Rare Victorian - John Jelliff Neo-Grec VSA Article

John Jelliff Neo-Grec VSA Article

John Jelliff in The Victorian Times

I recently “met” Roberta Mayer virtually through this site when she saw my posts on John Jelliff and the “Jenny Lind” carved arms.  She made me aware of an article she had written on the same topic several years ago for The Victorian Times for VSA.  Roberta is an accomplished and widely published author and presenter on the topic of decorative arts who happens to live very close to me.  I will need to meet up with her one of these days.

My thinking on these arms is very much in-line with hers (and I plan another post on more comparisons) and she has graciously approved my sharing her article with you below.  It is titled, “Neo-Grec Parlor Suites:” with the wonderful sub-title of “Not Always A “Jelliff””

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  • mayerwagner - June 24, 2009

    I want to add that this Phoenix Furniture Company sofa, as well as three chairs from the parlor suite, were published in:

    Kenneth L. Ames, “Grand Rapids Furniture at the Time of the Centennial,” Winterthur Porfolio 10 (1975): 23-50.

    About these pieces, Ames writes, “The finest features of all are the carved caryatids supporting the arms. This device is widely found throughout the period on high-quality furniture made in most production centers.”

    I believe that Ames is right on this point, but sorting out “who, what, and where” has proved a daunting task. M. & H. Schrenkeisen, J. W. Hamburger, and the Phoenix Furniture Company have been revealed — but I am quite confident that there are still others (beside Jelliff) to be found!

    There are also some other trade catalogue photos illustrated in Ames’ article that will likely interest readers of this blog. Winterthur Porfolio is a peer-reviewed journal published the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.


  • zeke - June 25, 2009

    Great read and very informative. many thanks for posting this. It supports my thoughts exactly!

  • renaissanceman - June 26, 2009

    It should be noted that carved heads on the end of arms on sofas dates to the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851 and has its roots in Italian Renaissance furniture designs. Both male and female busts were used, but it appears that the widely known female bust was the most popular. Jelliff seems to be one of the first American cabinetmakers to routinely incorporate a woman’s head on the arms and the top of the crest. Assuming his work dates to the 1860s, by the 1870s other cabinetmakers captured the same idea in their parlor sets including Phoenix and others. So why were these sets so common? During the late 1860s and early 1870s, French furniture was the rage, and I believe these sets were meant to portray Marie Antoinette. Others feel the busts were meant to portray Jennie Lind., but doubt this was the case. In any case the idea was to portray a noble woman. The most important aspect of each piece boils down to the the quality of the work, in this case the carving, which varies widely from piece to piece. Most of the Phoenix and Grand Rapids parlor sets are somewhat inferior, at least in my opinion, to those made in New York and were likely mass produced for the growing middle-class market. The botom line is unless you find a label or can attribute the item to a purchase or commission, assigning Jelliff to each and every piece is quite spurious to say the least!

  • renaissanceman - June 26, 2009

    On the question about horse hair stuffing. Much of what is believed to be horse hair is actually hogs hair. I believe all the white stuffing that was used on fine furniture with light colored upholstery is hogs hair. In either case various hairs were and are used in fine upholstery work it depends upon the fabric being applied to the under upholstery.


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