This magnificent tankard was produced during the tenure at Tiffany's of Joseph Fischer, the German-born master ivory carver who sculpted the firm's major pieces from 1892 to 1906. The elaborate carving of the tusk shows Fischer's hand, and the monumental scale and the exotic theme of the design indicate that Paulding Farnham was responsible for the overall artistic direction.
This object closely relates to three other carved ivory and silver tankards of the period, each attributable to Fischer. In an early example, dated 1896, the ivory is carved into a tiger-hunting scene, the silver cover formed as an animal head with ivory tusks (illus. Amy Dehan, "Tiffany's Tiger Hunt Loving Cup," The Magazine Antiques, March 2006, pp. 68). A second example, designed by Paulding Farnham for the Paris Exposition of 1900, was carved by Fischer into a violent confrontation between tiger and gorilla amid lush jungle foliage (sold online, Sotheby's, 26 April 2001; illus. John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 2001, p. 216). The latest known example, dated 1910 and carved by Fischer after he had officially left the firm, presents a more abstract, patterned style, also in Indian taste (illus. John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 2001, p. 238).
This group of tankards was an important subset of Tiffany's engagement with themes of westward expansion in the United States and with the country's increased contact with near and far eastern countries. The company created objects that celebrated these developments under the umbrella of exoticism, a concept that was newly appealing to their clients. The Native American and Orientalist designs were certainly part of this effort and featured prominently at the 1893, 1900 and 1901 Expositions of Chicago, Paris and Buffalo.
The present example's exotic theme, the tiger hunt narrative, is featured on three other important Tiffany Orientalist objects, as reported and illustrated in Amy Dehan's "Tiffany's Tiger Hunt Loving Cup." In a silver loving cup with ivory tusk handles of 1893 (Cincinnati Art Museum) and the carved ivory tankard of 1896 (listed above), the hunt is conducted by men atop elephants, a tiger attacking its menacingly armed pursuers. A similar scene is depicted on a dedication tankard of 1905, entirely silver and unsigned by Tiffany, but signed instead by one of Tiffany's primary craftsman at the time, Frank Malsch.
According to Dehan, the inspiration for the scene depicted in these objects may have come from a design by Antoine Louis Barye, famed animalier sculptor of the period, in his Tiger Hunt of 1836. In Barye's scene, a tiger lunges at an elephant-mounted hunter, who points his weapon at the charging animal.
The risk and power associated with hunting are very much in the vein of the grander theme of exoticism. The elephant-mounted hunting party imagery would have been appealing or even familiar to Tiffany's clients. In the present example, the exchange between humans and tigers suggests a kind of desperation. The role of the hunters is perhaps more heroic than recreational, as they strain to protect the earth-bound mother and child from the lunging tiger.
Due to their scale and exoticism of subject, these products of Tiffany's Orientalism naturally appealed to patrons with correspondingly grand and entrepreneurial profiles. The self-made Hungarian immigrants Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fleischmann of the Fleischmann Yeast Company were presented the Tiger Hunt Loving cup, 1893, by the Yeast Company's upper management. The 1900 tankard, designed by Farnham and mentioned above, was purchased by the Pabst Brewing Company, possibly at its unveiling at the Paris Exposition. The latest tankard of this size and style of 1910, mentioned above, was likely given to Jean Jules Jusserand, the French ambassador to the United States (1902-1925) by Robert Bacon, the American ambassador to France (1909-1912).