SPECIAL ADVISORY: In accordance with Yale University’s revised COVID-19 protocols, the Yale University Art Gallery is closed to the public until further notice. Learn More

American Decorative Arts
PrevNext1 of 3
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 3
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext3 of 3
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Couch

1820–30

White pine, ash, yellow poplar, and cherry

29 15/16 × 20 3/4 × 60 in. (76 × 52.7 × 152.4 cm)
other (Maximum): 33 1/8 in. (84.1 cm)
seat: 12 5/8 in. (32.1 cm)
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection
1930.2622
This couch stands out for its grand, sweeping curves and robustly carved feet borrowed from ancient Greek and Roman furniture, its rich surface ornament of gilt images of anthemia and cornucopias, and its costly wool upholstery. Made in New York City, it is a bold expression of luxury and opulence. Adding to its character is the function of the object, which invites its user to recline. One would lie on one’s left side, head propped on the couch’s right-hand arm, in a posture that the period associated with decadent indulgence. As the entry for “Grecian” notes in the English furniture designer Thomas Sheraton’s 1803 Cabinet Dictionary, “The old Romans sat at meat as we do, till the Grecian luxury and softness had corrupted them; and then they lolled, or reclined at dinner after the Grecian manner … [they] had borrowed this idle mode.” The couch’s distance from the earlier model of classicism and its ideological underpinnings were tied to a much larger shift in American culture. During the decade when the object was produced, the United States was experiencing a market revolution, as a generation of enterprising entrepreneurs, a growing transportation network, and changes in government policy worked together to build a rampant capitalist economy. Under the pressure of this new structure, the public-spirited values of the Founders gradually gave way to those of self-interest. Material comfort and luxury rather than public service became the primary signifiers of social status and success. The opulent design and indulgent function of the couch were consistent with these new criteria.
Geography: 
Made in New York, New York
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Furniture
Provenance: 

Francis P. Garvan, New York, NY.

Bibliography: 

V. Isabelle Miller, Furniture by New York Cabinetmakers, 1650 to 1860 (New York: Museum of the City of New York, 1957), 79, fig. 130.

Robert C. Smith, “Late Classical Furniture in the United States, 1820–1850,” Antiques 74 (December 1958): 520, ill.

John Harris, Regency Furniture Designs, 1803–1826 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961), n.p., no. 192.

Helen Comstock, American Furniture: Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century Styles (New York: Viking Press, 1962), n.p., fig. 538.

Classical America, 1815–1845: An Exhibition at the Newark Museum, exh. cat. (Newark, N.J.: Newark Museum, 1963), 60, 78, no. 52.

Joseph Aronson, The New Encyclopedia of Furniture (New York: Crown Publishers, 1967), 402, fig. 1139.

Robert Bishop, Centuries and Styles of the American Chair, 1640–1970 (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1972), 286, fig. 451.

Patricia E. Kane, 300 Years of American Seating Furniture Chairs and Beds from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1976), between200–201, 237, no. 223, fig. Pl. 17.

Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 96, ill.

Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 210–11, no. 113, ill.

Sylviane Gold, “A Young Nation Acquires a Taste for Splendor,” New York Times (March 18, 2012), CT10, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.