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On view


Artist: Kilian Brothers (active New York, New York, 1856-c.1920)

Date: c. 1870
Medium: Walnut, bronze, patinated metal, gilding, paint
Overall: 39 × 14in. (99.1 × 35.6cm)
Signed: mounts marked: '2459'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase, in part with funds from Mrs. Arnold Gingrich
Object number: 92.2
Label Text
Kilian Brothers, a prosperous family operation, utilized steam power by 1869, a relatively early date in New York City for the application of this source of energy. By 1870 the firm employed as many as 110 hands and occupied several buildings. A report on the company's display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition summarizes its production: "As extensive use of machinery is made in their manufacture . . . the goods are . . . within reach of people of moderate means who have a taste for the ornamental."

To carve a niche in the highly competitive trade, Kilian Brothers catered to thriving, middle-class consumers who wanted to add stylish, modern, furniture accessories to their rooms at moderate expense. Consequently, the company's catalogue pages are saturated with heavily adorned accessories such as this pedestal and worktable (to your left). Their surfaces are laced with gilded lines, ebonized elements, polychrome details, and metal mounts-all fanciful interpretations of Greek and Egyptian motifs associated with the néo-grec style.


Text Entries
The pedestal and the worktable are exemplary of the workmanship and stylistic approach of the New York City firm Kilian Brothers.(1) Both pieces are illustrated in the company’s album of photograph of about 1870 (figs. and 34).(2) Kilian Brothers manufactured high­ style, yet affordable, goods that suited the aesthetic sensibilities of a middle-class clientele. A report on the firm’s display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia (1876) characterized the firm’s products: “As extensive use of machinery is made in their manufacture, the goods are recommended for cheapness, being within reach of people of moderate means who have a taste for the ornamental."(3)

Theodore (b. 1828 or 1829) and Frederick (b. 1831 or 1832) Kilian, German emigrants, formed "Kilian and Brother" in 1856 or 1857 and adopted the name “Kilian Brothers" in 1858. In 1860 or 1861 they were joined by a third brother. William (b. 1834 or 1835).(4) This prosperous family business owned and occupied at least three buildings, utilized steam-powered machinery by 1869, and employed as many as 110 people in 1870.(5) Kilian Brothers held a patent for a folding chair and at various times sold mantelpieces and operated a carpet -cleaning business in addition to manufacturing and retailing furniture. After the death of its founders, the enterprise was managed by other family members, presumably the sons of William and Theodore, until 1919.

The MWPI pedestal is composed of a turned body that is flanked by two handle-like appendages. Mass production and high fashion, united by vivacious ornamentation, enliven the simple form. The polychrome decoration of gold, blue-green, red, and black is a characteristic interpretation of what was believed at the time to be a classical palette. Painted and gilded incising creates palmettes, bands, stripes, and geometric patterns in accordance with Greek and Egyptian motifs from Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornamental (1856). The application of rich colors to the abstracted geometric patterns accentuates the angularity of the composition. A bronze-colored and vert metal putti crowns the termination point of each appendage and contrasts with the woodwork colors. The fusion of these decorative devices creates a successful interpretation of the neo-grec style, which reached its apogee in America during the 1870s.

That numerous firms, such as Clarke Brothers of Brooklyn and James W. Cooper of Philadelphia, carried similar pedestals attests to the popularity of the form. Kilian Brothers, active in both retail and wholesale markets in and outside New York City, could have

Manufactured some of the pedestals depicted in other makers' catalogues.

The simple hinged box of this worktable is supported by four angular legs that terminate in abstract hoof feet. The delicate legs, mounted with Renaissance-inspired figureheads, are embellished with black highlights and incised green and gold lines. The box section features burled veneer panels on all sides, two of which are decorated with bronze roundels of classical figures and with incised green lines. The hinged lid, with a mirror on its under-side, opens to disclose a divided tray that can be removed to allow access to a small compartment. This worktable and the pedestal have identical mounts and similar color schemes.

