Herter Rosewood Bedroom Suite
Attributed to Herter Brothers (1865-1905), New York c. 1884
At the height of their artistic career, Herter Brothers – in addition to their well-known Anglo-Japanesque work – did a few very important pieces in a so-called “Pompeian Classical” taste, the best known example of which is the library table made for William H. Vanderbilt now on permanent display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The present rosewood bedroom suite, with its playful carved detailing and extraordinary marquetry, relates to the Metropolitan’s table and other Pompeian Classical furnishings made by Herter for William Vanderbilt’s library. The suite’s marquetry panels, with their witty dolphins and cherubs, bear strong similarity to the panel inlay on the Vanderbilt library’s fireplace. According to a period source: “In designing this elaborate chimneypiece, the architect has been successful in combining the Greek Orders, which are apt to look rather too bare in an interior, with whatever of Pompeian frieze decoration and Roman sumptuousness would harmonize with items most properly, and carry out the impression of richness proper to a fully upholstered modern room.” ¹
It should also be noted that the carvings on the bedroom pieces are closely related to the detailing of furniture made by Herter for William Vanderbilt’s dining room.²
The Vanderbilt table, as well as the bookcases and other fittings of the library itself, in addition to the few other pieces made in this Pompeian Classical spirit, were considered to be the very finest quality ever produced by the firm, and the Herter brothers thought these extraordinary pieces would be their legacy. A period publication describes them by saying, “Specimens like this, put together under exceptional advantages … and representing the most deliberate work of a period, are just what will be valuable to the Chippendales and Boules of the future.”³
The Vanderbilt library was completed in 1883, a year before the present suite was made. Created at the very moment that Herter Brothers was at the peak of its preeminence, this exquisite bedroom set is of the very best quality produced by the firm, in an idiom created specifically for their most distinguished clientele. Although it can be attributed and fairly accurately dated by its aesthetic and detailing, this bedroom set also bears the date “1884”, as well as sequential item numbering and a “store” notation, indicating that these extraordinary pieces were created and sold contemporaneously with those made for the William H. Vanderbilt mansion.
1 Strahan, Edward. Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection. Boston: George Barrie,1883-84, Vol. I, p. 36 and succeeding plate.
2 Howe, Katherine S., Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen and Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, et al. “Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age.” New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994, pp. 204-205.
3 Strahan, op.cit., p. 43.