TREATMENT OF AN AMERICAN 19TH-CENTURY UPHOLSTERED CHAIR
CECELIA CHEWNING, & HAROLD F. MAILAND
2 MITCHELL AND RAMMELSBERG AND THE AESTHETIC MOVEMENT
Mitchell and Rammelsberg was praised as being in the vanguard for its rapid assimilation of the new modern gothic style when it displayed a sideboard and a hall stand at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (Art Journal 1877). Modern gothic was promoted through the writings of Charles Locke Eastlake and through furniture designs and room settings by Bruce J. Talbert. Influential books by both Englishmen had been published in the United States by the early 1870s (Eastlake 1872; Talbert 1873). Mitchell and Rammelsberg's quick adoption of these British design reform ideas is highly significant, for many American furniture manufacturers did not incorporate Eastlake and modern gothic into their style repertories until the early 1880s.
Also praised for its Centennial display of modern gothic was the prestigious New York City firm of Kimbel and Cabus (1863–82). The Kimbel and Cabus offering was a drawing room setting, providing a complete, harmonious environment in which to show the company's furniture to its best advantage. A suite of ebonized cherry was described as “upholstered in maroon satin with gold cord and fringe,” a look similar to that of the Cincinnati Art Museum's Mitchell and Rammelsberg suite (Hanks 1982, 64).
Learning quickly from Eastlake, Talbert, and Kimbel and Cabus, around 1879 Mitchell and Rammelsberg “brought over from England an [unidentified] artist in household decoration” who designed three rooms in the store in the fashionable “aesthetic” taste (quoted in Peirce 1978, 229). According to a reviewer for The Week: Illustrated, “that innocent suite of rooms quietly revolutionized the interior decoration of the homes of wealth in the valley of Ohio” (quoted in Peirce 1978, 229). Engravings of two rooms in the company's 1879 brochure may be from that revolutionary suite. They closely resemble the illustrations in Talbert (1873).
Not only was Mitchell and Rammelsberg producing modern gothic furniture, it was also offering that furniture upholstered in the finest of aesthetic movement fabrics. The 1879 brochure noted, “The full resources of the upholstery department have been taxed to make the cushions and coverings worthy of the cabinet work” (Mitchell and Rammelsberg 1879, 15). Unfortunately, we have no records to indicate where the company purchased its upholstery fabric. We know that jobbers in Philadelphia and New York seem to have been the main suppliers of American-made and imported fabrics for furniture factories, and we know that Mitchell and Rammelsberg carried both (Moss 1992).