Monday, January 21, 2013

Today's Column

Saved from the charred ruins of Louis Comfort Tiffany's Laurelton Hall, this lone column exquisitely decorated in favrile glass mosaic and painted gesso by artisans at Tiffany Studios was on the auction block at Christie's some dozen years ago. Originally placed in the Tiffany Studios showroom, it was moved to Mr. Tiffany's estate after the studios declared bankruptcy during the great Depression.

Tiffany Studios, circa 1898-1902
134in. (340.4cm.) high 


Tiffany Studios
Louis Comfort Tiffany, Laurelton Hall
Beatrice Weiss
Shepherd Gallery
Corporate Collection, Japan

Price Realized 

  • $831,000
  • Price includes buyer's premium
    Estimate on request

Sale Information

Sale 9568 Lot 348
8 December 2000
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Pre-Lot Text
caption: A period photograh of the Mosaic Department at Tiffany Studios.

caption: Figure 3: "The Fringe, and the Valence," Plate 119 of Handbook of Ornament. Design number 6 refers to a Turkish saddle cloth.

caption: Figure 2: Panel from the bedroom of the Villa of P. Fannius Synstor, Pompeii. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1903. (03.14.13) Photograph (c) 1986 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

caption: Figure 4: The Metropolitan Museum of Art's column as displayed in the Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit in 1990 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

caption: Figure 1: The columns in situ in the Tiffany Studios showrooms.

In antiquity, glass mosaics were greatly valued for their beauty and durability. Most mosaics were made of terracotta or various kinds of stones, but the range of colors attainable was limited. Glass made possible richer hues in more colors and attractive reflective surfaces that could not otherwise be achieved. Yet, because glass was difficult to produce and more fragile than terracotta, glass mosaics were expensive and thus their use was mostly limited to adorning walls, vaults, and columns in the homes of the wealthy and in public buildings. Glass mosaics became such a sign of wealth and luxury that in 64 AD Seneca stated that "a man feels poor and mean if his vaults are not hidden by glass" (Roger Ling, Ancient Mosaics, 1998, p. 105). In 1896 The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company published Glass Mosaics and extolled the virtues of mosaics, claiming that they were "unrestricted in color, impervious to moisture and absolutely permanent" (p. 1). The booklet referred to the ancient mosaics of Pompeii and Rome, among others, and hailed the interior of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia as "the most wonderful creation in glass-mosaic the world has ever seen" (p. 9). These magnificent works inspired Tiffany to utilize this ancient art form to create modern mosaic masterpieces that bear his unmistakable artistic imprint.

Although Tiffany used glass mosaics as far back as 1879 in the Union League Club of New York, his first truly extravagant mosaic was a Byzantine chapel for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Sixteen mosaic columns supported gilt and mosaic arches topping an ornate and vibrantly colored mosaic reredos featuring two peacocks. The altar front, the door to the tabernacle, the baptismal font and cover, and even the risers of the platform were covered in rich mosaics. The effect was highly successful, and over 1.5 million people "thronged" the exhibit (Hugh F. McKean, The "Lost" Treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1980, p. 137). Over fifteen years later, Tiffany created several monumental glass mosaics following the designs of other artists, rather than realizing his own artistic visions. In 1909, the Mexican government commissioned Tiffany to create a proscenium curtain for the National Theater in the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City, based on a mountainous landscape painting variously attributed to stage designer Harry Stoner and Mexican landscape painter Dr. Atl. The painting served as the cartoon for the mosaicists at Tiffany Studios to produce the 27-ton glass panorama that took approximately two years to finish. Tiffany Studios also interpreted Aristide Leonori's designs for the All Saints Chapel and the Blessed Virgin's Chapel of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri. The project, completed in 1914, covers 300,000 square feet of wall space. Perhaps Tiffany's most famous mosaic, the "Dream Garden," was commissioned by Edward Bok, publisher of Ladies' Home Journal. Maxfield Parrish had imagined a beautiful, lush, and enchanting garden that he planned to make in his home, but Bok convinced him to paint it instead. Tiffany meticulously recreated it, employing many types of glass with different textures and light-absorbing and reflecting qualities. In 1915, Bok installed the "Dream Garden" in the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Company building in Philadelphia, where it remains to this day.

Unlike Tiffany's later mosaics, the columns offered here illustrate the interest in exoticism and the emphasis on luxury of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A new fascination with the East and antiquity had been growing in the mid-nineteenth century, as illustrated in Owen Jones' 1856Grammar of Ornament, which featured Persian, Moresque, Roman, Greek, and other decorative styles. The increasing emphasis on exoticism in the arts as well as Tiffany's own exposure to Eastern cultures influenced his creative output. In 1868-69, Tiffany visited Paris where an artist friend, Leon Bailly, encouraged him to study non-European arts. He then traveled to Spain and northern Africa and came into contact first-hand with the artistry of Islam. Back in the United States, Tiffany reinterpreted and included the bold colors, patterns and materials of Eastern architecture, textiles, and other artworks into his own designs, in particular those for domestic interiors.