Kilian Brothers utilized interchangeable decorative parts to offer a broad variety of forms and levels of ornamentation at little additional cost. For example, Kilian Brothers' 1872 price list records three variations of this worktable-a plain model selling for sixteen dollars; a "finished and richly ornamented" example priced at twenty-four dollars; and the same table with a "marquetrie top, black & gilt" for twenty-eight dollars.(6) The top of the MWPI work table has a marquetry pan el flush with the rest of the top, which differs from the raised, round panel on the model featured in the circa 1870 catalogue.

As with other parlor accessories illustrated in the firm's catalogue, the  designs  of  the pedestal  and  worktable are indebted  to  English  and  French  antecedents.  The forms refer to candlestand and pedestal designs often reproduced in nineteenth- century design publications. Illustrations in V. Quetin's Le Magasin de Meubles in the 1870s, for example, present colorful jardinieres with ormolu mounts, chain ornamentation, and   delicate leg supports.(7) The MWPI worktable and pedestal are fanciful objects that exhibit the makers' knowledge of the prevailing fashion, yet they are functional. As chic accessories for updating an interior, they served to demonstrate an owner's awareness of the latest trends.


Essay by Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio. Please see this essay for 93.15.


1. A similar pedestal, without the chains and putti, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An identical sewing table sold at: the Neal Auction Company, sale cat.  (New Orleans, La., Oct. 5, 1996), lot 326.


2. [Kilian Brothers], Album of Photographs (n.p., n.d.), Maercklein  Collection,  col. 305, Joseph  Downs Collection of Manuscript and Paper Ephemera; Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Del. This album features photographs of the firm's furniture, including one on the first page of a folding chair below a sign that reads "Kilian's Patent folding Chair, pat'd, April 5th, 1870." This is the only place in the album where the firm's name appears. The MWPI pieces vary slightly from the examples featured in the album. The Kilian "catalogue" of ca. 1870, among the papers of upholsterer H. Maercklein of Hartford, Conn., illustrates every aspect of the company's business. For information on Maercklein, see Andrew Passeri and Robert Trent:, "The Wheelwright and Maercklein Inventories and the  History of  the Upholstery Trade in  America, 1750- 1900," Old - Time New England 72 (1987): 312-54. The firm name, "Kilian Brothers," is also cited in the original text of Earnest Hagen's "Reminiscence of a New York City Cabinetmaker" (Joseph Downs Collection, col. 32, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library), but Hagen does not elaborate on the firm or its products.


3. Francis A. Walker, ed., United Stales Centennial Commission. International Exhibition, 1876.   Reports and Awards, vol. 4, Groups III - VII (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880), p. 739. The company's display at the exhibition included easels, a parlor table, music stand, table, and card receiver. International Exhibition, 1876: Official Catalogue (Philadelphia: John R. Nagle and Company, 1876), p. 114.


4. Frederick Kilian is first listed in a New York City directory of 1851-52 as a chairmaker. Theodore is listed as a cabinetmaker by 1856-57, and the first listing for William appears in an 1860-61 directory.


5. New York Vol. 192, p. 526 (Feb. 15, 1869[?]), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School  of Business Administration, Boston, Mass. Bureau of the Census, Ninth Census of the United States, Products of Industry, City of New York, N.Y., 19th District, 20th Ward.


6. Kilian Brothers, Price List (New York:  Kilian Brothers, 1872), Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.


7. See V. Quetin, Le Magasin de Meubles, no. 10, Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. See especially plates 62 and 39 for parallel examples. This periodical is not dated but is believed to be from the early 1870s. The forms depicted in Le Magasin de Meubles may be derived from an earlier nineteenth-century French furniture model called an athenienne, a classically decorated tripod form used as a washstand, plant stand, or a perfume burner. See Daniel Alcouffe, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, and Amaury Lefebure, Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Vol. l (Dijon, France: Editions Faton, 1993), 1: 305.