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Cabinet

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Cabinet

Artist: Alexander Roux (1813-1886; active New York, New York, 1836-1880)

Date: 1860-1870
Medium: Rosewood, curly maple, black walnut, eastern white pine, cherry, yellow-poplar, marquetry of various woods; gilded bronze, painted porcelain, gilding
Dimensions:
Overall: 49 7/8 × 51 1/2 × 18 1/8in. (126.7 × 130.8 × 46cm)
Signed: Impressed stamp four times on back: "A. ROUX"; one mount marked with "R" on back; paper label on back: "NEW ENG[LAND] / STORAGE WAREHO[USE] / 32 George St., Boston / Lot No. / [?] 219 / Piece no. / 135"
Credit Line: Gift of George and Barbara Callahan
Object number: 86.85
Label Text
By 1850 Alexander Roux, the maker of this cabinet, was touted as one of the finest New York City cabinetmakers. In "The Architecture of Country Houses" (1850), Andrew Jackson Downing, a cultivator of popular taste, noted, "In New York, the rarest and most elaborate designs, especially for the drawing-room and library use, are to be found at the warehouse of Roux, in Broadway." Roux steadily capitalized on his French ancestry and training by promoting himself as a "French cabinet maker" and by providing the French styles favored by his clientele.

American-made drawing room cabinets were called "French cabinets" because the influences of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French antecedents were restated in them. The form reprised classically derived motifs and numerous artistic formulas including marquetry, ormolu mounts, and porcelain plaques. This prepossessing form communicated the wealth of an owner; with little utilitarian function, the cabinet provided an extravagant stage for personal bibelots and art pieces.

Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio

Text Entries

Alexander Roux (1813-86) was born in Gap, France, and emigrated to the United States.(1) By 1836 he established a cabinetmaking shop on Broadway in New York City.(2) Roux’s prosperous trade included domestic and imported furniture as well as interior decorating services. He steadily capitalized on his French ancestry and training by promoting himself as a “French cabinet maker” and by emulating the French styles his clientele favored.(3)

Roux formed several partnerships during his business years. Between 1847 and 1848 he worked with his brother Frédéric, who later moved to California and eventually returned to Paris.(4) Established as a Parisian ébeniste, Frédéric shipped merchandise to his brother in New York City. A ca. 1856 advertisement for Alexander Roux explains that he, “having established a new house . . . [in] Paris, is now prepared to take orders for French fancy inlaid Buhl and Mosaic Furniture.”(5) From 1858 through 1859 Alexander was in partnership with Joseph Cabus, a former Roux foreman.(6) In 1865 Roux had a brief association with Amand A. Chatain, who had been a designer with the New York City firm of Pottier & Stymus.(7) Roux restructured his firm in I870 when his son Alexander  joined him. His brother Frédéric returned from Paris in 1870 or 1871 and retained an association with the business until his retirement in 1873.

Alexander Roux’s shop had various locations on Broadway until 1877, when the firm’s contiguous factory buildings on Mercer Street burned.(8) Fully covered by insurance, the business subsequently moved to larger facilities on 5th Avenue and 18th Street.(9) Alexander Roux retired in 1880 and died in 1886, but the firm remained in operation under the direction of his son until 1897 or 1898.

By 1850 Roux was touted as the finest cabinetmaker on Broadway. In The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), Andrew Jackson Downing, the cultivator of popular taste, noted, “In New York, the rarest and most elaborate designs, especially for the drawing-room and library use, are to be found at the warehouse of Roux, in Broadway.” He later applauded Roux’s designs as “the most tasteful” renditions of “Louis Quatorze, Renaissance, Gothic, etc., to be found in this country.”(10) Downing’s endorsement is affirmed by an examination of extant labeled Roux furniture. The cabinets Roux designed in the mid-1860s are among his most finely crafted items. American-made drawing room cabinets drew upon eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French antecedents and conse- quently are called “French cabinets.” The form reprised classically derived motifs and numerous artistic formulae including carving, marquetry, ormolu mounts, porcelain and bronze plaques, and, in some cases, pietre dure (flat mosaic images composed of colored stones) plaques, or handpainted designs. Most of New York City’s leading firms made this style of cabinet. This prepossessing form, with little utilitarian function, communicated the wealth of its owner by providing an extravagant stage for personal bibelots and art pieces.(11)

The MWPI cabinet is aesthetically and technically superior to the work of many of Roux’s competitors.(12) Tripartite in arrangement, the rosewood cabinet has concave sides flanking a central door that is topped with a shape-conforming flat surface capped by a plinth. Compartmentalized decoration is segregated by the play of light against dark—ormolu mounts and incised, gilded framing highlight the ebonized and dark-colored woods.

