On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, The United States on the World Stage, 1865–1930
This cabinet-secretary is one of Kimbel and Cabus’s most developed works in the Modern Gothic style. While it is a functional object, the striking form—blackened to resemble ebony, with bold surface ornamentation and shelves for art objects—suggests that it was intended for display as much as for use. Elaborate cast metal hinges and decorative escutcheons take even the most practical elements to expressive heights, animating the drop-front desk and cabinet doors, which display colorful French-made tiles of Islamic inspiration.
Painted cherry, copper, brass, gilding, leather, earthenware
60 × 35 × 14 in. (152.4 × 88.9 × 35.6 cm) (show scale)
reverse of each ceramic tile, molded lettering: "MONTREAU / L. M&.Cie / CREIL"
Bequest of DeLancey Thorn Grant in memory of her mother, Louise Floyd-Jones Thorn, by exchange
Cabinet or secretary; ebonized wood, brass, leather, ceramic tile. Cabinet of plank construction; rectangular block front bottom topped by square fall-front section, which intersects a peaked, pyramidal back support. Deep, narrow side shelves with pierced outer sides over small square side drawers (g, h) flank the central fall-front section. Cabinet (a) rises on blocked feet with curved side support and scalloped base. Bottom front has two doors inset with elaborate, incised, gilt metal, functional hinge plates and escutcheons; all fittings held in place by round-head screws. Center of lower doors inset with ceramic tiles capped at top and bottom with gilt, incised fan motifs. Tile decoration: red, pierced quatrefoil design with white-pedaled, green-stemmed flowers radiating from center rosette, all on a blue ground; side border design of opposing green and black chevrons and green semi-circles on top and bottom, with diamond-shaped motifs in corners. Right edge of proper left door panel contains vertical band of carved, pyramidal decoration. Interior lower cabinet has one adjustable shelf (b) with four holding pegs (c, d, e, f). Lower section of cabinet separated from upper section by a narrow, horizontal, gilt-incised band of alternating vertical slash-and-dot pattern. Upper section of cabinet has fall-front panel with arched and scalloped bottom edge and large gilt, incised, decorative hinge plate and escutcheon. Center panel decorated with winged dragon on a stippled ground in square canopy surrounded by conventionalized gilt-incised floral design. Upper section of cabinet topped by blind gallery, accented by small diamond-shaped marquetry panel. Marquetry decoration: outlined center rosette with four larger solid black radiating triangular petals, all on a yellow diamond-shaped ground with a dark red border outlined in black with solid black diamond-shaped motifs in each corner. Triangular back support of cabinet extends from midway up the fall-front to a peak directly above the marquetry panel. Interior fall-front contains green stippled leather writing surface with gilt on red Greek-key border; single interior drawer (i) and open storage area topped by four deep, narrow storage spaces separated by three dividers. Cabinet retains one original key for lower cabinet doors (j) and later smaller key for upper fall-front door (k). (Sub letters are for description references only)
CONDITION - Overall very good. Ebonized finish appears to be intact; gilding along edges of metalwork shows minor wear, ceramic tiles in excellent condition.
Kimbel and Cabus (1863-1882). Cabinet-Secretary, ca. 1875. Painted cherry, copper, brass, gilding, leather, earthenware, 60 × 35 × 14 in. (152.4 × 88.9 × 35.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of DeLancey Thorn Grant in memory of her mother, Louise Floyd-Jones Thorn, by exchange, 1991.126. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Gavin Ashworth, 1991.126_GavinAshworth.jpg)
overall, 1991.126_GavinAshworth.jpg. Gavin Ashworth, 2020
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Is this demon crest related to a secret society or satanism?
Interesting question! This cabinet was made in the Modern Gothic style by Kimbel and Cabus, which means pointed arches and gilded decorations. I'm looking into this particular aspect of the iconography right now! It's described simply as a winged dragon in our records.
It may be influenced by heraldic patterns and coats of arms, which the builders would have seen a time or two. They certainly put a lot of images and styles into this particular work, including staining the wood to make it look like dark ebony!
Tell me more.
This is a terrific example of the Gothic Revival style in America. One detail of this piece is the use of long "strap hinges". Although these were functional, they were also highly decorative. This emphasis on functionality was a key feature of the Gothic style. The use of ebonized wood and carved chevrons are also hallmarks of this style.