46 1/2 x 16 in. (closed); 29 3/8 x 46 1/2 x 31 3/4 in. (open); two halves joined as center table: 29 3/8 x 46 1/2 x 31 3/4 in.
Signed: Stenciled label inside drawer on each: "FROM / C.A. BAUDOUINE / 335 BROADWAY / NEW YORK"
Credit Line: PROCTOR COLLECTION
Object number: PC. 423.1-2
Label Text
By the mid-nineteenth century it became customary to acquire suites of matching parlor furniture that included armchairs, side chairs, a sofa or settee, and a center table. Other forms, such as an étagère or a méridienne, could also be purchased en suite.

Whereas James and Helen Williams of Utica New York, could have afforded a richly carved set of furniture from John Henry Belter's shop, located just down the block from Charles Baudouine's, the elegant simplicity and quality of the furniture made in
Baudouine's shop appealed to the Williams' taste. In 1852, when they furnished the formal parlor of their Genesee Street home, Fountain Elms, they paid $512 for a suite of ten pieces: two armchairs, four side chairs, two settees, and this two-part "multiform table." (See also P.C. 423.3-10).
Text Entries

In the late 1840s and early 1850s James Williams frequently traveled to New York City to procure furnishings from the best firms for his Utica house, although the Utica city directory of 1852 lists fifty-three cabinetmakers, and Albany, also endowed with fine cabinetmakers, was much closer to home. In 1846 James purchased a worktable (cat. no. 26) made in the shop of Charles Baudouine (1808-95) for his fiancee Helen Munson. Six years later, the elegant simplicity of the worktable apparently appealing to the Williamses’ conservative taste, the couple went back to Baudouine’s shop for an analogous rosewood parlor suite. The May 1852 bill of sale reads: (1)

1 Suit Rosewood Furniture in

Green Tapestry Viz.

2 Tete a Tetes, 4 Chairs & 2 Fauteuils [armchairs] 340.

1 Rosewood Multiform Table 160.

Boxing 5 Boxes $2.50 12.50

$512.50

Executed in a customary interpretation of the rococo revival or Louis XV style, the MWPI parlor grouping is the largest known extant suite of documented Baudouine furniture. The graceful outline of each chair is accented at the crest by a subtle arch enhanced with modest volutes. In a similarly restrained manner, the cabriole legs feature an unobtrusive cabochon on each knee, and the curved seat rail is decorated with gentle scrolls on either side of a central cabochon. In overall form each settee (téte-a-téte) resembles two joined armchairs. The settees are somewhat more complex in their decoration than the chairs: on each settee a carved stylized leaf spray fills the middle of the back, and seat rail carvings that resemble shield-shaped medallions are accented by volutes.

The two sections of the aptly named multiform table can be joined to create a center table (opposite, bottom) or used individually (opposite, top). In the configuration of a center table, the four pierced and castered inner legs cluster together to form a central “pedestal” with a striking, sinuous outline.(2) Nonetheless, the practicality of using the multiform table  a center table might be questioned because of the intrusive middle seam that is created when the tables are joined. The separated sections form matching side tables, which can be used as gaming tables by swinging the inner legs (joined to the outer legs by curved stretchers) outward until the four legs form a square. The top leaf, when lifted and resting upon the repositioned legs, reveals a felt-covered surface.

The simplicity of the tabletop with the applied carved moldings on the skirt is in keeping with the tenor of the suite, but the legs are more intricate. Each outer leg, beginning with a carved corbel at the skirt, descends in rhythmic C-scrolls. Each inner leg is pierced to follow its scroll. Several examples of this table design survive, testifying to the popularity of flexible forms of furniture at a time when parlors and drawing rooms were used for multiple purposes.(3)

1. Invoice in MWPI Archives.

2. One section of the table has a set of wooden screws on the underside; the other section has threaded holes to receive the screws.

3. A similar settee and table are in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arm, Boston (accession nos. 1978.379 and 1981.299, respectively). Tables identical with the MWPI example can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Tex., and the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Mo.