Gustave and Christian Herter
It's a bit of hyperbole, but were it not for the marriage of The Herter Brothers' mother to Christian Herter (1807-1874), the brothers may have been known as the "Hagenlocher Brothers"; not quite as marketable a moniker as the "Herter Brothers".
Gustave was born in 1830 to the unmarried Johanna Christiana Maria Barbara Hagenlocher (1805-1871) in Württemberg and was initially named Julius Gustav Alexander Hagenlocher. Christiana married Christian Herter in 1835 and on January 8, 1839, Christian Augustus Ludwig Herter was born. Christian Herter adopted Gustav sometime after the marriage.
Their father Christian was referred to as an "ébéniste", meaning cabinetmaker. The term would have been derived from the fact that in the mid-17th century France an ébéniste primarily would have worked in ebony wood. Christian is most undoubtedly the first and probably most influential figure in shaping future direction of the talented brothers.
Gustave left Württemberg sometime in the latter part of 1848, headed for America. Much of Gustave's early years in New York are not well-documented and he is not listed in New York directories before 1851. Gustave may have lived in a concentrated German area of Lower East Side named Little Germany - "KleinDeutschland". He renounced his Württemberg citizenship in 1850.
Gustave established a business with Auguste Pottier of eventual Pottier & Stymus fame in 1851, but the partnership did not last more than a year. Gustave was next an associate in Bulkley & Herter where he soon designed two pieces for the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853.
It seems that Gustave was quickly recognized as a great visionary as is evidenced by his string of associations with some of the great cabinetmakers of New York. First Pottier and next Thomas Brooks, with whom he collaborated by designing a rosewood etagere. Herter was then neighbors with John Henry Belter when the business moved in 1854.
By 1858 Herter was in a sole proprietorship and by 1860 had 100 employees. Even from the early years of business, Herter not only produced furniture but also designed complete interiors for wealthy clientèle.
In 1859, his half-brother's name began to show up in documentation and he declared his intent to become a citizen. He did not become a part of Gustave's business until 1864 at which point the name changed to Herter Brothers. Between 1868 and 1869 directories in New York state that France was Christian's official home.
Herter Brothers became one of the most successful and noted cabinetmakers of the time producing pieces during several design eras: Renaissance Revival, Neo-Grec, Eastlake, the Aesthetic Movement, and "Anglo-Japanese style". Herter Brothers designs leveraged the those of Europe balanced with contemporary American influences. In the later years, England and Japan were the two most prominent design influences.
At 40 years of age in 1870, Gustave took the equivalent of about $1.2 million in today's dollars of his investment in the firm and relocated to Germany with his wife and children for purposes of their education. Christian Herter was left at the helm of Herter Brothers.
By 1880, the Herter Brothers are listed for the first time in Paris city directories in addition to their American central presence.
Christian's largest and most elaborate commission in his career was the William H. Vanderbilt residence on Fifth Avenue from 1879 to 1882. Each room had it's own theme, including Pompeian, Japanese, Renaissance, and Anglo-Japanese. The Vanderbilt commission ended up being Christian's last as it appears that the Herter company was struggling financially at the time.
Christian left Herter Brothers as the visionary design leader and became a hands-off partner in 1882. He returned to Europe shortly thereafter with his family and died in 1883 from tuberculosis.
Gustave Herter died November 30, 1898, never apparently producing any commissions since his retirement until his last - his own family mausoleum, designed some time between 1892 and 1898.
The firm continued on for another 20 years without the brothers, finally closing shop in 1905.
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