Daniel Pabst (June 11, 1826 - July 15, 1910) was a virtuoso cabinetmaker of the Victorian Era, who created some of the most extraordinary hand-carved furniture in America. Sometimes working in collaboration with architect Frank Furness (1839-1912), he crafted pieces in the Neo-Grec, Renaissance Revival, Modern Gothic, and Colonial Revival styles. Examples of his work are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in Great Britain.
Born in Langenstein, Germany, Pabst immigrated to the U.S. in 1849 and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he would spend his professional career. The excellence of his craftsmanship elevated him above his peers, as did the strongly architectonic (building-like) quality of his furniture designs—often massively scaled, with columns, pilasters, rounded and Gothic arches, bold carving and polychromatic decoration. He was a master at cameo-carving (intaglio) in wood: veneering a light-colored wood over a darker, then carving through to create a vivid contrast. Some pieces were adorned with decorative tiles, others with painted glass panels backed with reflective foil. Elaborate strap hinges and hardware were commonly used, and the furniture was sometimes ebonized. His Philadelphia shop grew to employ up to 50 workmen, but the company's records do not survive. Of the presumably thousands of pieces produced over half a century, only two are signed. Therefore, identification of his work must be made through other documentation or through attribution.
The most famous pieces attributed to Pabst are a Modern Gothic desk and chair made to the designs of Frank Furness. Created for the architect's brother Horace (and slightly altered from Frank's surviving drawings), they are now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Furness family correspondence documents a set of bookcases by the pair — "These bookcases were placed in position this day–February 18th 1871. They were designed by Capt. Frank Furness, and made by Daniel Pabst..." — which are visible in a circa-1900 photograph of Horace Howard Furness's library. One of the bookcases is now at the University of Pennsylvania, others are now in the Barrie & Deedee Wigmore collection in New York City.
In 1873 Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (father of the future president) hired Furness to decorate his newly built townhouse at 6 West 57th Street, New York City (demolished). Based on designs in Furness's sketchbook, manufacture of the ornate paneling, bookcases, cabinetry and mantels is attributed to Pabst, along with individual furniture pieces. The massive dining table—with a base of carved egrets eating frogs—is in the collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia. The cameo-carved master bedroom suite is at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, President Theodore Roosevelt's summer home in Oyster Bay, New York. Antiques expert/dealer Robert Edwards (who discovered the Pabst-attributed cabinets now at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) has identified a chair now in the Barrie & Deedee Wigmore collection as having come from the Roosevelt library.
An 8-foot (2.4 m)-tall Modern Gothic exhibition cabinet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is attributed to Furness and Pabst. It features cameo-carved doors in maple and walnut, painted glass panels backed with foil, a shingled-roof top, and ornate brass hardware. This tour de force, reminiscent of Furness's bank buildings of the late-1870s, may be the masterpiece of their collaboration.
"The most prominent object of the class was a black-walnut sideboard designed and made by Daniel Pabst of Philadelphia. The treatment was rather architectural throughout, too much so for practical purposes. Such a heavy piece should be built in a house, and not be treated as movable furniture. The wood was filled and highly polished on shellac, as is the common practice of our cabinet-makers with their best work... The hinges and metallic mountings were of oxidized silver of the finest workmanship and spirited in design. All the panels were filled with relief-carving, animal and floral forms being introduced; but these were not all of original design. A noticeable feature was the central mirror surmounted by a crocketed gable, richly carved, with finial composed of two birds resembling pelicans. Four finials on the posts which defined the three main divisions were finished with carved cockatoos. The amount of rich carving far surpassed that on any other Gothic piece in the Exhibition..."
The paneling, library, mantels and grand staircase of the John Bond Trevor mansion "Glenview," in Yonkers, New York – part of the Hudson River Museum – are attributed to Pabst based on an 1877 newspaper article that documents his work there, and similarities to other works attributed to him. The parlor's mantel features the flanking dog-faced beasts seen on mantels in several Furness houses, and the 1877 article specifically credits the diningroom's sideboard to Pabst. Its fox-and-crane decoration (from Aesop's Fables) is repeated on the sideboard at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Pabst formed a partnership with Franz Krausz (Krauss) about 1854. According to Philadelphia directories, Pabst was located at 222 South 4th Street, circa 1854-56; Pabst and Franz Krausz were listed as cabinet makers at 90 Cherry Street, circa 1855-57; both were working at 600 Cherry Street and residing at 234 Stamper's Alley in Philadelphia, circa 1858; the shop moved to 120 Exchange Place, circa 1861; and the company was listed under the name "Pabst and Krauss," circa 1866.
According to Philadelphia Land Records, Daniel Pabst and Franz Krauss, both cabinet makers of the City of Philadelphia, purchased the property at 269 South Fifth Street on February 16, 1865 for the sum of Four Thousand Five Hundred Dollars.
A company profile from 1886:
Daniel Pabst, Designer and Manufacturer of Artistic Furniture, No. 269 South Fifth Street—One of the leading and most successful designers and manufacturers of artistic furniture in Philadelphia is Mr. Daniel Pabst, whose office and manufactory are located at No. 269 South Fifth Street. The business was established in 1854 by Pabst & Krauss, who were pioneers in the trade here. About 16 years ago Mr. Pabst became sole proprietor. The premises are very spacious, admirably arranged, and equipped throughout with every facility and convenience for the transaction of business, employment being given to 25 skilled workmen. Mr. Pabst designs and manufactures art and antique furniture of all kinds, which, for beauty and originality of design, superior and elaborate finish are unexcelled. The trade of the house extends through this and adjacent States. It is so well known and has retained its old customers for so long a time, that its reputation for honorable, straightforward dealing is established beyond the requirements of praise.
