Published: February 20, 2007
Since the establishment of Charles Lewis Tiffany’s emporium of luxury goods, opened in 1837 and located on Broadway, the surname has called to mind glittering gems and gleaming precious metals.
Now, 170 years later, the glitter and gleam focuses on Mr Tiffany’ son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose creative energy extended to virtually every medium and is currently the subject of no fewer than three exhibits on view around the city.
The three share the common themes of glass, innovative design and technology, and they also explore color and forms. Beyond that, each defines a man of exceptional vision, each from a different perspective.
Over in Queens, the exhibit of 20 lamps on view at the Queens Museum of Art drawn from the Egon and Hildegard Neustadt Museum collection is small but pivotal. Neustadt donated half his Tiffany glass collection to the New-York Historical Society, with the other half forming the Queens collection, which includes a recently discovered trove of Tiffany-related letters and documents. It is these letters, along with another significant stash from Kent State University, that are the genesis of the exhibition “A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls” on view at the New-York Historical Society.
The New-York Historical Society show portrays a forward-thinking man who acknowledged the talents of Clara Driscoll and her “Tiffany Girls,” giving them the responsibility of executing the colors and patterns of his glass lamps and windows. The exhibit allows a detailed view of the lives of independent young women who lived and worked late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century New York City.
“Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall,” on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes the creation of Tiffany’s indisputable masterpiece: his country house, Laurelton Hall, a fantasy of color and design, where Tiffany planned and executed every last detail.
Clara Driscoll And The Tiffany Girls
NEW YORK CITY — The jeweled colors and compelling forms of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass assume an entirely new perspective in the groundbreaking exhibit “A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls.” Reexamining not only the multifaceted genius of Tiffany and the legendary glass created at his shop, the exhibition brings forth new, and often surprising, information regarding the people that he entrusted to create the masterpieces that bear his name.
Currently on view at the New-York Historical Society through Memorial Day, May 28, the exhibition is curated by Margi Hofer, Martin Eidelberg and Nina Gray.
Trained as a painter, Tiffany retained that interest throughout much of his life, but early on he was captivated by the allure of glass. He was a skilled designer and a talented artist in glass, metal, ceramics, furniture and jewelry. It seems that there was nothing to which he could not turn his hand with great success.
Tiffany’s designs earned the firm awards and accolades throughout the world, capturing prizes at the major expositions of the day and reflecting an air of good taste and prosperity for those that possessed his wares.
Two separate caches of letters, written between 1896 and 1907 and discovered only two years ago, have come to light and they bring at least a portion of the design aspects and Tiffany’s involvement in some major projects into question. Unearthed at the Queens Historical Association and the library of Kent State University, the letters and documents provided the impetus for the exhibition.
The author of the letters was Clara Wolcott Driscoll, one of Tiffany’s chief designers, who headed up the group of women designers and glass selectors and cutters known as the Tiffany Girls.
Driscoll was an exceptionally prolific correspondent who wrote weekly round robin letters to her family back in Ohio, sometimes as many as 30 pages at once. Her letters detailed her work, that of her colleagues and also the personal lives of this group of independent young women who arrived in New York City in the late Nineteenth Century to practice the craft they had studied at art and industrial schools around the country. Other young women at Tiffany had been drawn from settlement houses around the city.
The Tiffany Girls were the artists who chose the colorful glass used in the exquisite creations that were and continue to be so prized. Tiffany referred to the process as “painting with glass.” Assembling the varicolored glass pieces to form such images as the petals of flowers, the wings of dragonflies and other forms from nature required unique talent: an artistic eye and a dexterous hand. While the essential design of each group of objects was pretty much the same, it was the combinations of glass and mosaic that made each one unique.
Driscoll’s letters, which number in the thousands, reveal that it was she who designed such lampshades as the Wisteria, the Peony and the Dragonfly, for which she won a prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. She was also the creative force behind other Tiffany objects executed in glass, mosaic and metal.
