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Worktable

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

Date: c. 1846
Medium: Rosewood, mahogany, white oak veneer, ash, glass, brass, metal
Dimensions:
Overall: 29 1/4 × 20 1/2 × 15 3/8in. (74.3 × 52.1 × 39.1cm)
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 420
Label Text
James Williams purchased this multifunction, French-inspired worktable--capable of serving as a sewing table as well as a writing surface--as an engagement gift for his future wife, Helen Munson. The lid, mirrored on the underside, opens to permit access to the interior of the table, which is fitted with a four-sectioned, removable tray above a single compartment. A "hidden" drawer, located beneath the body of the table, is not readily visible to a casual observer. This drawer can be opened only when a small lever, located next to the interior tray, is lifted and held.

ATD

Text Entries

During the years Charles Baudouine (1808-95) operated his cabinetmaking firm, he established one of the preeminent shops in New York City.(1) The Stranger’s Guide in the City of New-York, 1852 noted that “Mr. Baudouine is one of the oldest manufacturers in N. York, and we do not hesitate to pronounce him the most enterprising and extensive one in the country. The rapidity of his rise, and his increasing reputation and fame, furnishes an excellent illustration of the onward progress of the times.”(2) The quality and scope of Baudouine’s products rivaled that of his competitors, such as John Henry Belter, whose shop in 1851 was only a few doors from Baudouine’s establishment.“ Although he trained in New York City, Baudouine was aware of prevailing European styles and worked in modes from the elaborate rococo revival to simple Renaissance expressions.

Earnest Hagen (1830-1913), who worked in Baudouine’s shop around 1854, left a manuscript memoir, “Personal Experiences of an Old New York Cabinetmaker,” which includes a detailed portrait of Baudouine’s business.(4) Baudouine began his career in 1829 with a small shop at 508 Pearl Street. According to Hagen, Baudouine opened his shop “with a capital of $300, which he got from his wife, Ann Postley, who kept a milliner shop nearby.”(5) By the 1850s Baudouine’s growing business employed about two hundred hands, including approximately seventy cabinetmakers as well as carvers, varnishers, and upholsterers.(6) Baudouine was not only a manufacturer of furniture; he was also an importer. Hagen explained that Baudouine made annual trips to France and that he “imported a great deal of French furniture and upholstery coverings, French hardware, trimmings, and other material used in his shop.”(7) Measuring “Q75 feet long,” the luxurious Baudouine salesrooms were reportedly “one of the greatest attractions in the City.”(8) R. G. Dun & Company’s credit report notes that Baudouine had “a large and flourishing business” and that those who had “dealt with him for many years . . . always found him forthright and honorable in his dealings.”(9)

Notable pieces of labeled Baudouine furniture illustrate the breadth of his creations and his strong reliance on French design. Objects produced in Baudouine’s shop range from intricately carved etageres to conservative parlor suites.(10) Hagen’s memoir describes the “gaudy and over ornate,” carved, French-style furniture made in the shop and “the rosewood heaxy over decorated parlor [suites] with round perforated backs” that Baudouine sold for twelve hundred dollars a set.(11) Although Baudouine apparently also worked in the Gothic style, no known pieces in this mode have been attributed to him.

After retiring from his successful career as a cabinet-maker, Baudouine invested in real estate, a venture that brought him additional prosperity. He resided on Park Avenue, and accounts of his life often observe that he traveled in a coach-and-four. At the time of his death in 1895 his estate was reportedly valued at about five million dollars.

Numerous examples of Baudouine’s work survive in the collection of MWPI and are a testament to the quality of the wares his shop produced. On his frequent trips from Utica to New York, James Watson Williams often acquired furnishings for his home, and this worktable is his first documented purchase from Charles Baudouine’s shop. Williams paid sixty dollars for it (fig. 28) and wrote to his fiancee on July 11, 1846, about the purchase: “After looking various places for a gift for you, I have selected at Baudouine’s, a work table which I am sure must please you; no lacquer-work, nor papier mache, nor tinsel of any sort; but a neat, well-made, and convenient table of the most approved French pattern”(12)

Williams purchased the multifunctional worktable that would serve as a sewing table as well as a writing surface. The lid, mirrored on the underside, opens for access to the interior of the table, which is fitted with a removable four-sectioned tray above a single compartment. The hinged top board of the lid, released by turning a latch adjacent to the mirror, can be adjusted to create the preferred angle for a writing surface. A “hidden” drawer, located beneath the main body of the table where the legs join the top, runs the width of the table. Not readily visible to a casual observer, this drawer can be opened only when a small lever, located next to the interior tray, is lifted and held.

