The harp motif is a rare and inspired asymmetrical variation of the lyre splat. Incorporating multiple decorative additions including reeded stiles, the harp back strung with brass and carved feet indicate that these chairs exhibit some of the most expensive options a cabinetmaker could provide. Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown attribute the harp-back chair to Phyfe, explaining that the rare design "may be indicative of the cabinetmaker's desire to amplify certain design elements of his well-known but more delicately scaled chair designs to keep pace with the richer and more monumental late Grecian style of the 1810s and 1820s" (Peter M. Kenny and Michael K. Brown, Duncan Pyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), pp. 189-190, fig. I). Presumed to be a set of twelve chairs, eleven are known; a pair in the collections at Winterthur, a pair once owned by Mr. and Mrs. Walter B. Jennings that were illustrated in the Girl Scout's Loan Exhibition catalogue, one at Bayou Bend, one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Kenny and Brown, p. 190, fig. I), one in the George and Linda Kaufman Collection at the National Gallery, Collection and two offered at Sotheby's, New York, 26 September 2008, lot 57. Another chair from this same set will be offered as the following lot.
The harp-back chairs offered here emulate the Greek klismos with their swept legs and curved tablet-form backrests. Roman influence is evident in the animal-form legs, flowing fur and paw feet. Although other craftsmen were producing similar chairs during this period, the high quality carving, overall elegant proportions and expensive mahogany suggests the work of Duncan Phyfe.
Reflecting the young United States democratic ideals, the furniture of the early nineteenth century was inspired by classical Greco-Roman motifs. Americans idolized the Greek and Roman societies upon which the constitution was founded and classical designs became a wellspring for American fashion, architecture and furnishings. Additionally, Classical designs in homes added a sense of permanence to citizens in the new nation.