Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), son of Charles Comfort Tiffany, founder of the eponymous American firm, Tiffany & Co., developed an appreciation for color and material at an early age through exposure to the designers, silversmiths and jewelers working in his father’s workshops. Formally trained as a painter, the younger Tiffany traveled extensively in his youth and developed a particular passion for the sun dappled hues and architectural shapes he encountered in North Africa and the Near East. When he established his own workshops, Tiffany Studios and Tiffany Furnaces, focusing on glass, stained glass, enamel, metalwork, jewelry and interiors, Tiffany’s designs were united by a strong sense of color and play of light. In contrast to the classicist and revivalist designs being produced by his father’s firm, Tiffany’s work was decidedly forward-thinking. His designs depicted impressions or abstracted interpretations of his inspirational sources as opposed to direct copies of motifs and figures.
At the time of the present table box’s creation, all of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s jewelry and enamels were being manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Despite training with a number of influential male artists and designers, Tiffany hired a considerable number of (unmarried) females to work in and run the various departments in his own workshops. In the twenty-six years the Jewelry and Enamel department was in operation, Tiffany employed a total of thirteen women and only six men. In 1914 he hired Meta K. Overbeck (born 1880) replace Julia Munson as head of the Jewelry and Enamel department. Works created under Overbeck’s tenure are marked with the initial “F” ahead of the production number, as seen on the underside of the present lot. Little is known about Overbeck’s background, but like Tiffany her designs were incredibly progressive and anticipated the art deco movement nearly a decade before the style was showcased at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels Modernes in Paris. Overbeck and Tiffany collaborated on all works produced by the department until his death in 1933 (Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany, London, 1993, pp. 98-102). This box, likely intended for the preservation of cigars, with its large painterly enameled panel is a departure from most of the more geometrically ornamented works Tiffany and Overbeck designed together. The decision to produce the rather provocative depiction of a female dressed in pantaloons and smoking a hookah while unaccompanied by a male companion in an exotic foreign land is most certainly a testament to Tiffany’s trust and esteem in Overbeck as a daring designer and as a modern woman.