The buyer of the cabinet was Margot Johnson, a dealer, who earlier this fall paid the previous record, $42,900, for a Herter Bros. aesthetic rosewood library table inlaid with satinwood and bone.
"What today seems a high price will be tomorrow's bargain," said Johnson, who recently moved her gallery to a new location at 18 E. 68th St. in New York. She believes her Herter cabinet and table are the equal of any Herter Bros. piece in the exhibition called "In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement" currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"The museum has finally given this exciting period the stamp of approval with its current show," said Johnson, who has been collecting 1880s Victorian furniture for nearly 20 years.
The exhibition, on view through next Sunday, takes a hard look at the era through furniture, paintings, ceramics, glass, textiles, wallpaper, books and metalwork from the 1870s and 1880s.
The aesthetic movement and the concurrent and longer-lasting arts and crafts movement were both rebellions against the elaborately carved, voluptuous Victorian style of the 1870s.
In the mid-1870s a vogue for modern Gothic and spare Oriental designs resulted in furniture with straighter lines and flatter decoration. Although many pieces were still highly ornate in the Victorian tradition, the trend toward modernism is at the same time apparent.
The aesthetic movement was not so much a style as an attitude of finding art in many different objects from many exotic periods and styles. Chinese peach-bloom vases shared the shelves of the whatnot with Japanese Satsuma, Persian lusterware, Venetian glass, peacock feathers, paper parasols and fans.
Queen Anne and Chippendale came down from the attic to share the Oriental carpet with spiky legged chairs and tables, and cabinets divided into banded compartments that were supposed to be Oriental in inspiration if not in origin.
New combinations of materials were used in these treasure houses, where the exotic patterns of tile floors, the flat foliate tracery of William Morris wallpapers and sparking jewellike stained glass were supposed to be held in check by careful choice of color.
In such artistic interiors, the occupants could sit back and read the poems and plays of Oscar Wilde in books suitably bound in blue cloth bindings with gold-stamped designs of peacock feathers or butterflies.
British designers Owen Jones, Christopher Dresser, Bruce J. Talbert, Charles Lock Eastlake and E. W. Godwin formulated the new aesthetic taste, freely mixing style elements from various cultures - medieval, ancient Greek, Oriental and Islamic - in innovative ways.
The catalogue for the Metropolitan's exhibition is a 5 1/2-pound, 511-page book that costs $35. In the back is an immensely useful, 85-page compendium of designers and manufacturers active in the period and covered in the exhibition, giving their biographies and briefly discussing the objects in the show.
A detail of an aesthetic piece made in Philadelphia is on the catalogue cover. It shows a glass panel and part of the woodwork from an 8-foot-tall bird's-eye maple, walnut and glass cabinet, probably designed by Frank Furness and made by Daniel Pabst (circa 1874-1877), one of the finest examples of modern Gothic furniture made in America.
The piece was found at a country auction in Maryland by the Swarthmore dealer Robert Edwards, who paid $33,500 for it in May 1984. Edwards sold it a year later to the Metropolitan Museum as a supreme example of "art furniture."