Marquetry panels and ormolu mounts are prominent features on Roux’s French cabinets. The marquetry panels ofwheat (within two-dimensional columns beside the central door) and of flowers (on the concave sections), as well as the ormolu bands, rosettes, classical roundels, Ionic capitals, and frame around the painted plaque on this example, can also be found on other labeled Roux parlor cabinets. One mount on the MWPI example is marked “R” on the back.(13) It is conceivable that Roux’s sizable establishment— the factory employed 120 hands in 1855 and by 1856 occupied several buildings—had the capability to produce elaborate bronze mounts.(14) Alternatively, Roux may have purchased these mounts from a specialty factory, such as P. E. Guerin in New York City, or, as was presumably the case with the marquetry panels and porcelain plaque that appear on this piece, imported the merchandise from France. The MWPI cabinet carries an impressed mark, “A. Roux,” in four locations on the back.(15)

Essay by Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio

1. Dianne D. Hauserman, “Alexander Roux and His ‘Plain and Artistic Furniture,’” Antiques 93, no. 2 (February 1968): 210-17.

2. Alexander Roux is first listed in New York City directories in 1837, but some of his labels read, “Established in 1836."

3. A circa 1866 Roux paper label heralds him as a “FRENCH CABINET MAKER AND IMPORTER OF FANCY BUHL AND MOSAIC FURNITURE." See 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 Golden Age (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994), p. 67, fig. 46.

4. New York Vol. 190, p. 397 (Aug. 12, 1851), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass. In 1848 the stenciled label used by the business reads, “A. 84 F. Roux.“ See Hauserman, “Alexander Roux," p. 211.

5. I am grateful to Catherine Hoover Voorsanger for sharing an undated copy of this advertisement and the Ledoux-Lebard citation from the scholarship files of the Department of American Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and for her assistance with this entry. Beginning in 1856 Frederic Roux is listed at the Paris address on the Alexander Roux paper label. See Denise Ledoux-Lebard, Le mobilier francais du XIXe siecle, 1795-1889: Dictionnaire des ebenistes et des menuisiers (Paris: Les editions de l’Amateur, 1989), pp. 565-66.

6. Wilson’s Business Directory of New York City, 1858, 1859. New York Vol. 190, p. 397 (Dec. 14, 1858, and Jan. 10, 1860), R. G. Dun 8: Co. Collection lists the firm as “Roux and Co.” It appears that the firm of Roux & Cabus existed from December 1858 through about January 1860. Joseph Cabus was a partner with Anthony Kimbel from 1862 to 1882.

7. New York Vol. 190, p. 400H (May 23, 1865), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection. In light of this secondary connection the stylistic similarities of work by Roux and by Pottier & Stymus are of interest. The partnership with Chatain dissolved by Dec. 16, 1865. Chatain later established his own furniture business.

8. New York Vol. 190, p. 301E (Nov. 13, 1877), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, states, “Their factory has been totally destroyed by the recent fire.” On May 20, 1878, the Dun reports record that Roux’s business had been “burnt out twice within six months."

9. New York Vol. 190, p. 301E (May 8, 1880), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection.

10. Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, as reprinted in John C. Freeman, comp., Furniture for the Victorian Home (Watkins Glen, N.Y.: American Life Foundation, 1968), pp. 42, 62.

11. For a more general discussion of French drawing room cabinets, see 92.40.

12. For a discussion of the conservation work executed on the MWPI cabinet, see Wendy M. Watson ct al., Altered States: Conservation, Analysis, and the Interpretation of Works of Art (South Hadley, Mass; Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, 1994), pp. 154-57.

13. Several mounts on a cabinet attributed to Roux in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art are marked “RC.” It is speculated that this is an abbreviation for “Roux et Cie“ (Roux and Company). Patricia J. Whitesides, Registrar, Toledo Museum of Art, to author, July 31, 1997.

14. N.Y. State Census, 1855, City of New York, 1st District, 8th Ward. In 1860 the census cites eighty employees, and the company’s annual production is listed as $100,000. Bureau of the Census, Eighth Census of the U.S., Products of Industry, City of New York, N.Y, 8th Ward.

15. The same impressed mark has been found on other examples of Roux‘s work, such as a carved side-board made about 1853 in the collection of the Newark Museum, Newark, N.J. Several different paper labels and two stenciled marks are documented to the Roux firm. For labels and marks see Howe et al., Herter Brothers, p. 67; Hauserman, “Alexander Roux,” figs. la, 6a, and 17a; Eileen Dubrow and Richard Dubrow, American Furniture of the 19th Century, 1840-1880 (Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 1983), p.167; and John L. Scherer, New York Furniture at the New York State Museum (Alexandria, Va.: Highland House Publishing, 1984), fig. 95a. For additional examples of Roux drawing room cabinets see 19th-Century America: Furniture and Other Decorative Arts (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970), cat. no. 164; Christopher P. Monkhouse and Thomas S. Michie, American Furniture in Pendleton House (Providence, R.I.: Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, 1986), entry 54; and Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), no. 224. Also see the collections of the Walker Art Gallery, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Me; the Strong Museum, Rochester, N.Y.; the Museum of the City of New York; and the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio. The cabinets in the RISD and Toledo collections are nearly identical with MWPl’s. The cabinet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is similar but larger and has an additional column and door in the center section. A cabinet nearly identical with the Metropolitan’s, formerly in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, sold at the North East Auctions, New Hampshire Auction, sale cat. (Hampton, N.H., Nov. 1-2, 1997), lot 143.