Mr. Louis C. Tiffany's Drawing Room. (1878-1884) Bella Apts., 48 East 26th street, New York. Artistic Houses : being a series of interior views of a number of the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States : with a description of the art treasures contained therein. New York : D. Appleton and Company, 1883-1884. Vol. 1, Part 1. Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
Mr. Louis C. Tiffany's Hall . (1878-1884) Bella Apts., 48 East 26th street, New York. Artistic Houses : being a series of interior views of a number of the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States : with a description of the art treasures contained therein. New York : D. Appleton and Company, 1883-1884. Vol. 1, Part 1. Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
The present table is one of the few surviving pieces from Louis Comfort Tiffany's first home, the Bella Apartment House at 48 East 26th Street in New York. This extraordinary object speaks to Tiffany's early interests in furniture and decorating, two important aspects of his career often overlooked due to his extensive accomplishments in glass. Additionally, it is an extremely rare document from his brief partnership with Lockwood de Forest and of their joint interest in the crafts of India. This table and the leaded glass window from the hall, now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, are two of the few extant objects from Tiffany's Bella Apartment.
Dating from the earliest years of Tiffany career, this table was made when he first pursued a profession in the arts. In his youth, Tiffany traveled the world and painted, but by the late 1870s, he was eager to parlay his artistic interests into a business and, along with several of his friends and fellow artists, he created eclectic interiors for discerning and distinguished New York patrons. By October of 1880, Tiffany had established three separate enterprises all based at his 373 Fourth Avenue address: L. C. Tiffany & Co., Tiffany & Wheeler and Tiffany & de Forest specializing in furniture, embroideries and decorating, respectively. Only later were these firms consolidated to form Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists.
Tiffany likely worked from his residence at the Bella Apartments and used its unusual decor to attract clients for his burgeoning decorating concerns. His apartment was published in a number of journals including the first volume of Artistic Houses, (1883) a privately printed series of interior views of "the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States." Here, the drawing room is illustrated and the author notes that Tiffany has "striven for a simple suggestion of the ancient Moorish style" and that "the Moorish feeling has received a dash of East Indian." The present table is seen at the center of the drawing room with a cloth table cover. The table is again visible in a series of articles in the Art Journal from 1884.
The table is laden with decoration on nearly every surface. Brass inlay forms a broad border around the top and a floral spray at the center, as well as a swag motif around the skirt. Each side of the vertical supports is adorned with varying patterns of metal inlay. These legs, and the stretcher, are formed either entirely from whole or partial Indian printing blocks, used for printing textiles, set into the wood. Larger examples of these printing blocks can be seen in images of Tiffany's 72nd Street home, hung on the walls as decoration and some of which survive in the collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida.
Lockwood de Forest, Tiffany's business partner from 1880-1883, was almost certainly the source for the table's Indian elements. Partnered as Tiffany & de Forest, a decorating concern, de Forest spent an extensive amount of time in India gathering artifacts, wood carvings, textiles, carpets, tiles, metalwork and jewelry and other Indian crafts, for the company's use. Tiffany and de Forest developed divergent business goals and agreed to dissolve their partnership shortly after de Forest's return from India in 1882. They closed out the business by May 1883. It is during the time period between de Forest's return and the closing of the joint business with Tiffany that the table was likely made. Tiffany purchased $10,000 worth of Tiffany & de Forest stock for his own use and it is quite likely that some of those pieces were incorporated into the table. The cherry, maple, birch and pine used in the table make it clear that the table was constructed in New York and not itself an Indian import.
Contrary to his glass works, little is known of Tiffany's furniture work shops, L. C. Tiffany & Co., his first furniture firm, and later Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists. Tiffany produced furniture for his 1879 commission for the George Kemp house, but he also farmed out his designs to at least one outside firm. Tiffany hired Meier & Hagen to construct his designs for the "colonial" furniture for his breakfast room in his 72nd Street home in 1882 and 1885, as seen in the Meier & Hagen order books in the collection of New-York Historical Society. There is, however, no entry in these order books for the Bella Apartment table. It is reasonable to assume that Tiffany oversaw production of the table in his own workshops.
The history of the table after its time in the Bella Apartment House is not certain. Presumably the table remained with the Tiffany family for a number of years. The table found its way to Laurelton Hall, Louis Comfort Tiffany's estate on Long Island. After Tiffany's death in 1933, part of the Laurelton Hall property, along with this table, passed to Tiffany's daughter, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, then to the Lindsay family, then to the family of the present owner in the late 1960s.