Carved Oak Brass-Mounted Side Chair
Herter Brothers (1865-1905)
New York c. 1881
This baronial side chair was designed by Christian Herter (1839-1883) and is considered the prototype for ones made for the dining room of Herter’s most important commission, the William H. Vanderbilt residence. With its delicate, sensuous carvings on its distinctive, stately form, the chair is an innovative masterpiece. Quite architectural, its legs and seat are ingeniously connected by a combination of volutes, loops, serpentine vines and “turnbuckle” stretchers that simultaneously express a sculptural tension and a free flowing visual effect that anticipates and presages subsequent developments of Art Nouveau. Chairs visible in period photos of the Vanderbilt Dining Room have this unusual stretcher configuration on their sides only, while the current example has this fascinating detail on its front and back as well.
The present chair has the same incised three digits (137) as the other known chairs from the Dining Room at the Vanderbilt house. Since numbers found on Herter seating furniture are consistently repeated on identical pieces (i.e., chairs produced in multiples for a particular client), it would appear that this chair was made as the prototype for the final version produced and used in the room. Side chairs from the Wm. H. Vanderbilt Dining Room are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession No. 1994.80), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Accession No. 2008-242-1), the Yale University Art Gallery (Accession No. 2008.224.1) and the Detroit Institute of Arts (Accession No. 2001.71), as well as in distinguished private collections. The present chair is the only example with the more elaborate stretcher known to exist.