GENIUS OF TIFFANY AWES ADMIRERS OF BELLE EPOQUE AT DOYLE'S
Tiffany enameled copper jar, Milkweeds; 9 1/2 inches tall, sold for $101,575. Photo courtesy of Doyle Galleries
Like any artistic genius, Louis Comfort Tiffany was obsessed. It wasn’t simply about producing sparkling stained glass windows for the entryways of high-style Victorian homes or delicate vases for the Sunday morning brunch table.
For Tiffany, it was more. It was about visualizing the American home in a new way, about replacing the stuffy, overly-ornate Victorian designs with relaxed, natural Art Nouveau styles.
“We shall never have good art in our homes until the people learn the beautiful from the ugly,” he said. Tiffany set a new standard with glass vessels, windows, as well as metalwork, furniture, mosaics, jewelry and ceramics.
In Tiffany’s hands glass seemed to come alive. He was a master of color and form. Tiffany’s pieces possessed style that was often imitated but always seemed to point back to its originator. Bold colors, opalescent sheens combined with forms like the dragonfly, dogwood, peacock, daffodil, and water lilies made for a brand new look.
They were objects inspired by Tiffany’s love of nature. It was as though he was bringing nature indoors with pieces that were easy to relate to and easy to live with.
Accused of being unashamedly commercial, Tiffany creations were a direct appeal to the masses. They were beautifully designed objects intended for a wide audience, an audience who could hopefully afford them.
It was Tiffany’s way of bringing elegance to America. No reason in his mind why art and everyday life couldn’t be comfortable bedfellows.
The interior decorator turned glass designer redid the homes of many wealthy American clients including Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Conn., and the White House for President Arthur (1883-84). One of Tiffany’s first decorating decisions included removing 24-loads of furniture from the White House to be sold at public auction.
Tiffany paid little attention to expense. During the heyday of his glasshouse, Tiffany Studios, 1902 to 1919, he employed some 200 artists.
In 1898, his work with stained glass led to work in enamels. Enameling is basically glass colors that have been tinted with metallic oxides and then applied to copper and other metals and fired at high temperatures.
Tiffany’s enamels were usually sheer with a golden luminescence. Before the glass colors were brushed onto the copper surface, Tiffany applied a layer of gold or silver foil which reflected light. The end result was a golden patina that seemed like something out of an ancient palace.
Not many American glassmakers worked in the enamel. Tiffany’s department was small, staffed almost exclusively, if not completely, by women. Production was also limited, probably no more than 750 enamel pieces. The department produced mostly vases, bowls and covered boxes. That makes them rare, unusual and highly collectible today.
On Feb 26, Doyle New York featured two such enameled copper jars by Tiffany Studios in its Belle Epoque auction. Originating from a private collection and standing about 9 1/2 inches tall each, the vases sold for $101,575 and $77,675.
Here are some current values for other Tiffany pieces sold in the auction.
Desk lamp; glass and bronze; domical shade with overlay in grapevine pattern; base stamped Tiffany Studios/New York/445; shade stamped Tiffany Studios New York 1405-10; 17 1/2 inches high; $9,560.
Desk set; glass and bronze; grapevine pattern; includes picture frame, tobacco jar, letter rack, postage scale, pen rack, inkstand and pen cleaner; stamped Tiffany Studios/New York; $13,145.
Prism lamp; Tiffany Studios bronze and Favrile three-light lamp; stamped Tiffany Studios/New York/1252; 20 1/4 inches high; $14,340.
Plaque; Tiffany Studios; Favrile glass mosaic and bronze footed plaque; pictures three birds perched on flowering boughs; stamped Tiffany Studios/New York; 8 3/4 inches high by 7 inches; $32,863.
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