The New York-based firm of Kimbel & Cabus led the way in Modern Gothic furniture design through the second half of the 19th century. Formed in 1862 by German-born cabinet maker Anthony Kimbel (ca. 1821–1895) and French-born cabinet maker Joseph Cabus (1824–1894), the firm represented the positive synergy between immigrant craftsmen, many of whom arrived around 1848, and the daring tastes of post-Civil War northeastern industrialists and financiers. The enthusiastic market rewarded their experimentation in tastefully eclectic objects like this cabinet.
The dark, ebonized wood and incised, gilded decorative motifs demonstrate the strong influence of Japanese art on European and American designers in this period. Many of these ideas were first introduced in world’s fairs, and it is likely that John Bond Trevor encountered Kimbel & Cabus at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Indeed, though this piece did not belong to the Trevors, research reveals that the family owned and lived with Kimbel & Cabus furniture in Glenview.
The three decorative porcelain tile inlays were produced by the firm Leboeuf, Milliet & Co. of Creil and Montereau, France. LM & Cie, as they were known by their monogram, were very popular during the French Second Empire. Here, the ornate designs derive from the decorations found in ancient Roman villas. Italian Renaissance artisans adapted these motifs, such as garlands, animals morphing into plant-like forms, and cornucopia. By the 16th century, the term “grotesque,” which refers to the grottoes in which these villas were found, was applied to this fantastical imagery.
Combining Japanesque motifs with Victorian Gothic cabinetwork, opulent classical grotesques with austere geometricized decoration, this cabinet by Kimbel & Cabus anticipates the interest in the pared-down structural appeal of Japanese art and the desire to unify decorative arts with architecture that would later characterize early twentieth-century Modernism.
This secretary is one of many objects found in Glenview that are standing examples of the high degree of craftsmanship and creativity resulting from the influx of immigrants in the nineteenth century. Anthony Kimbel and Joseph Cabus both came to America after 1848, a year of revolutionary change across Europe. Daniel Pabst, another German immigrant, is represented by the cameo-carved maple exhibition cabinet in the Sitting Room and the ebonized chimneypiece and bookcases in the Library, adjacent to the Great Hall. The diverse rich interiors of Glenview demonstrate the impact of immigration in nineteenth-century America.