Exhibit curator Hofer described the process of mounting the show as simply, “A joy!” She said, “It’s not often that you get to work with material that is so fresh and allows reassessment of the subject.”
The objects on view are primarily from the historical society’s spectacular collection of Tiffany objects and one of the world’s largest collections of Tiffany glass. They date from the years of Driscoll’s tenure at Tiffany’s workshops beginning in 1887 up to 1909. Driscoll’s career was interrupted in 1889 when she left to marry Francis Driscoll. He died after three years and she returned to work with Tiffany until 1909 when she remarried. Married women, according to the convention of the era, did not work outside the home.
The exhibition has been mounted in three galleries. The first is devoted to the objects that Clara Driscoll designed. Her experimental Deep Sea lamp of 1898 is more elaborate than most Tiffany lamps. Although she designed the lamp as a unit, the one on view is the marriage of a Flying Fish shade from one private collection and the Aquatic base from another. Driscoll’s letters home include a sketch of the lamp. The piece is replete with images of fish, seahorses and seaweed in blues and greens, with red and yellow highlights. The lamp was constructed with silver mounts and the bosses at the top of the base are inlaid with real oyster shells. It was an altogether a dazzling piece, albeit too expensive for production. Such a piece speaks to the eternal conflict between art and commerce that Driscoll felt deeply.
There is also an example of the Dragonfly lamp Driscoll designed, which won a prize at the 1900 Paris International Exposition. A Wisteria example is also on view along with mosaic-clad lamp bases, tea screens and mosaic desk sets. Driscoll collaborated regularly with Tiffany. One of her letters home described having been summoned to Tiffany’s bedside at Laurelton Hall where he was confined during an illness to discuss progress on the Winter panel of the “Four Seasons” window for the house. Another describes the smart new dress she planned to wear to a dinner at Laurelton Hall.
The second portion of the show explores the life of a young and independent single woman in New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Archival images of the places Clara Driscoll described in her letters home, the neighborhoods and buildings she visited, are on view with programs from concerts and plays she attended. There is also a video of the dancer Loie Fuller and a clip of an opera that Driscoll would have heard. There is even a photograph of Driscoll cycling near Grant’s tomb. An Acoustiguide recording in which actress Lois Chiles reads selections of Driscoll’s letters recreates the era in exceptional detail.
The third section is dedicated to the Tiffany Girls themselves and their selections of glass for Tiffany’s productions. More than 30 of the lamps they created are on view with examples of the sheets of textured and opalescent glass from the huge trove of sheet and pressed glass that Tiffany had made and stored in the basement of his Corona, N.Y., workshops. Patterns, made by the Tiffany Girls from cardboard or brass — depending on the amount of use — are on view along with design drawings and the tools they used.
The lamps are displayed thematically to demonstrate the importance of glass selection in their creation. Two Wisteria lamps allow visitors to compare and contrast their undulating forms. Four Dragonfly lamps illustrate the variations in execution of the same pattern. Another grouping examines the color yellow and the infinite variety and hue that can be achieved with glass as seen in such creations as the Daffodil and the Laburnum lamps.
While devoted to the Tiffany Girls, the exhibit revisits Tiffany the man. A gifted artist himself, he was also an astute businessman who hired the most talented artists and artisans of the day, regardless of gender. Moreover, he paid his workers according to their talents and was an early proponent of equal pay for equal work, a practice that led to a labor strike in 1903 by his unionized glass workers (all men) against Tiffany for his employment of women.
The catalog A New Light On Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls by exhibit curators Hofer, Eidelberg and Gray, published by D. Giles Ltd, of London, accompanies the exhibition. It includes an appendix of brief biographies of more than 60 of the women designers, selectors and glass cutters of Tiffany Studios.
The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West. For information, 212-873-3400 or www.nyhistory.org.
Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate
NEW YORK CITY — Laurelton Hall, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stunning country home, is widely considered to be the artist’s master work and it has been called by some a “fantasist’s dream come true.” The magical house and its extraordinary contents are the subject of exhibit “Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate” on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 20.
