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November 09, 2022

Acquisition: Gift of Tilt-Top Center Table by Duncan Phyfe

Duncan Phyfe, "Center Table"

Duncan Phyfe
Center Table, 1825–1830
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift from the collection of John B. Bolton

Duncan Phyfe (1768–1854) was the premier furniture maker in New York during the first half of the 19th century. Working in a refined neoclassical style, he won the admiration of wealthy homeowners in New York, Philadelphia, and the South. The National Gallery of Art has been given an important center table by Phyfe dating to 1825–1830 from the collection of John B. Bolton.

Featuring a tripod pillar-and-claw base, the table has a circular top composed of a rayed pattern of book-matched, flame-grained mahogany veneers. A star-shaped disk of light-colored burlwood sits at the center. Lighter and more mobile than traditional card tables, this example has a top that tilts up, allowing it to be tucked into the corner of a room where its surface could still be admired. The veneered pattern resembles those created by a kaleidoscope—an optical device that won international popularity after it was patented by the Scottish scientist David Brewster in 1817. Phyfe may have been directly inspired in his design by looking through a kaleidoscope. The table appears to have held personal significance for Phyfe. He gave it to his daughter, possibly as a wedding gift in 1825.

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