This work table was previously owned by Robert W. de Forest who was a prominent New York lawyer, financier and philanthropist. He served on the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1889 and was elected the museum’s fifth president in 1913. De Forest’s wife, Emily Johnston, was the daughter of the Museum’s first president, John Taylor Johnston. She shared de Forest’s passion for American decorative arts and together they conceived the idea of The American Wing.
During the 1909 Hudson-Fulton celebration, de Forest served as Chairman, Committee on Arts Exhibits, giving him an integral role in the exhibition. This exhibition was held at the Metropolitan Museum to commemorate the tercentenary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the centenary of the first use of steam navigation on the Hudson River by Robert Fulton. This exhibition included American paintings and decorative arts from the colonial times to the time of Fulton’s death in 1815. It exposed many people to American decorative arts for the first time. For more information on de Forest and The Metropolitan Museum of Art see Alexsandr Gelfand, “This Weekend in Met History: October 20,” Now at The Met, 18 October, 2013, www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met.
For a very similar work table with astragal ends, hinged writing flap and tray compartments attributed to Duncan Phyfe see Peter Kenny, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), pp. 172-173, pl. 9. This example, now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also features an urn base, four splayed legs with acanthus leaf carving and reeding and carved paw feet.