Set on 600 acres in Oyster Bay, N.Y., Tiffany’s country house was the very last word in exotic. He created the 84-room house on eight levels and surrounded it with lavish and riotous color in the way of wide plantings, no fewer than seven fountains, pools and gardens that led to tennis courts, extensive greenhouses, a chapel, a studio and an art gallery located elsewhere on the property. There was also a full working farm and animals of every description, a railroad station, a boat house and a fleet of yachts.
The interior was equally ablaze with Tiffany’s glass utilized in an astonishing variety of forms, including screens, walls, lighting, architectural elements and furnishings. The man was profoundly creative and a prodigious collector, and Laurelton Hall served as a museum for his vast holdings. As befitting such a grand establishment, the entertainments were equally grand.
Tiffany’s formal education ended after preparatory school where he had painted with the likes of George Inness. Although he continued to paint throughout his life, he turned his attention to nearly every aspect of fine and decorative art, architecture and horticulture — with extraordinary success.
Early in his career he established himself as an interior designer in New York City and practiced for half a century, attracting such prominent clients as Mark Twain, the Vanderbilts, the Havemeyers and the White House under President Chester A. Arthur. The Aesthetic Movement was in full flower and Tiffany’s curious combination of the exotic Oriental and the naturalistic was compelling.
Glass was an early and dominant interest; he patented his iridescent glass in 1881 and ultimately gathered an inventory of more than 5,000 colors and textures. He opened his own glass foundry in Queens in 1881 and in 1893 began producing the blown glass vases and bowls that he called “Favrile.” From 1900 until the beginning of World War I his furnaces produced 30,000 glass objects each year.
“Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate” revisits Laurelton Hall and Tiffany’s extraordinary creative genius. That the house is vanished only adds to its dreamlike quality. This is a voyage to an imagined land. Much is lost, but much remains.
The exhibit begins with a look at the interiors of prior Tiffany houses and traces the development of Tiffany’s aesthetic. He was open in his scorn of reproductions of historic styles; he believed that each age should speak for itself. His goal was a uniquely American house incorporating, to varying degrees, the influences of Japanese, Moorish and Indian cultures. The Aesthetic Movement was also a strong factor in his work, as was Art Nouveau, and nature was a dominant theme in all his work, irrespective of media. He drew heavily on his own spectacular gardens, incorporating the flowers and vines to bring nature indoors. The result was an astonishing combination of the exotic and the practical.
While the house was completed (and occupied) in 1902, in Tiffany’s mind it was never really finished. Instead, it became a moveable feast of enhancements, additions, relocations and renovations that he continued to make for more than three decades. It was, as he put it, “a place for dreams.”
Visitors entered Laurelton Hall through the Fountain Court, a soaring three-story Moorish pavilion space ringed with 16 paired and fluted white marble columns and topped with a translucent violet leaded glass dome. The fountain, which evolved from his previous productions, had a 4-foot glass vase from the top of which water flowed down into a pool faced with Favrile glass. Luminous lighting was provided by glorious blown Favrile glass globes with yellow and white lily-like flowers that hung between the columns on each story. An example is on view.
The ground floor walls were covered with a painted canvas stenciled in a cypress tree pattern adapted from a mural in the Topkapi Palace. Fragments of the walls are on view, as is Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s 1911 portrait of Tiffany at his easel in a garden with his dog, Funny. The painting was framed only with narrow molding painted the color of the walls as Tiffany disdained carved and gilded frames. The Fountain Court also housed his collections of Favrile glass and ceramics
The dining room was a study in blue and white with strong Chinese influences. Tiffany created furniture in the Chinese style with a modern twist: he painted it cream color. His collection of blue and white Chinese porcelain was displayed here. The mantel, which was recently conserved and is on view, was a sleek marble piece, unembellished except for three mosaic glass dials that indicated the time, the day of the week and the date in the month.
