Kimbel & Cabus Cabinet from the HRM Collection Travels to the Brooklyn Museum

The New York–based firm of Kimbel & Cabus, which led the way in Modern Gothic furniture design through the second half of the nineteenth century, is well represented in the permanent collection of the Hudson River Museum, and connected to the history of Glenview, the Museum’s Gilded Age home. The Museum’s furniture holdings include a secretary, an armchair, a hanging shelf, a table, a side chair original to Glenview, and a cabinet that is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum in Modern Gothic: The Inventive Furniture of Kimbel and Cabus, 1863–82. Other than the side chair, which is made of maple, all of these pieces feature the classic black finish referred to as “ebonized” and often applied over cherry, which was the firm’s specialty and a hallmark of the 1870s.

German-born cabinet maker Anthony Kimbel (ca. 1821–1895) and French-born cabinet maker Joseph Cabus (1824–1894) immigrated to New York and established their company in 1862. They were leading proponents of English design reform ideas, which were popularized in the United States by books such as Charles Locke Eastlake’s Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details (London, 1868). Like William Morris and other British Arts and Crafts designers, Eastlake advocated rectilinear forms influenced by English medieval design. Kimbel & Cabus was one of the only American firms producing in what became known as “Eastlake style” before the manufacturing displays at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 widely popularized it. The ebonized finish and the incised and gilded decorative motifs also demonstrate the strong influence of Japanese art on American designers during this period.

A Kimbel & Cabus sales catalog from 1875, in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, is illustrated with photographs of their offerings and shows them in the vanguard of these trends. Unlike cabinet makers who produced one-of-a-kind furniture for the very wealthy, Kimbel & Cabus represented a middle ground between elite firms and cheap factory-made pieces. Their advertisements promoted “prices within the reach of all,” and according to Barbara Veith, who guest curated the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, they were “adept at marketing themselves to broad spectrum of customers interested in aligning themselves with progressive taste, from academics and doctors, to ambitious, striving stockbrokers, money managers and merchants.” Tiles and other decorative panels on their furniture were interchangeable, allowing buyers to personalize standard offerings. The tiles depicting medieval figures on the Museum’s cabinet were made by Minton Hollins in Stoke-on-Trent, England, and the ornate decorative tiles on the secretary were made by Leboeuf, Milliet & Co., in Creil or Montereau, France.

Glenview was the home of the Trevor family for 45 years. The Museum has spent many years researching and documenting its furnishings, most of which were sold by the executors of the John Bond Trevor estate after his wife Emily Norwood Trevor’s death in 1922. The original maple side chair, returned to the Museum in a 1980 bequest from Ruth Nichols, daughter-in-law of the Trevor’s head gardener, is all that remains of the Parlor furniture. From a set of four, one of these chairs can be seen in a period photogravure of the house by Edward Bierstadt, and another is in Bierstadt’s photogravure of the Sitting Room with a view into the Library, where portions of an ebonized armchair and corner chair, typical of Kimbel & Cabus, are also visible.

In the catalog of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Barbara Veith and Medill H. Harvey, Ruth Bigelow Wriston Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts and Manager of the Henry R. Luce Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, corroborate the theory that the Trevors must have furnished these rooms with purchases from Kimbel & Cabus. Whether selected by the Trevors, their architect Charles Clinton, or Leissner and Louis, who created the ceiling stencils and may have also provided the wallpaper, the choice of Eastlake-influenced designs by Kimbel & Cabus is just one example of how Glenview was a the cutting edge of fashion when it was completed in 1877.

Laura Vookles
Chair, Curatorial Department