The Met’s Artistic Furniture the Highlight of a Snowy Antiques Weekend

In Review: NYC Antiques Weekend 2016

Although a sudden blizzard this past January left the Trust trying to salvage the New York Antiques Weekend schedule, the inclement weather thankfully did not interrupt our visit to Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Curated by Nonnie Frelinghuysen and Nicholas Vincent, with assistance from Moira Gallagher, the show opened in conjunction with the American Wing’s newest period room, the Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, and offered the first critical look at the career of the room’s decorator, George A. Schastey (1839-1894).

A Prussian immigrant, Schastey cut his teeth with some of the foremost furniture makers in New York City during the 1860s and early 1870s, including Herter Brothers, Pottier & Stymus, and Conrad Boller, before opening his own factory in 1873. While relatively anonymous today, Schastey was a highly sought-after cabinetmaker in the late 19th century. Like many high-end firms, he exploited the new transcontinental railroad to fulfill commissions on the West Coast, with patrons such as Alfred A. Cohen, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Jr., and Collis Huntington. The decision of Huntington’s mistress, Arabella Worsham, to commission Schastey a few years later to furnish and decorate her new house on New York City’s West 44th Street was, therefore, no coincidence. A colorful and consequential figure in her own right (she later helped to found the Huntington Library), Arabella used Schastey’s wares throughout.

Her dressing room was one of three interiors donated to local museums upon the structure’s demolition in 1938 following the lengthy occupation of the John D. Rockefeller family. The dressing room was displayed at the Museum of the City of New York until 2006, when a revision in the institutional master plan meant the room could no longer be accommodated. Thankfully, the Met’s American Wing had just the space—an unused fire stairwell that fit the original dimensions of the dressing room with half an inch to spare.

Juxtaposed against the dressing room, Artistic Furniture included two complementary components. The first introduced Schastey, featuring a selection of his surviving pieces for the Worsham-Rockefeller house as well as other notable commissions, including a spectacular Model B Steinway grand piano made for William Clark of Newark, New Jersey. Indeed, this piano, with its satinwood and purpleheart inlay similar to the paneling of the dressing room, helped the Met’s team confirm the attribution of Schastey’s work for the Clark house. A second gallery showed highlights of the Met’s well-admired collection of late-19th-century furniture.

The tour of Artistic Furniture was exceptional for the Decorative Arts Trust, not just for the show’s superb and fresh subject matter, but also to promote the work of two Trust members, Nicholas and Moira, who kindly provided tours alongside Nonnie. Our Antiques Weekend participants were thrilled with the introduction to their research and discoveries and look forward to future projects from these rising stars in the museum field.


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