Because it was external to the house, much of the Daffodil Terrace was salvaged from the 1957 fire that destroyed the house and has been in storage at the Morse Museum since. It has been rebuilt for this exhibit and now comprises eight 11-foot marble columns with glass daffodil capitals, four iridescent glass panels in a pear tree design and more than 600 wood tiles and other bits from the coffered ceiling.
Countless numbers of glass windows, lamps, vases and other objects were installed at Laurelton Hall. The Living Hall, as it was known, housed nine of his most significant windows, including the splendid “The Bathers,” which has not survived. Others like “eggplant,” the white on white “magnolia” panels, the “Four Seasons” window and “Feeding the Flamingoes,” which was made by the Tiffany Girls based on his 1888 watercolor, have survived and are on view.
Laurelton Hall was home to Tiffany’s prodigious collections, chief among which were Asian objects, Islamic ceramics and Native American pieces. The house boasted a Chinese room and a Japanese room. A den housed his impressive collections of Japanese armor and his Japanese crafts numbered in the thousands. He owned some 2,000 tsuba alone and created a leaded glass window with the image of one. He was also partial to Chinese carpets and acquired superb examples, including a 900-square-foot Ming dynasty temple carpet made in the Imperial workshops. Even the rooms at Laurelton Hall could not accommodate the carpet in its entirety and it was cut into several carpets.
In 1918, Tiffany established the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation to provide accommodation and workshops for artists and to preserve his collections for study. He donated the house, the collections and the grounds to the foundation. He died in 1933 and the foundation sold off the property in parcels in 1949. The foundation had sold the collections at Parke Bernet in 1946 and the residue in 1948. The ornamental and exotic plants were donated to the City of New York. The 1957 fire was not the end of the story of Laurelton Hall, however.
Hugh F. McKean, a former Tiffany Fellow, and his wife, Jeanette Genius McKean, were able to salvage windows, vases, architectural elements — even vases — and removed them to the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Fla., where he was director for 53 years. McKean was the author of the 1980 book The “Lost” Treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany . The Morse Museum, spurred by the current exhibit, has embarked on a restoration of the Daffodil Terrace and the marble and mosaic glass mantel from the dining room. The McKeans donated the four-column loggia with its floral capitals to The Metropolitan Museum of Art where it has been on view since 1980. Of the 238 objects on view, half are from the Morse Museum.
While only a few outbuildings survive, and they are private homes today, Tiffany’s 60-foot minaret that was actually a heating and pumping plant remains overlooking Cold Spring Harbor.
A gorgeously illustrated exhibition catalog, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, was written by Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, curator of American decorative arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who organized the show in collaboration with the Morse Museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is at 1000 Fifth Avenue. For information, 212-535-7710 or www.metmuseum.org.
‘From Bud To Blossom: Tiffany’s Floral Lamps’ At The Queens Museum Of Art
QUEENS, N.Y. — Colorful glass lamps from the Egon and Hildegard Neustadt Museum Collection at the Queens Museum of Art explore the incorporation of nature in the work on Louis Comfort Tiffany. “From Bud to Blossom: Tiffany’s Floral Lamps” draws on 20 lamps from the museum’s permanent collection of Tiffany lamps and windows.
Tiffany was an inspired horticulturalist who brought the outdoors indoors in much of his work. The sinuous curves and vibrant colors of his glass works bespeak Art Nouveau.
Egon Neustadt acquired his first Tiffany lamp in 1935, fell in love with it and went on to acquire some 260 lamps and windows. A portion of the collection formed the Egon and Hildegard Neustadt Museum Collection, which is on permanent loan to the Queens Museum of Art.
The glass on view includes an Apple Blossom lamp, an Oriental Poppy lamp, a Wisteria lamp and a Magnolia floor lamp. There is an Angel window and a Peony and Clematis window, as well.
It is fitting that the lamps are on view here; Tiffany established a glass furnace in Corona, just a few blocks from the present museum, in late 1892. He added a foundry and metal shops in 1896.
For information, 718-592-9700 or www.queensmuseum.org.
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