Concurrent with the American interest in all things exotic was the demand for ornate, luxurious decorations. The newly wealthy of the gilded age required a multitude of sumptuous objects to fill their vast mansions, and Tiffany was among the fashionable artists and interior decorators sought to meet this need. In 1879 George Kemp commissioned Tiffany to decorate his Fifth Avenue home, resulting in a combination of Arabic, Persian, and Renaissance motifs that included columns to the sides of the bay window in the drawing room and columns flanking the large fireplace in the library. Cornelius Vanderbilt II invited Tiffany to help decorate his home in 1881, and Tiffany created a Moorish-style drawing room, with tiled wainscoting, column-supported arches and other striking decorations. Tiffany's own home on Madison and 72nd Street, planned and built in 1885, incorporated Persian, Indian, and Hindu objects as well as new objects inspired by the Orient. Throughout his interiors, Tiffany also included tassels as a finishing for furniture upholstery--a touch that was prevalent in Victorian times.

Although their precise date of manufacture is unknown, the columns offered here are in keeping with Tiffany's recurring use of columns as a decorative element, and they combine his reinterpretation of an ancient art form with the turn-of-the-century passion for exoticism. The glass mosaic columns slowly shade from a bright peacock blue at the top to a midnight blue at the bottom. Just below the capital, the mosaic design features a gilt diaper pattern from which are suspended long cords with tassels. For this golden "fabric" the small glass pieces are shaped to help define the twists in the ropes and the sway of the tassels, which are depicted in Cypriote glass, a finely pitted glass developed in Tiffany Studios to imitate the eroded and timeworn surface of ancient glass excavated from archaeological sites. The Handbook of Ornament, first published in 1888, suggests that the fringe pattern may have been influenced in part by Turkish textiles, in particular saddle cloths, although tassels in general were certainly popular at the turn of the century (see fig. 3).

These columns were originally part of a set of six which are known to have been placed in the Tiffany Studios showrooms, complemented by silk wall-hangings featuring the same diaper and tassel pattern (see fig. 1). A 1905 pamphlet entitled The New Home of Tiffany & Co. describes the interior of the new Tiffany showrooms located on Fifth Avenue and 37th Street. The account states, "The portion of the second floor facing Fifth Avenue, devoted to the exhibition of bronzes, is subdivided by columns of the Pompeiian Ionic character" (p. 11). Although the columns offered here were on view at Tiffany Studios and not Tiffany & Company, the fact that columns were incorporated into the new Tiffany & Company interiors further cements the importance of columns as a form of ornamentation for Tiffany. The reference to Pompeii also shows that Pompeiian art still interested Tiffany, even nine years after the publication of Glass Mosaics, and that Pompeii could have served as the inspiration for the present columns. The House of Pansa, a reproduction of which was exhibited in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1889, included Ionic columns with beading and an "egg and tongue" pattern between the volutes. Also in Pompeii, the House of Meleagre employed columns with capitals decorated with a band of foliate scrolls. The Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, one mile north of Pompeii, was discovered in 1900 and some of its frescoes illustrate brightly colored unfluted red columns resting on plinths, decorated with golden foliate scrolls and topped with gold ornate capitals (see fig. 2). The gilt capitals on the columns offered here may simply be a derivative or a combination of a variety of Pompeiian ones as they incorporate many of the same motifs as well as inlaid glass jewels which could have been inspired by the embedded shells in Pompeiian mosaics.

Tiffany Studios declared bankruptcy in 1932, and soon thereafter, the six columns were moved to Laurelton Hall, Tiffany's estate on Oyster Bay, Long Island. Tiffany had built Laurelton Hall in 1902 on 580 acres of land and decorated it in the sumptuous exoticism of the times. The fountain court included a stencil design copied from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; the Daffodil Terrace featured an Algerian ceiling; the Smoking Room housed Tiffany's collection of Japanese sword guards; the Chinese Room had Oriental carved panels. The six glass mosaic columns were stored in the stables near the main house. In 1957, long after Tiffany's death, Laurelton Hall succumbed to a fire, but the stables and its contents survived unscathed.

Of the six columns, two are in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, one is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the fourth is in the Louis C. Tiffany Museum, Japan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's column has been featured in the 19th Century America: Furniture and Other Decorative Arts exhibition held in 1970 as well as in the Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibition in 1990 (see fig. 4).
[End of Christie's listing]


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