This magnificent table once stood in the dining room of the architect Stanford White's Gramercy Park townhouse, along with four smaller single eagle-support console tables of matching design but of a later date and possibly designed by White himself.
Stanford White (1853-1906), one of the most celebrated American architects of the late nineteenth century, was a founding partner of the influential firm McKim, Mead and White. This legendary firm produced more than 900 public and private commissions, including the Boston Public Library, Columbia University, and New York's Pennsylvania Station. Designs that are directly attributed to White himself include Madison Square Garden (1891), the Washington Memorial Arch (1891), the New York Herald Building (1892) and the Madison Square Presbyterian Church (1906).
White's commissions included houses and interiors for many prominent members of society, including the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, and social clubs such as the Metropolitan and the Century. Often acting in the role of advisor and interior designer, White frequently travelled to Europe to purchase furniture, pictures, sculptures and architectural elements for clients, as well as his own collection. Significantly, he was also a prolific designer of furniture as well as jewelry, picture frames, magazine covers, gravestones and trophies.
THE WHITE HOUSE COMMISSION
This eagle-supported console table served as the direct design source for three tables in the White House that were conceived by Stanford White and are still in use in the State Dining Room today.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned McKim, Mead and White to remodel the interiors of the White House. The President persuaded Congress to appropriate $475,445 for the badly needed expansion and redecorating. The firm was given only five months in which to complete the commission.
Stanford White's talents were called into use with the decoration of the newly enlarged State Dining Room. The carved oak walls (supplied by Herter Brothers) and stuffed animal heads were meant to suggest a dining hall in a grand English country house (see W. Seale, The President's House, 1986, vol. 2, p. 683). As part of the project, White designed furniture for the room in keeping with this traditional English country house decoration. This included a large Regency style eagle-supported console table based on the design of his own table, which he obviously held in the highest regard. Its boldly conceived classical design reflects White's love of ornament and adherence to the classical ideals which characterized his architecture. In addition to this table, other furniture was executed to his designs including two matching eagle consoles of a smaller size (again, after those in his collection which were also possibly designed by him), Queen Anne style side chairs and William and Mary style armchairs.
The three eagle-support console tables were executed by the Boston firm A.H. Davenport after White's design drawing (reproduced in B.C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families, 2000, p. 188). The invoices from Davenport record a cost of $650 for the larger table and $310 for each of the smaller tables (Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Inventory of Public Property, Executive Mansion, June 20, 1903).
SALE OF ARTISTIC FURNISHINGS FROM THE ESTATE OF STANFORD WHITE
Stanford White's reputation as an architect/designer has frequently been overshadowed by his fabled decadent lifestyle, tragically cut short by his murder in 1906 by millionaire Harry K. Thaw, the jealous husband of White's former showgirl mistress. Members of society flocked to the four separate sales of White's estate in 1907, held by the American Art Association. The first sale, on April 4-6, was held on the premises of his Gramercy Park house. The present lot was included in this sale and described in the auction catalogue as:
Lot 157-LARGE EMPIRE SIDE TABLE
With four drawers. Italian; carved and gilded wood, supported by two large carved spread eagles in front and two fluted column back legs. The top rails of brass, scroll and lily design. The top of wood in imitation of marble.
The table was purchased by Colonel Samuel Pomeroy Colt (1853-1921) of Bristol, Rhode Island, a prominent local businessman and head of the United States Rubber Company. In addition to this table, which he purchased for $1,250, Colt acquired the following lot 158, the four smaller tables of matching design but of a later date that were described as having eagles 'made of composition and gilded'. As the large console table is now supported on gilded composition eagles, it is most likely that these were originally the supports from two of the smaller tables that have now replaced its original wooden eagles; as a consequence of their greater height, the back supports on this table are associated as well.
THE DESIGN OF THE TABLE
Designed in the antique manner, marble-slabbed side tables, which would have been entitled 'Roman tables' in early 18th century pattern books, were used as sideboard tables for a stone banqueting hall or saloon. The introduction of the console-table with plinth-supported eagles is generally credited to the artist/architect William Kent (d. 1748). Fighting eagles, perched on a console table, are featured in his illustrations for Alexander Pope's 1727 translation of Homer's The Odyssey recounting the history of Rome's foundation after the Trojan Wars. The earliest surviving illustration of such a table is featured on the 1739 printed bill-head of Francis Brodie (d. 1782), cabinetmaker of Edinburgh (see F. Bamford, 'A Dictionary of Edinburgh Wrights and Furniture Makers', Furniture History, 1983, pl. 24a). A related table of similar grandeur was probably executed in the Regency period using earlier Georgian eagles for the Hon. William Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere Castle, Hampshire. This table was sold by the late Michael Behrens, Esq., Christie's London, 9 July 1998, lot 29 (£55,000).