This lot is exempt from Sales Tax.
A fine selection of art glass, enamels and metalware by Tiffany Studios from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art will be offered in the sale of Important 20th Century Decorative Arts to be held at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza on June 12, 2003, lots 69-121, sale 1245.
The Tiffany Collection at The Museum of Modern Art
Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of the famed New York jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany, founded the Tiffany Glass Company (later the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company) in 1885. His works defined the aesthetics of New York's gilded age and were phenomenally popular throughout his productive career, which ended when he retired in 1918 to his elaborately decorated Oyster Bay estate, Laurelton Hall. However, by the time he died in 1933, a year after his successor firm Tiffany Studios went bankrupt, his work was definitively out of fashion. Even at that low point, Philip Johnson, who was organizing his first exhibition of design at the Museum of Modern Art that same year, wrote in defense of Tiffany and Art Nouveau: "These objects are now regarded with fashionable horror. Such shudders are, however, unjustified. It is only that the proper perspective on the period is lacking. Jugendstil, or as it is called in French (and English!), Art Nouveau, is one that merits reevaluation."
Over the next twenty-five years, Tiffany's reputation was nurtured by a small group of dedicated admirers, amongst them Edgar Kaufmann, jr., who was affiliated with The Museum of Modern Art from 1946 until 1955. Kaufmann acquired approximately ten works for the museum in the late 1940s, including a 1915 favrile glass piece and a 1903 floriform vase (to be sold at Christie's New York, June 12, 2003, lots 105 and 90) both of which were exhibited in the 1949 exhibition "Art Nouveau from the Museum Collection." Throughout the 1950s, Tiffany's work was increasingly sought after by dealers - most notably Lillian Nassau - and collectors. During this time, Arthur Drexler, Johnson's successor as the Director of the Department of Architecture and Design, acquired an additional twenty pieces of art glass, including a six-armed bronze candelabrum (lot 459) and a 1901 favrile vase (to be sold at Christie's New York, June 12, 2003, lot 103) which were shown in the 1960 exhibition, "Art Nouveau."1
The reevaluation called for by Johnson, however, would not occur on a broad scale until 1958, when a major retrospective appraisal of the artist was held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. It was shortly thereafter that Joseph Heil vastly accelerated the museum's incremental acquisition of works by Tiffany with the 1960 windfall gift of 155 pieces of art glass and other works. Heil was not only one of the preeminent collectors of Tiffany's work, he had also been good friends with MoMA curators Kaufmann, Drexler and Greta Daniel, who all shared his passion for Tiffany. From the time of Heil's gift until 1983, Drexler refined MoMA's favrile glass holdings through a series of judicious additions as well as a number of deaccessions, which allowed the museum to acquire the spectacular Tiffany hanging Lotus Lamp amongst other works.
The current decision to de-accession works by Tiffany was made from a twenty year perspective since the last acquisition of a work by the artist. In that time, Tiffany art glass had been continuously exhibited in the museum's Architecture and Design Galleries. Yet, even after the 1984 expansion (and even with the anticipated expansion currently under construction), the museum has never been able to show more than a fraction of its holdings on any sort of regular basis. After a five year process, it was decided that the museum would retain an outstanding collection of Tiffany works consisting of 47 exemplary works; large enough to fully represent the artist's production within MoMA's overall history of modern design and, indeed, the largest collection of Tiffany works in any museum dedicated to modern art.
Even after selling a great many works, some may still find the extent of MoMA's art glass holdings somewhat extravagant in proportion to, say, the museum's core holdings of Bauhaus design. However, even Tiffany himself might be surprised and pleased at the number of pieces that will remain in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. In a dedication of his 1914 publication The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany, the artist teased one of MoMA's founders for her interest in "modernist" and "Cubist" art: "To my dear friend Lilly Bliss - & although she does not agree with me about art, I love her still."2
The Museum of Modern Art will use the proceeds of any sale of Tiffany pieces exclusively for the purchase of turn of the century design objects that, like the Tiffany pieces, reflect the growing interchange of European and American design attitudes.
1 Philip Johnson, "Decorative Arts a Generation Ago," Creative Art, Vol. 12, no. 4 (April 1933), p. 297.
2 Louis Comfort Tiffany and Charles DeKay, The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany, 1914.
The Philip Johnson Chief Curator, Department of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art, New York
*Lots 443-465 may be tax-exempt from sales tax, as set forth in the Sales Tax notice at the back of the catalogue.