Kimbell and Cabus and Modern Gothic Furniture in America
April 01, 2009
Independent Scholar, Curator, and Museum Consultant
Dr. Harwood’s lecture will explore Modern Gothic style as seen through the works of the popular nineteenth century American decorating and furniture-making firm Kimbel and Cabus. The lecture will be the last in a season-long series relating to the Arts and Crafts movement.
Modern Gothic was a reaction to the superficial ornament of such revivalist styles as Neoclassicism. Advocates of the Modern Gothic style sought a more functional expression of decoration and—much like Arts and Crafts founders such as William Morris—looked to Gothic design for inspiration. Kimbel and Cabus furniture pieces were almost architectural in design, with integrated decorative touches such as incised scrollwork, elaborate hinges, trestle bases, and pointed gables.
Kimbel and Cabus was in business in New York City for two decades, between 1863 and 1882. During this time it became the foremost practitioner of the Modern Gothic style in the United States and its furniture is still avidly sought after by collectors and museums. Nineteenth-century Americans who sought out Kimbel and Cabus’s interior design services and furniture were the modernists of their time, and had adventurous, progressive tastes.
“The Gothic was certainly among the most popular styles of the panoply of revivals that characterize American furniture in the nineteenth century,” Dr. Harwood says. “The Gothic Revival is of particular importance to decorative arts historians because it was the vehicle of design reform that laid the basis for the revolution in design at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century—abstraction.”
Dr. Harwood’s lecture will trace the history of this fascinating firm, examine English furniture design precedents, and look at Modern Gothic furniture by other select American furniture makers of the period.
Dr. Harwood is the curator of the Department of Decorative Arts at The Brooklyn Museum. Before joining the museum in 1988, he was the owner and director of Harwood Galleries in New York from for almost ten years. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Dr. Harwood has been an adjunct professor at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum/Parsons Masters Program in the History of Decorative Arts since 1991.
While at The Brooklyn Museum, Dr. Harwood has organized installations and exhibitions ranging from Louis Comfort Tiffany glass to Worcester Royal Porcelain. His most recent exhibitions include From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith (May 14, 2008–May 16, 2009) and The Furniture of George Hunzinger: Invention and Innovation in 19th Century America (November 20, 1997–February 15, 1998). The catalogue for The Furniture of George Hunzinger was also awarded the 1997 Publication and Exhibition award by the Victorian Society in America, Metropolitan Chapter.