One of the masterpieces of the Phyfe workshop, this armchair en gondole is part of an important commission made in 1833 for the prosperous and philanthropic New York merchant, Luman Reed (1785-1836). Illustrating a departure from Anglicized interpretations of French furniture that predominated in America earlier in the century, this chair is in the French Restauration style and based on plate 667 of Pierre de la Mésangère's 1829 installment of Collections des Meubles et Objets de Goût where the form is identified as a Fauteuil de Salon. A favored style with New York cabinetmakers, these chairs feature rounded backs and cyma-curved front legs. Additionally, the arm supports are embellished with carved lotus motifs, a decorative detail integrated into French furniture designs after Napoleon's 1798 campaign into Egypt. The fashion for Egyptian motifs spread to English and American architecture and decorative arts and the "Egyptian Revival" remained a popular aesthetic throughout the nineteenth century. A set of four open armchairs made by Phyfe for John Laurence (1816-1889) and Susan Hampton Manning (1816-1845) of Milford plantation in 1841 feature similar scrolling arms and related but different lotus-leaf carving on the plinths (Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), p. 98, fig. 118).
That grand house at No. 13 Greenwich street was the wonder of its day
- Joseph A. Scoville [Walter Barrett], The Old Merchants of New York City, vol. 4 (New York, 1863-1870), p. 48.
In a relatively brief period beginning in the mid 1820s and continuing until his untimely death in 1836 at the age of 51, Luman Reed established himself as an important patron of a variety of arts, including theater, opera and painting. In 1831, Reed began construction on a grand new home at 13 Greenwich Street. Though not outwardly ostentatious, the building was nonetheless remarkable for Reed's insistence on the use of the highest-quality materials in its construction (Ella M. Foshay, Mr. Luman Reed's Picture Gallery: A Pioneer Collection of American Art (New York, 1990), p. 35; John Durand, The Life and Times of A. B. Durand (New York, 1894), pp. 121-122). Having sold most of the "heavy furniture" from his family's previous home, Reed enlisted the help of his daughters in acquiring new furnishings (Foshay, pp. 35-36; Mrs. Jonathan Sturges (Mary Pemberton Cady), Reminiscences of a Long Life (New York, 1894), pp. 139-140). A bill of sale between Reed and Duncan Phyfe dated March 26, 1833 indicates that the cabinetmaker supplied a large quantity of furniture, including an "armchair en gondola," a reference to the chair offered here, an armoire and side chairs, for this home. The Greenwich Street address also housed a gallery for Reed's unique collection of fifty works by contemporary artists, including Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and William Sydney Mount, which Reed made available to the public once a week. This group would become the nucleus of the New-York Gallery of Fine Arts, which was later absorbed into the New York Historical Society. For the armoire and side chairs from the 1833 commission for Reed, see Christie's, New York, The Ronald S. Kane Collection, 22 January 1994, lots 358 and 361.