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Duncan Phyfe (1768 - 1854)



Duncan Phyfe was born in Scotland in 1768 and brought to the United States by his parents in 1784. His cabinet-making shops in New York City occupied numbers 168, 17o, and 172 on Fulton Street.

Phyfe's work was as good in design as that of the great English cabinet makers of the eighteenth century. His furniture had charm and also stability. He showed fine judgment in the proportions of his furniture, in its graceful, flaring, spirited lines, and in the restrained use of metal and other decoration, which was carefully related to the structure upon which it was placed. He used such subtly curved lines that sometimes they appeared straight. His favorite motifs were acanthus leaves, dogs' feet, lions' feet, lionmask handles, carved leaves, fluting, cornucopias, rosettes, drapery, wheat, and indeed all classical motifs.

Phyfe required wood that had lightness and strength for his furniture, so he nearly always used mahogany. The typical Phyfe chair had a low, open back with an ornamental slat, lyre, or half hoop, scrolled arms, and a broad seat. His sofas and settees had pleasing but rather formal lines. Phyfe's tables were of three kinds: with legs at the corners, with a center pedestal on three short legs, or with end supports of lyre design.

In his early work Phyfe copied Louis XVI, Adam, Heppelwhite, and Sheraton styles for his customers. His most important contribution however was the beautiful style that he created from the Directoire and Empire styles of France. Several excellent examples of Phyfe's work are in the Metropolitan Museum.

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