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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

 
 
 
Attributed to the Shop of John and Thomas Seymour
Boston, 1794 - 1804
Tambour Desk
1794–1810
Mahogany, inlay, enameled brass, eastern white pine, and red oak

41 3/8 x 37 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection
Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America
 
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The tambour desk was a new and innovative form that reflects the increasingly important place of women in American society in the early 19th century, as well as the growing international influence on American furniture design. Rather than relying on English design sources, the desk appears to be related to a small group of furniture influenced by contemporary French models, in this instance the bonheur du jour, or small writing table, of the Louis XVI period (1774–1793).

The desk enjoyed great popularity in Boston and in the cabinetmaking centers north of the city. Exhibited in the Federal Parlor at Bayou Bend, this example bears the script initials “TS” and is similar to a desk with a paper label bearing the names of John and Thomas Seymour. Although these relationships strengthen the attribution to the Seymours’ shop, they are not sufficient to attribute the desk to a specific maker. Thomas Seymour’s own advertisements specify that the furniture was made not by but “under the direction of Thomas Seymour." Whether this elegant desk represents the work of an individual or a group, the accomplished results epitomize the cabinetmakers’ sensitive interpretations of the Neoclassical style in America, through the drawer pulls of English enamel, light-colored inlay, and delicate inlaid swags on the sliding tambour front.