Worktables were common in the mid-nineteenth century, and many designs for them were printed in English and French sources. The form and ornamentation of the MWPI table are decidedly French. Compared with another Baudouine worktable of the same period, now in the collection of Historic Hudson Valley, the MWPI table seems to represent the conventional line offered in Baudouine’s shop. The Historic Hudson Valley table is more delicate and is embellished with ormolu and black lacquer. By contrast, the plain rosewood surfaces of the MWPI table are ornamented with a modest bead molding around the perimeters of the undulating form of the lid and skirt. Four curvilinear brackets, joined at a spindle cage, support the body of the table. This unit rests on a base with four S-shaped legs. The stylized acanthus leaves and volutes of the feet furnish the only carving on the piece.

1. Baudouine‘s family was of Huguenot descent. Charles Baudouine was born in New York City on May 31, 1808, the son of Abraham Baudouine (d. 1844), also born in New York City. I would like to thank Cynthia Schaffner, who researched Baudouine’s career while she was a graduate intern in the Department of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, and Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, associate curator at the Metropolitan, for making this information available.

2. Stranger’s Guide in the City of New-York, 1852 (New York: Andrews 8c Co., 1852), p. 58.

3. Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, “From the Bowery to Broadway: The Herter Brothers and the New York Furniture Trade” in Katherine S. Howe, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Catherine Hoover Voorsanger et al., Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994), p. 61.

4. Earnest Hagen, “Personal Experiences of an Old New York Cabinet Maker," 1908, Downs Manuscript Collection (col. 32), Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Del. The body of this manuscript was reprinted in Elizabeth A. Ingerman, “Personal Experiences of an Old New York Cabinetmaker,” Antiques 84, no. 5 (November 1963): 576-80. Hagen recalls working for Baudouine from about 1854 to 1856. According to city directories, however, 1854 is the last year Baudouine is listed as a cabinetmaker. In addition, the R. G. Dun report for May 5, 1855, notes: “Removed to 475 Bdway where he has an office—is clos[ing] up the bus.” R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass.

5. Hagen, “Personal Experiences.” Baudouine married Ann P. Postley of New York City on June 3, 1833. See Henry Hall, ed., America’s Successful Men of Affairs, An Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography (New York: The New York Tribune, 1895), 1: 65.

6. Hagen, “Personal Experiences.”

7. Hagen, “Personal Experiences.”

8. Stranger’s Guide, p. 59. Baudouine’s label states that he kept “constantly on hand the largest assortment of Elegant furniture to be Found in the United States.” See paper label on laminated chair in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va. (accession no. 81.86).

9. New YorkVol. 191, p. 1421 (Jan. 11,1853), R. G. Dun 84 Co. Collection.

10. Anthony Kimbel “worked in New York as the principal designer for Charles Baudouine“ prior to 1854. See David L. Barquist, American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), p. 111. From 1854 to 1862 Kimbel was a partner in Bembé and Kimbel. In 1862 he formed a partnership with Joseph Cabus. The firm Kimbel and Cabus lasted until 1882. See cat. no. 46 and Doreen Bolger Burke et al., In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), p. 446.

11. In Hagen’s reference to furniture with “perforated backs,“ he may have identified those Baudouine products that constituted an “infringement” onjohn Henry Belter‘s patent for rococo-style furniture. Hagen, “Personal Experiences.” For John Henry Belter furniture, see cat. no. 24.

12. James Watson Williams to Helen Elizabeth Munson, July 11, 1846, MWPI Archives. A painted and stenciled rococo-style writing table with a paper Baudouine label is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession no. 1979.612).