Herter Brothers was the most progressive American interior design and furniture production firm of the late nineteenth century in America. The newly rich were ensured both tasteful and elegant interiors when they entrusted the Herters with the decoration of their homes.

Although the furniture of Herter Brothers was derived from a variety of historical periods, the Anglo-Japanese style associated with the designs of Christian Herter is the most distinctive. Having become acquainted first-hand with the work of the English design reformers, including
E. W. Godwin, on a trip to England in 1870, Christian developed an original style based on their precepts, which required straight lines and flat surface ornamentation. This cabinet exhibits the restraint associated with the firm’s best work. It retains its original gilt pressed paper, as well as its brass pulls, escutcheon, key, and beveled mirrors.
This cabinet is a masterpiece of the Aesthetic Movement and an example of Christian Herter’s work at the height of his powers. The Herter Brothers, Gustave and his younger half-brother Christian, set the standard for high-style furniture and interiors during the second half of the nineteenth century.1 The German-born brothers, whose father was a skilled craftsman, were brought up under the European guild model. Gustave is first listed in the New York City directory in 1851 as a cabinetmaker; he had several partnerships until going solo in 1858, when he conducted business under his own name. Christian arrived in New York in 1859 and joined his brother in 1864, and the firm changed its name to Herter Brothers. The firm excelled in both interior design and furniture, securing many commissions and prestigious clients, including Jay Gould, J. Pierpont Morgan, and William H. Vanderbilt.

Christian became interested in Asian art during visits to Europe and Paris2 in the late l860s.3 Christian returned to New York in 1870 to assume control of the firm until his early retirement in 1880. During this period, his creative talents kept Herter Brothers among the leaders in the industry. The Anglo-Japanese style of the cabinet is seen in the ebonized cherry wood, straight lines, patterns on gilt pressed paper, and leaf decorations on the upper portion of the columns that terminate in paw feet. The influence of the Aesthetic Movement, with its incorporation of decorative elements inspired by the classical past, is highlighted by the center panel door with its carved gilt female mask, meandering key pattern, and amphora with a symmetrical spread of foliated elements. Flanking the amphora are incised lines meant to suggest an architectural setting against a monochromatic background.

Remarkably, the cabinet retains its original gilt pressed paper on both the splashboard and bottom shelf. The brass pulls, key plate (escutcheon), and beveled mirror are also original to the piece. Michael E. Crane

Adapted from Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1­–2 (2007): 26–27.

Notes

1. For more on the Herter Brothers, see K. S. Howe, Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York, 1994).
2. Katherine Howe purposed a compelling scenario that Christian likely traveled to Paris for the Exposition Universelle that highlighted the Second Empire (see note l).
3. For more information, see D. Bolger, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh. cat., 1986), 439.
Manufacturer Herter Brothers
American, 1865-1905
Title
  • Cabinet
Date between 1875 and 1880
Medium ebonized cherry with gilt and painted decoration and gilt pressed paper, eight beveled mirrors
Dimensions Overall: 58 3/4 × 36 1/4 × 12 3/4 inches (149.2 × 92.1 × 32.4 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Gibbs-Williams Fund
Accession Number 1988.2
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W285, Level 2 (see map)
Marks Stamped, on back: Herter Bros.
Margot Johnson, Inc.;
1988-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Bulletin of the DIA 64, 2-3 (1988): p. 14 (fig. 10).

"Selected Recent Acquisitions." Bulletin of the DIA 66, 4 (1991): p. 48 (ill.).

"American Decorative Arts Acquisitions, 1985-2005." Bulletin of the DIA 66, 4 (1991): p. 48 (ill.).