Exceptional for its carved ornament of the highest calibre, the predominant use of a light wood and its commission for William H. Vanderbilt (1821-1885) (fig. 1), this console table is one of the most significant survivals made by Herter Brothers, New York City’s preeminent Gilded-Age cabinetmakers. The distinctive Greek Key- and leaf-inlaid frieze is a feature that appears in two other commissions by the firm that date from 1869-1871 and indicate that the console offered here was made around the same time. The relatively restrained rectilinear form, exquisitely carved Greek vases and delicate swag inlay are all details that hail the emerging Neo-Grèc style, one that as seen here was often used in conjunction with Renaissance Revival motifs. The console’s carved head is particularly masterful and was noted by Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Katherine Howe as “one of the most delicate carved heads ever to appear on a piece of Herter furniture” (see Katherine S. Howe, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York, 1995), pp. 142-143, 152, 154-155, cats. 8, 14).
William H. Vanderbilt, the son of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), was one of the wealthiest men in America in the 1860s. In 1867, he built an Italianate brownstone mansion at 459 Fifth Avenue on the Southeast corner of 40th Street (fig. 2) and this console table is thought to have adorned the drawing room where it was displayed alongside Vanderbilt’s sumptuously decorated interiors and renowned art collection. It is the earliest piece of Herter Brothers furniture known to have been made for Vanderbilt, who, a decade later, hired the firm to build and decorate a new, even grander residence on Fifth Avenue at 51st Street and has been described as “Christian Herter’s most important client” (Howe et al., op. cit., pp. 152, 176).