June 25, 2024

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Antique Victorian Furniture – Who Was Alexander Roux?

2 min read

Alexander Roux (pronounced “Roo”) was one of the top cabinetmakers of the Victorian era in America, and today his name commands great respect in the world of antique Victorian furniture.

Born in France in 1813, Roux was guild-trained in his native country in the Rococo Revival style. In the 1830s he emigrated to the United States. And in 1836 (possibly 1837) he opened a shop in New York City. Because French furniture was in vogue in New York at the time, Roux labeled himself, both in his ads and on his furniture, as a “French Cabinet Maker.”

His business prospered. By the 1850s he had 120 craftsmen in his employ. Roux used new technologies, such as steam powered saws and routers, which allowed him to shape his wood quickly. This gave him more time to work on his fantastically ornate carvings.

Roux is best known for his Rococo pieces, but he hardly limited himself to that style. In fact, he brought his mastery to the changing fashions of the day: Gothic Revival in the 1840s; Elizabethan and Renaissance, in addition to Rococo, in the 1850s; Neo-Grec in the 1860s.

Roux crafted high quality pieces for elite clients like William B. Astor. In 1853 he exhibited his work at the Crystal Palace exhibition in New York City. Roux’s business was immensely profitable. He reportedly earned as much as $500,000 in the 1870s, a huge sum for the day.

Roux was married three times and had six children. For one year, in 1847, his brother Frederick joined the firm. Roux himself finally retired in 1881 and turned the business over to his son Alexander J. Roux, who carried it on until 1898.

Roux’s shop occupied a number of locations in New York, including five different spots on Broadway and one on Fifth Avenue. Nineteenth century America, with its new wealth and technology, proved to be the perfect place for Roux to develop his unique craftsmanship.

His work displays an individuality of thought and a freedom of form that make it highly desirable today among collectors of antique Victorian furniture. His Rococo pieces contain an unusual variety of naturalistic carvings such as pomegranates and pineapples, the heads of deer, wolves and dogs, crabs, lobsters and other marine life. Roux preferred fancy woods like walnut, even using the same as secondary interior woods.

In the year 2000, one of Roux’s elaborate sideboards was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, at an exhibit called Art and the Empire City, 1825-1861.

Alexander Roux died in 1886.

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