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Video transcript

[Music] we're at the cooper-hewitt in New York City we're looking at a chair that's 135 years old but looks really good for its age considering some of the furniture in my house anyway it was manufactured here in the United States by a very well known furniture manufacturing designer and the Herter brothers herder brothers was based here in New York they had a storefront on East 18th Street they produced some of the most sophisticated and technically refined furniture of this late 19th century period their patrons were in California they were in New York they were in Chicago they were among some of the most wealthy people in the United States at that time Pierre Pont Morgan William H Vanderbilt these were very wealthy American financier who had very luxurious standards they outfitted their interiors in a historic Syst mode we see this a lot architects designers painters looking back at history of adopting various styles from Egyptian to classical to Islamic gothic looking for a way of expressing a modern style this chair would have been recognized as modern because it's one of the first examples of Americans interpreting a Japanese aesthetic here in the United States we're seeing those elements of Japanese or Eastern self maybe even Chinese too in the rectilinear forms along the back of the chair the floral decoration the marquetry the inlay the beribboned that the students the chair rail heard for us to imagine how chic and fashionable all things Japanese were and so here he is bringing that Japanese MA that interest in Japan which started in the late 1850s after Japan opened up to trade to America Christian Herter studied in Paris and it was there that he became familiar with this Japanese style Christian also goes to England and becomes acquainted with the art furniture of UW Godwin it's interesting that it's called art furniture it's not just furniture anymore there's this self-awareness of me really beautiful furniture getting rid of that distinction between the fine arts and the practical arts also goes along with greater interest in interior decoration at the time not only can you appreciate art in a museum but you can also live in an artful interior and that artful interior is that idea was it would make you a better person it would morally help your life so this chair is remarkable in its craftsmanship it shows a real attention to materials what you see on the back of the crust rail is marquetry which is inlay of various woods this chair would have incorporated the use of a lot of expensive imported wood it's honest in its craftsmanship it's flat so when you say flat I think it might be worthwhile to think about overstuffed Victorian couch with lots of curvilinear forms elaborate carving much of the decoration is literally set into the chair the gilding is done with incised lines that Pierce that wooden surface the decoration on the back of the crust rail is inlaid so that the overall surface effect of the chair gives that flat quality right so it's not carved it's not in relief Christian Herter was trained as a painter and I think we can see his approach to the chair as a painter decorating on the surface a lighting source in the room would have picked up on that gilt decoration making it really come alive it's so finely crafted we look down at the legs they taper down so gracefully the legs on the back swing out very subtly it looks very simple but when you look closely you see all the design decisions that hurt her is making here this anglo-japanese file is part of a reform of design that happened in the late 19th century that was feeling in England and America to that design in those countries was faltering that because of the Industrial Revolution people weren't paying attention to how things were designed and so we begin to see in the late 19th century this real care being taken in how things looked oftentimes people think of 19th century furniture and Link it to mass production and the use of the factories but with this her two brothers chair we can see that late 19th century furniture can also represent fine craftsmanship and attention to those details the dovetail joints the exotic woods the gilt decoration but of course only for the wealthy is the patron the details such as the gilt decoration and the marquetry would have been added by the client and as such added to the cost this chair was commissioned by a very wealthy client named Mark Hopkins who was one of the founders of the Union Pacific Railroad and she lived in the wealthiest neighborhood of San Francisco called Nob Hill his wife brought her two brothers on board she decorated the interior of their house this chair it likely appeared in a reception room that was fitted out in this anglo-japanese style the house also included a medieval Hall a picture gallery a number of these other historicist interiors so mark Hopkins would have aimed that this anglo-japanese style would have impressed his visitors although we were looking at this against the bear wall of the museum the point was not to make an isolated object but to create an entire environment you