Pabst retired in 1896, but continued making furniture for friends and family members into his eighties. In June 1910, he was honored by the University of Pennsylvania for 50 years of carving senior-class "Honor Men Awards". He died in Philadelphia the following month, on July 15.
The largest collection of Pabst furniture is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; including a 14-piece Renaissance Revival diningroom suite and a music cabinet made for Henry Charles Lea (c.1868), two pier mirrors made for Charles T. Parry (c.1870), a Modern Gothic cameo-carved bedroom suite made for Pabst's daughter Emma (c.1878), and a signed and dated Modern Gothic grandfather clock ("Daniel Pabst, Artist, 1884."). In addition to the above museums, he is represented in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY, and the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, DE.
"Daniel Pabst really did develop a unique and identifiable decorative vocabulary. He tended to envelop the object's architecture with a fine scale pattern; it was an invention of his own. He wasn't aping the European antecedent. While I think there are masterpieces of Pabst's not from Furness's pen, he certainly benefitted from his close association with the architect. Pabst's Modern Gothic work presents the very germ of the modern movement. Like Christopher Dresser and Bruce Talbert, he conventionalized design, departing from the realistic motifs of the mid-19th century. You can see where this reductivity evolves into the Craftsman style." — Andrew Van Styn, furniture collector & dealer.
Examples of his work
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Frank Furness-designed chair from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1876). Another chair from the set is at the Allentown Art Museum.
- Art Institute of Chicago: "Fox and Crane" sideboard.
- Hudson River Museum/Glenview Mansion: Entrance Hall, Staircase, Ebony Library, Sitting Room cabinets, Parlor mantel, Dining Room sideboard (1876–77).
- Brooklyn Museum: Modern Gothic exhibition cabinet.
- Cleveland Museum of Art: Pedestal.
- University of Pennsylvania: "Honor Men Awards."
- University of Pennsylvania: Henry Charles Lea Library (1881). Removed from 2000 Walnut Street, Philadelphia in 1925; now installed in Van Pelt Library.
- Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute: Modern Gothic exhibition cabinet.
Modern Gothic Campeche-style chair (c. 1875-80), attributed to Furness and Pabst, private collection.
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- David Hanks, "Daniel Pabst," in Nineteenth Century Furniture: Innovation, Revival and Reform, Art and Antiques, 1982, cover, pp. 36-43.
- Historic American Buildings Survey PA.23-WALF.2A-5, Library of Congress.
- Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976, pp. 378-79, 401-03.
- Quoted in David Hanks, p. 43.
- George E. Thomas, et al., Frank Furness, The Complete Works, Princeton Architectural Press, revised edition 1996, pp. 166-67.
- Roosevelt dining table from Flickr.
- Roosevelt bed
- Thomas, et al. Frank Furness, pp. 180-83.
- Robert Edwards, Iz You Iz or Iz You Ain't Daniel Pabst: PMA Tries To Find Out (November 2008).
- Doreen Bolger Burke, ed., In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986, cover, pp. 142, 146-47, 460-61.
- "Decorative Fine-Art Work at Philadelphia: American Furniture," American Architect and Building News, vol. 2 (6 January 1877), p. 4.
- "The contract for the mason work was awarded to J. & G. Stewart; for the carpenter work to S. F. Quick; the plumbing, which is very extensive and thorough, was done by the day by J. J. Coffey; the mantels were furnished by Daniel Pabst, of Philadelphia; the decorative painting was executed by Leissner & Louis, of New York; the plain painting by John McLain, of this city" — The Yonkers Statesman, August 3, 1877.
- Bloomfield H. Moore house (1872-74), William Chalfont house (c. 1884), Lotta Crabtree cottage (1886), Robert M. Lewis house (c. 1886). Thomas, et al., Frank Furness, pp. 169, 250, 261, 265.
- "The dining room is trimmed with black walnut. A very elaborate buffet, made by Pabst, is built into an alcove opposite the massive mantel." — The Yonkers Statesman, August 3, 1877.
- Glenview library mantel from Flickr.
- Mary Jean Madigan, Eastlake-Influenced American Furniture: 1870-1890, Hudson River Museum, 1973, cover, plates 7, 10-12.
- McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory, Years 1856, 1857, 1858, 1861, 1866.
- Philadelphia Land Records - Recorded LRB Book 74 Page 491
- McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory of 1866
- Philadelphia: Leading Merchants and Manufacturers (Philadelphia: 1886), p. 167.
- The Evening Bulletin, 11 June 1910, cited in Hanks and Talbott, p. 23.
- Lea music cabinet from Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Parry pier mirror from Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Hanks and Talbott, cover, pp. 1-24.
- 1884 grandfather clock from Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Dan Cooper, "Daniel Pabst, Modern Gothic Furniture," in Style 1900 Magazine, Fall 2007, pp. 54-61.
- Robert Edwards, Iz You Iz (November 2008).
- Dan Cooper, "Daniel Pabst, Modern Gothic Furniture," in Style 1900 Magazine, Fall 2007, pp. 60-61.
- PAFA chair at Allentown Art Museum from Flickr.
- Edward Peters, Henry Charles Lea and the Libraries within the Library (2000), pp. 49-50.