"Tiffany's Artistry beyond Flowers"
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s love of nature, perhaps best expressed through his depiction of flowers in a wide variety of decorative schemes and applications, has been thoroughly examined. Less familiar is Tiffany’s occasional use of other botanical forms, especially vegetables, in his artwork. In one of his earliest interior design commissions, the George Kemp House in New York City, he created leaded glass transom windows of eggplants and squash. Tiffany displayed at the 1883 Pedestal Art Loan exhibition in New York, a show whose purpose was to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s platform, a “curious” window of eggplants, “a plant that lends itself admirable with its big rich fruit and large leaves to the well-known manner in masses of that artist.” 1 The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1899 made a highly artistic window depicting large, ripe pumpkins among growing beets that was displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle and was afterwards installed at Louis Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall estate. The previous year, Sigfried Bing, owner of the famous Parisian gallery “Maison de l’Art Nouveau,” arranged an exhibition of the company’s work at the Grafton Galleries in London. Included was a leaded glass window, designed by illustrator Frank Brangwyn, of a kneeling white-robed child plucking a gourd among many off a vine hanging from latticework. This window was also later installed at Laurelton Hall. 2
The firm’s use of gourds in its designs was probably due to the influence of Japanese art on Louis Tiffany’s aesthetics. In Japan, the gourd is frequently associated with divinity, being mentioned in several myths involving the gods, and also symbolizes good luck, health and prosperity. This affinity for Japanese design is clearly evident in Tiffany’s own home in the Bella Apartment, where he displayed actual gourds and Japanese gourd-shaped pottery on a shelf situated between the dining room and library. 3 Furthermore, he showed at the 1900 Paris Exposition a superb three-panel leaded glass screen, the upper center section depicting numerous gourds hanging on twisting vines amid blue and purple foliage. This screen was awarded a Gold Medal and was prominently illustrated in the firm’s catalog Portfolio of Work of the Tiffany Studios (circa 1902).
The Gourd shade offered here, with its unusual sloping conical shape, is one of the rarest models produced by Tiffany Studios, with only one other example known to exist. 4 The dash number as part of the signature signifies the model as one of the earlier leaded glass shades produced by company. Its generous proportions permitted an exceptionally naturalistic rendition of the motif and the unusually large pieces of glass forming the gourds was a further enhancement. The design of gourds of various shapes and sizes with undulating textures in subtle shades of earthy brown, interspersed with delicate yellow-tinged white blossoms suspended from blue-green and green-streaked yellow leafy vines, supported on orange-tinged latticework against a bright blue background, is sublime. The Gourd lamp is supremely artistic, a distinctive and alluring departure from Tiffany’s more familiar floral designs. The absence of a price in the company’s 1906 price guide implies the firm was producing the shade in very limited quantities. The model, as noted in Tiffany Studios’ 1910 price guide, was already in the process of being discontinued, another reason for its extreme rarity.
Author, The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany
1. “The Pedestal Art Loan,” New York Times, December 2, 1883, p. 2.
2. These two windows are presently in the permanent collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
3. Donald G. Mitchell, “From Lobby to Peak: Between Rooms,” Our Continent, 1, no. 10 (April 19, 1882), 148.
4. The other example, as a table lamp, is in the permanent collection of the New-York Historical Society (N84.102.1), the shade being impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK 1522-1.