Louis Comfort Tiffany had an enduring adoration of nature, a devotion that began as a young boy and was faithfully sustained until his death in 1933. He let it be known that “as a child he showed a strong love for all that was beautiful in nature or art, and he discovered beauty in objects which to less penetrating eyes was hidden and undreamed of.” In his later years, as he accepted some of the precepts of Swedenborgianism, Tiffany imbued nature with a near-religious quality: “‘Dame Nature,’ who will freely give to those who seek lessons in all the wonders of color combination that can exist on the earth, for it is from her that every real artist has drawn his inspiration and taught the eye to feed the soul.”
This love of nature can perhaps be best seen in Tiffany’s use of flowers in all facets of his artistic creations. Although he lacked formal training, Tiffany was the equal of many professional horticulturists. The extent of this knowledge was on full display at Laurelton Hall, his 580-acre estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island. With the assistance of head gardener William Donald, and 35 to 40 other gardeners on the estate’s permanent staff, Louis Tiffany landscaped the property in much the same way as he would paint a giant canvas, planting numerous swaths of colorful shrubs, flowers and trees over wide expanses of land. An enormous greenhouse on site also enabled the interior of the mansion to be decorated from end to end with potted plants and cut flowers.
The aim of many of Tiffany’s domestic leaded glass windows was to create a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors by replicating exterior landscapes featuring flowers. As early as 1878, well before he began producing windows commercially, Tiffany created an element in his rooms at the Bella apartments to accomplish this goal: “Speaking of flowers, we are to have a window garden. See how I have anticipated it by painting, on the side of the window casing, vines and leaves, carrying them to the top of the window in this conventional manner. Thus the contrast between flowers and window casing will not be so abrupt and startling. Nothing must stand isolated in the room, but, by means of art, all are subtly connected.”
Louis Tiffany’s love of nature, knowledge of flowers and desire to integrate a home’s interior with its exterior is superbly demonstrated by the extraordinary “Snowball and Wisteria” offered here. The pendulous wisteria racemes, in rich shades of blue and purple, hanging from twisting brown branches and interspersed with off-white snowball blossoms enhanced with “confetti” glass, are striking against the red-tinged and blue-streaked yellow background emulating a sunset sky. This example is similar to a smaller window in the collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (Winter Park, FL) that was originally installed at Laurelton Hall. According to [Louise] Comfort Guilder (1887-1974), one of Louis’ daughters, that window was “Papa’s favorite.” This window (lot 103), with its greater number of blossoms and more extensive use of “confetti” glass, further demonstrates Louis Tiffany’s superior aesthetics and supreme mastery in capturing nature in glass.
author, The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany