There is an art to capturing a moment in time, to distilling nature just as it is. The American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany was a master of this practice, deftly portraying the organic movements of the natural world through a range of rigid materials. From his famed glassworks to furniture and jewellry design, enamelware and more, Tiffany brought his keen eye and love of the outdoors to an impressive variety of mediums.
On Friday 10 June, 44 works coming to Christie’s New York will underscore the depth and breadth of Tiffany’s oeuvre. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Japanese real-estate entrepreneur Mr. Takeo Horiuchi assembled one of the greatest collections of Tiffany ever amassed and established the Garden Museum in his home country of Japan. Now these items will return to New York, the city from which they originated, for the sale of Tiffany Masterworks from the Garden Museum: A Private Collection.
‘Tiffany sales tend to focus on the glass or the lighting, but this one is a really unique opportunity, showcasing not only those celebrated areas of Tiffany Studios, but also Tiffany’s evolution as an artist,’ explains Victoria Tudor, Head of Sale for Christie’s Design department in New York.
In addition to collecting across all of Tiffany’s artistic disciplines, Mr. Horiuchi developed an interest in the studios’ manufacturing process, adding relevant items such as toolkits, advertisements and ledger books to his collection over time. ‘He was canvassing auction houses, both in New York and regionally, travelling across America to source the best Tiffany Studios works of art available,’ Tudor says.
Of all his varied works, Tiffany’s crowning masterpiece was perhaps Laurelton Hall, his estate in Long Island’s Oyster Bay. Completed in 1905, he painstakingly supervised every detail of the 84-room manor and its sprawling 600 acres, a project that cost nearly two million dollars. The items on offer on 10 June include several from the estate, which are rarely seen at auction. ‘This is a chance to acquire pieces that were once prized possessions of Louis Comfort Tiffany, pieces he chose to live with,’ says Tudor. ‘These were really the A-list items that came out of his studio.’
The ‘ Wisteria’ transom window (circa 1905), once overlooking the dining room of Laurelton Hall, is a prime example. A knowledgeable horticulturist, Tiffany sought to bring the outdoors in through his glasswork. With the windowpane, he recreated the illusion of the wisteria vines that grew along the home’s trellises, allowing their bright blooms to grace his dining room year-round. Of the seven once centrally placed at Laurelton Hall, this window is the only one still in private hands. The other six reside in the permanent collection of the Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.
While Tiffany’s subject matter often incorporated elements of the natural world, he also drew inspiration from Moorish symbols, Venetian motifs and Byzantine-inspired patterns. As witnessed through the diversity of Mr. Horiuchi’s collection, Tiffany was drawn to a subject as much for its aesthetic qualities as for its spirit and symbolism. His regular use of the dragonfly, for example, stemmed from its iridescence as well as its associations with good fortune, power and prosperity.
In ‘Hanging Head Dragonfly’ chandelier (circa 1905), one of the most striking dragonfly designs created by the studio, Tiffany artisans Clara Driscoll and Alice Gouvy created the illusion of motion through rippled glass. In the background, no two adjacent pieces have textures that align in the same direction. With this technique, the chandelier evokes dragonflies hovering over water, their wings generating ripples across the surface. Against this textured background, the smooth and transparent jewel tones of the insect forms stand out to wonderful effect.
Like the dragonfly, the peacock was also a revered symbol in many cultures and became another ubiquitous motif for Tiffany. Recurring in major works as well as smaller jewellry and enamelware, the peacock is never so magnificently realized as in ‘Peacock’ window (circa 1910-1915), recently exhibited as part of A Radiant Light: The Artistry of Louis C. Tiffany at SFO Museum in San Francisco. The bird encompasses the entirety of the panel, its detailed plumage shifting in warm to cool tones. At its feet sits a brightly rendered rose just on the cusp of wilting, a potential nod to a lost loved one.
Though tastes and trends change, Tiffany’s works have endured over time. From Barbra Streisand — one-time owner of the ‘Dragonfly and Waterflowers’ table lamp (circa 1900) — to Bruce Randall, the 1959 recipient of the Mr. Universe title, Tiffany collectors across the decades are known for their fastidiousness and their thrill for the search. The legacy of these collectors, carried on by Mr. Horiuchi, speaks to the exquisite craftsmanship of Tiffany Studios and the lasting appeal of its creations.