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On Exhibit November 20, 1998 through September 12, 2000
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Wunsch exhibit.

This exhibit celebrates two centuries of decorative and fine arts in New York. It celebrates as well a dynamic partnership between the State Museum and its benefactor, Eric Martin Wunsch.

Since 1969, the Decorative and Fine Arts Collections of the New York State Museum have been enhanced by the generosity of the Wunsch Americana Foundation, Inc. and the Wunsch Foundation, Inc.

The Wunsch Collection consists of furniture, paintings, silver, ceramics, and folk art crafted primarily between 1700 and 1900. The objects are labeled by New York craftsmen, or are documented with a New York State history. The Wunsch Collection illustrates changing stylistic trends and helps us to understand how New Yorkers once lived.

The Colonial Period, 1700 - 1790

The Colonial Period

Bold proportions and Rococo curves characterize the decorative arts of Colonial New York. Colonial craftsmen imitated fashionable English styles, and today these styles take their names from the English monarchs who ruled when the styles were popular, or from English cabinetmakers of the period. New York's Colonial decorative arts were also influenced by the region's early Dutch heritage, which added a variety of forms and decoration. This mix of English and Dutch traditions formed a unique New York style.

Furniture and silver were generally custom-made for the consumer. In style, fashionable New York goods lagged behind those imported from England, and country goods were even more conservative than fashions in urban centers. Country craftsmen gave individual interpretations to formal styles.

During the Colonial Period in New York, furniture was lined up around the walls of a room. When the room was in use chairs and tables could be brought to the center of the room or near the hearth and returned to the perimeter when the room was vacated. Chair-tables, drop-leaf tables and tilt-top tables underscored the portability of furniture and the varied uses of eighteenth century rooms.

The Federal Period, 1790 - 1820

The Federal Period

By the end of the eighteenth century a new, lighter style pervaded the decorative arts of the young America. Delicate forms and straight or elliptical lines characterized New York decorative arts of the Federal Period. The design sources still came from England and were derived from neo-classical architectural designs published between 1773 and 1779 by two British architects, Robert Adam and James Adam. Their architectural designs influenced furniture forms in pattern books published by English cabinetmakers such as Thomas Shearer (1788), George Hepplewhite (1788), and Thomas Sheraton (1793-1794 and 1803). American as well as British cabinetmakers enthusiastically adopted the styles promoted in these books and continued making furniture to order.

During this period the leadership in the design and production of fashionable American furniture moved from Philadelphia to New York City. With its flourishing port, New York assumed eminence in many areas of trade and commerce. In 1805, in search of a new business location, William Johnson of New Jersey indicated that New York was "the London of America" and would "take the lead of business to any other place in the United States."

The Classical Revival, 1815-1850

The Classical Revival

This period was influenced by the tastes of both English Regency and French Empire. Greco- Roman archaeological forms, including klismos and curule chairs, karyatids, tripod supports, and animal paw feet characterized the style, as reflected in Sheraton's later designs (published in 1812). New York maintained its role as trendsetter, and during these years furniture warehouses were established where ready-made furniture could be purchased.

America was infatuated with classical civilization, avidly following the news of archaeological excavations in Greece and Italy, and comparing the new republic with Rome. New Yorkers lived in replicas of Greek temples and furnished them with copies of Greek and Roman furniture and other imitation objects from the period.

Two New York City cabinetmakers were responsible for disseminating this style. Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) emigrated from Scotland to Albany in 1784 and then to New York in 1792. While Phyfe derived inspiration largely from England, Charles Honore Lannuier (1779-1819), who emigrated from Paris in 1803, made furniture with a decidedly French accent.

The Romantic Revival, 1840-1890

The Romantic Revival

Just as Americans had become interested in the classical past a generation earlier, now they began to reflect on European history and revive the styles of a romanticized past. This was truly a period of revivals, affecting not only the decorative arts but also architecture and literature. The Gothic Revival, with its pointed arches, appeared in the 1840s, followed by the spool-turned elements of the Elizabethan Revival. The Rococo Revival, emulating the floral carved furniture of early France, dominated the 1850s. The 1860s revisited decorative motifs of the Renaissance, and the 1870s witnessed a revival of the styles of France's Louis XVI.

New York continued to lead the way. German emigrant John Henry Belter became king of the Rococo Revival; French emigrant Alexander Roux made both Rococo Revival and Renaissance Revival furniture; another French emigrant, Leon Marcotte, made Louis XVI Revival furniture, as did the Herter Brothers from Germany, Christian and Gustav. The use of machines made even the most intricate objects affordable, and the prosperous middle class furnished their homes with an array of manufactured furniture and knick-knacks. With the revival of medieval and renaissance styles, a person's home could truly resemble a castle.

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For more information, contact John Scherer, 3097 Cultural Education Center, Albany, N.Y. 12230. Telephone: (518) 474-5353. FAX: (518) 473-8496. E-mail:

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Museum Open Tuesday-Sunday: 9:30 am to 5 pm | Carousel Hours: 10 am to 4:30 pm
Office of Cultural Education | New York State Education Department
Information: 518-474-5877 | Contact Us | Image Requests | Terms of Use
Join us on Facebook See us on YouTube See us on Flickr