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Dressing Bureau; Chest of Drawers

On view

Dressing Bureau; Chest of Drawers

Maker: Attributed to Edward Holmes and Simeon Haines (active New York, New York, 1825-1829)

Date: 1825-1829
Medium: Mahogany, yellow-poplar, Spanish cedar, eastern white pine, glass, brass, gilding
Overall: 69 x 37 x 23 3/4in. (175.3 x 94 x 60.3cm)
Signed: inside drawer: 'H. & H. / No. 154'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 60.271
Label Text
This bureau presents typical Empire motifs: massive, architectural proportions; carved, hairy paw feet; gilded decoration; and a richly grained, veneered surface. Here, the painted decoration is limited to linear borders filled with floral and foliate motifs on the drawers and mirror. This ornamentation was probably stenciled or executed with a roller or stamp to create an outline, which was later completed with gold leaf. This type of decoration simulates cut-brass inlay featured on French and English furniture of the early nineteenth century.

Paper label inside drawer.

Text Entries

The presumed makers of this dressing bureau, Edward Holmes and Simeon Haines, worked in partnership in New York City from 1825 to 1829.(1) A partial paper label (fig. 21) in the frieze drawer does not specify the partners’ shop location, but a similar dressing bureau at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bears a Holmes and Haines stenciled label that gives the firm’s working address as 48 Broad and 20 Beaver Streets.

A sizable body of furniture is now recognized as the work of this partnership, and seven labeled examples are known—a sideboard, a drop-leaf table, two pier tables, a two-drawer stand, and two dressing bureaus.(2) The bureaus are in the collections of MWPI and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A small group of unlabeled dressing bureaus is also associated with Holmes and Haines.(3) The labeled and unlabeled bureaus have many formal and decorative features in common. Each consists of a central case with side columns, two large drawers, and one smaller (usually convex) frieze drawer. Small drawers are set back on the cases, and acanthus-carved S-scrolls support the mirrors. Each case has painted and stenciled gold decoration and stamped—brass, rosette-shaped drawer hardware with circular pulls. Variations among the bureaus are found in the shape of the feet, the configurations of the set-back drawers, the amount of hand-painted and stenciled decoration, and the orientation of the mirrors. Two types of feet are found on the bureaus—crisply turned feet or distinctly carved paw feet with splayed toes topped by carved acanthus leaves. In all cases the rear feet are rather crudely executed stumps.

The painted decoration on the MWPI bureau and on related bureaus is primarily limited to linear, geometric borders on the drawers and mirror. This ornamentation was probably stenciled or executed with a roller or stamp to create an outline, which was later filled in with gold leaf.(4) This type of decoration simulates cut-brass inlay featured on French and English furniture of the early nineteenth century.(5)

A labeled dressing bureau by Alexander P. W. Kinnan and States M. Mead of New York City (active 1823-30) bears many similarities to Holmes and Haines bureaus and suggests the preference for this form in New York City.(6) It also calls into question the tendency to attribute unlabeled furniture to a specific firm. The maker of a case piece may not have produced each component in his own shop. Ebonized and stenciled columns, turned feet, scroll supports, and looking- glass frames were available from many specialists. Further study may provide clues that will allow scholars to attribute unlabeled examples of this popular form to particular makers.

Essay by Page Talbott

1. In preparation for the exhibition “Art and The Empire City,” scheduled to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, Barbara Laux has conducted extensive research on Holmes and Haines. I would like to thank her and Catherine Voorsanger for generously sharing information about the firm with me. See also John L. Scherer, New York Furniture at the New York State Museum (Alexandria, Va.: Highland House Publishers, 1984), no. 58.

2. The sideboard was sold at auction by C. G. Sloan & Co., sale cat. 805 (Washington, D.C., May 19-21, 1989), lot 2531. What appears to be the same sideboard was sold at Neal Auction Co., Estates Auction, sale cat. (New Orleans, La., April 16-17, 1994), lot 612. The current location of the drop-leaf table is unknown. The two-drawer stand is in the collection of the New York State Museum, Albany; see Scherer, New York Furniture, p. 61. A pier Lable in the collection of the Geneva (NY) Historical Society bears the label “H. & H./No. 58”; see Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, no. 89.288, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Del., and Lorraine Welling Lanmon and H. Merrill Roenke Jr., “Rose Hill, near Geneva, New York,” Antiques 136, no. 1 (July 1989): 151. A labeled pier table in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession no. 1978.586) is identified as “N0. 146.” The numbers on the labels may signify the order in which the tables were manufactured. According to family history the pier table at the Metropolitan Museum was made for the Piermont family of Brooklyn, whose house was destroyed by fire in 1826. After the fire the table and several other pieces of furniture were moved to lower Manhattan; they remained there until 1852 when they were taken to Garrison, N.Y. If this history is accurate, the table can be dated ca. 1825. A third bureau, closely related to the two labeled dressing bureaus (MVWPI and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 67.1229), is in a private collection.

3. One attributed bureau is in the collection of the New York State Museum, Albany; another was sold at Braswell Auctions, South Norwalk, Conn., on an unknown date. See an advertisement for the sale in the MWPI research files. For a third, see Christie's East, Furniture and Decorative Arts Including Ceramics, sale cat. (New York, Jan. 20, 1998).

4. Donald L. Fennimore, “Gilding Practices and Processes in Nineteenth-Century American Furniture,” in Gilded Wood Conservation and History, ed. Deborah Bigelow, Elizabeth Cornu, Gregory]. Landrey, and Cornelius Van Horne (Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1991), p. 149. Two of the unlabeled examples include stenciled decoration on the columns.

5. Cynthia Moyer, “Conservation Treatments for Border and Freehand Gilding and Bronze Powder Stenciling and Freehand Bronze,” Gilded Wood Conservation and History, p. 332.

6. For a discussion of the Kinnan and Mead bureau, see Wendy A. Cooper, Classical Taste in America, 1800-1840 (New York: Abbeville Press for the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1993), pp. 219-20.