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Important and Rare 'Butterfly' Table Lamp, circa 1900

Important and Rare 'Butterfly' Table Lamp, circa 1900
with a 'Pepper' base
leaded and cypriote Favrile glass, patinated bronze
23 3/4 in. (60.4 cm.) high, 20 1/2 in. (52 cm.) diameter of shade
base impressed TIFFANY STVDIOS NEW YORK 25918 with the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company monogram
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 23 March 1996, lot 460.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
Dr. E. Neustadt, The Lamps of Tiffany, New York, 1970, pp. 87, no. 123 (base); 169, no. 234 (shade).
R. Koch, Louis C. Tiffany’s Glass, Bronzes, Lamps: A Collector’s Guide, New York, 1971, p. 111, no. 162 (for a period photograph of the metal showroom at Tiffany Studios, circa 1913).
A. Duncan, Tiffany At Auction, New York, 1981, pp. 89, no. 239 (base); 268, no. 822 (base).
W. Feldstein, Jr. and A. Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios, New York, 1983, pp. 128-129 (shade).
H. McKean, “Mr. Tiffany’s Lamps,” Franco Maria Ricci, no. 29, London, 1987, p. 79 (shade).
Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Tokyo, 1991, p. 56, no. 11 (shade).
A. Duncan, Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 1992, pp. 100-101 (shade).
A. Duncan, M. Eidelberg, and N. Harris, Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 1993, pp. 112-113, no. 48 (shade).
R. Joppien, Louis C. Tiffany: Meisterwerke des amerikanischen Jugendstils, exh. cat., Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Cologne, 1999, p. 222 (shade).
M. May, Great Art Glass Lamps: Tiffany, Duffner & Kimberley, Pairpoint, and Handel, Atglen, 2003, p. 29 (base).
M. Eidelberg, A. Cooney Frelinghuysen, N. A. McClelland, and L. Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 2005, pp. 201-202 (shade).
M. Eidelberg, N. Gray and M. K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, London, 2007, p. 44 (shade).
A. Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Suffolk, 2019, pp. 26 (shade); 54, no. 174 (base); 148, no. 606 (base).
San Francisco, California, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, Artistic Luxury: Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique, February - May 2009.
Special notice
Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) at 5pm on the last day of the sale. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services. Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information. This sheet is available from the Bidder Registration staff, Purchaser Payments or the Packing Desk and will be sent with your invoice.

Brought to you by

Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

The natural world had a grip on Tiffany and influenced nearly all of his designs, including insects. Along with his iconic rendering of dragonflies in glass, another key insect that was incorporated into patterns was the butterfly. From early on, Tiffany utilized this motif in his works, including a drop-curtain for Madison Square Theater of which Louis C. Tiffany and Associated Artists were commissioned to decorate the interior in 1880. The act-drop was said to be decorated with “brilliant marsh-flowers, tender blossoms, birds and butterflies of the brightest hues, glittered among the sombre rushes and hung from the wreathing vines” (“A Model Theatre,” The Art Journal, Vol. 6, 1880, p. 141).
Another example that illustrates these magnificent creatures is Tiffany’s window for the ballroom of his house on 72nd St. in New York City and now in the permanent collection of Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida (inv. no. 60-006).
With this background, it is no surprise that Tiffany was inclined to pursue the design by Clara Driscoll for what was to be known as the ‘Butterfly’ lamp. She documented her creation of this design in correspondence with her family in June 1898:
“So for the last four days, I have been devoting my energies to the butterfly idea that I had before I went to Unionville. By Friday I had made a model of paper and linen and wire so that Mr. Tiffany could see exactly what my idea was and a man here [in Driscoll’s boarding house], Mr. Booth, had let me take two large cases of moths and butterflies which he had collected in England, and a book of colored plates—So I had this material all spread out and Mr. Tiffany was not only pleased but quite enthusiastic….He told Mr. Mitchell about it and he too was very nice about it and said he thought it an original idea and suggested making a transparency to hang on his gas globe in the office. So I am going to do that first. I have three of the best selectors on the lookout for glass for me. Miss Egbert and Miss Palmié have already brought me some beautiful pieces with suggestive markings. I have a drawing nearly made for Mr. Mitchell’s transparency and shall begin the patterns for it….I left the clumsy paper and wire model I made myself, with him [a professional mold maker] and he is to do it in clay first for me to criticize, and then make a plaster cast on which I can make my drawing and glass patterns…”
The leaded glass shade was decorated with a kaleidoscope of butterflies dancing through the sky and was originally designed with a mosaic urn-shaped base on three legs. The shade was designed with bright yellow primroses that would complement the yellow butterflies fluttering above them, as she witnessed back home:
“Last and most important and requiring the aid of my family—a big beautiful lamp [base] made of the evening primrose. Like that field of them on Mr. Root’s land—This mosaic will be the lamp, and a cloud of little yellow butterflies which you know look exactly like the primrose blossoms, in a net work of gold wire made in beautiful lines like the lines of smoke – is to be the shade.
The shade also took a unique form as an ovoid shape with finessed, curved lines extending down to a rim that rests atop the base:
"I described this to Mr. Tiffany while he was in Mr. Mitchell’s office sitting in front of the electric fan in Mr. Mitchell’s chair, waiting for him to come in, and looking as if life were a burden that he could not support much longer. But then he heard about the primroses, he braced up at once, seized a pencil and began to make pictures all over Mr. Mitchell’s clean blotter—talking to himself and to me, while the fan made his thick curls stand up around his bearded brow like a halo, after his fashion— “The lamp mutht be tall and thlim” (the words tall and slim being unnaturally lengthened while he drew long up and down lines to illustrate) “like the flowerth, and the shade—” but every time he came to that he wavered off into such vague lines that you could scarcely distinguish them from the gray of the blotter, and then he would say—“well, work out your own idea—” This is all very pleasant but the next thing is, to do it. I am so afraid I can’t rise to what will now be expected of me. I want to know, by return mail, when the primroses will be in blossom and also I want a large collection of yellow butterflies in all positions….Yesterday in the afternoon I tried to imagine this butterfly shade more difinitely [sic] but thought of a war balloon instead—to be made in sections like an orange so that if one section should be injured, there would be a chance of the others remaining intact and keeping the balloon up."
The present example displays brilliant golden butterflies with some wings formed from Tiffany’s ‘cypriote’ glass, made by fusing molten glass with other crushed pieces of glass and potassium nitrate, causing pits or bubbles on the surface. This texture pairs well with the glass tiles overall hammered surface. They flutter upwards, following the sinuous lines reaching towards the beaded crown of the shade. The sky is executed with faintly tinted translucent glass gently graduating into an azure blue. The shade pairs well with its ‘Pepper’ base, with bronzework in a rich earthy brown patina and an attractive form that complements the shade’s distinctive shape.
This is the only other ‘Butterfly’ to come to the auction market in the last five years and presents collectors with an incredible opportunity to bring home one of Tiffany’s most prized designs.

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