A powerful expression of American Classicism, this pair of card tables with their masterful caryatid figures are a rare survival of furniture with sculptural supports from the workshop of Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854). Attributed to the renowned cabinetmaker by Peter Kenny and Michael Brown in their recent study, these tables display leaf-carved animal paw legs that are almost identical to three examples variously labeled by, signed by and attributed to Phyfe, and may indicate the work of the same carver. The leaf carving on all three forms is on the top surfaces only and emanates from each leg's mid-point, scrolling upward up to or overlapping the turret-cornered plinth, while the legs have smooth surfaces with a rounded, pronounced hock (Peter M. Kenny and Michael K, Brown, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), pp. 202, 206, pls. 27, 30; Sotheby's, New York, 20, 21 and 23 January 2005, lot 1234). With tops with rounded corners, the three related examples were made in about 1820 or later, when the design was introduced in New York. Earlier card tables with canted corners from the Phyfe workshop, such as those made in 1815-1816 for John Wells (1770-1823) and James Lefferts Brinckerhoff (1791-1846), display similarly rendered legs but with downward rather than upward scrolling leaf carving (Kenny and Brown, pp. 80, 182-183, fig. 81, pl. 16). As the tables offered here display the stylistically earlier canted corners but circa 1820-style legs, it is likely that they were made in the late 1810s.
"The overall effect is one of brilliance, monumentality, and archaeological correctness"
These tables epitomize Phyfe's "ornamented Grecian style" as described above by Kenny and Brown. Representing a departure from his earlier, more delicate forms, the style was adopted by Phyfe in the early 1810s and reflects the influence of published French and English designs as well as the output of his principal competitor, Charles Honoré Lannuier (1779-1819) (Kenny and Brown, p. 79). Sculptural supports on tables played an important role in the design of this new style, but expensive and requiring the talents of a specialist carver, they appear to have been reserved for Phyfe's more important commissions and survive in relatively few numbers today. Bearing similar proportions, five-pointed stars and backed by similar columns, the winged caryatid design seen on these tables was almost certainly inspired by the works of Lannuier, specifically those represented today by twelve surviving card tables (Peter M. Kenny, Frances F. Bretter and Ulrich Leben, Honoré Lannuier: Cabinetmaker from Paris (New York, 1998), pp. 187-188). A comparison between the caryatid figures from the two shops reveals that those from the Phyfe shop have a less angular transition from shoulder to wing, a fewer number of stars on the upper body and shorter scrolling leaves at the base. In contrast to the array of survivals from the Lannuier shop, only a few other examples of card tables with single caryatid figures attributable to Phyfe are known and include a pair now in two private collections and a restored example that sold in 2009 (Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Elizabeth Bidwell Bates, American Furniture: 1620 to the Present (New York, 1981), p. 266; Maurie D. McInnis and Robert A. Leath, "Beautiful Specimens, Elegant Patterns: New York Furniture for the Charleston Market, 1810-1840," American Furniture 1996, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1996), p.150, fig. 10; Christie's, New York, 30 September 2009, lot 114). As postulated by Kenny and Brown, the specialist carver employed by Phyfe for these sophisticated supports may have been Alexander Slott (Slote), a gilder and carver who appears in the New York Directories from 1794 to 1834. Slott may be the individual referred to as "Sloat-Welshman the Carver," by one of Phyfe's grandsons as one of the workmen in the Phyfe shop (Kenny and Brown, p. 205).