In his landmark study of classicism in America, Berry Tracy remarks that “the legs of tables . . . , with acanthus leaf carving, pineapple motifs, and twisted reeding, expressed the American Empire ideas of opulence and splendor added to the heavier English Sheraton tradition.”1Tracy and Gerdts, 31. The Department of State’s table represents a rather delicate interpretation of these Empire details, particularly in the use of wooden ball feet, contrasting satinwood and mahogany veneers, and attenuated pillars and legs. Well versed in both the earlier Federal style and the newer classical revival, the maker of this table had a firm grasp of the best of both idioms.
This card table has been attributed to the French emigré cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819). A former owner, the noted architect and collector Edward Vason Jones, based this attribution largely upon the differences between one group of cluster-columned card tables associated with Duncan Phyfe and a second group with different proportions, and type and quality of decorative elements.2Jones 1977, 4–14. Flanigan, 188, discusses an almost identical, undocumented table in the Kaufman Collection, but does not attribute it. In the absence of documentation, however, one can only add the Collection’s table to a large group of New York neoclassical furniture identified by fluid and lively carving and slender, graceful legs.
The overall form of the card table, with its clover-leaf-shaped mahogany top, drop finials, acanthus-leaf clustered columns, upright pineapple finial resting on an inclining platform, and four outsplayed acanthus leaf-carved legs, is one of the most common—including card, dining, and Pembroke tables—made in New York during the first two decades of the 19th century.3A dining table at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, is in Otto, 78; a breakfast table at the Yale University Art Gallery is in Tracy and Gerdts, no. 44; and a second breakfast table, without the pineapple, is in McClelland, 148.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.