GLADYS AND ROBERT KOCH - TIFFANY REVIVAL PIONEERS
Robert Koch passed away in August of 2003, roughly one year after the passing of his wife, Gladys. Their deaths represent another significant step in the "changing of the guard" from the older generation of Louis Comfort Tiffany dealers and collectors to a new cadre of devotees.
Gladys and Robert Koch were instrumental in not only returning Tiffany to the place of artistic prominence that he now holds but also in popularizing his work in a world that had largely forgotten him. Their collective scholarship and relentless advocacy helped to restore Tiffany's previously diminished reputation.
Robert Koch already had graduated from Harvard University, earned a Masters degree in Art History from New York Univeristy and completed service with the US Air Force during World War II when he discovered Louis Tiffany while working on his Ph.D. at Yale University. Encouraged by Gladys, Robert began acquiring small Tiffany pieces. His interest continued expanding and led to his serving as curator of the 1958 exhibition Louis Comfort Tiffany 1848-1933, held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. This ground-breaking exhibition marked the first serious exploration of Tiffany's contribution to the decorative arts since his work fell out of fashion in the 1930s. In 1964 he published his first book, Louis C. Tiffany, Rebel in Glass, the seminal scholarly Tiffany work.
While his first love and greatest focus was on Louis Tiffany, Robert's range was broad and his repertoire deep. Over the course of his career, Robert researched, studied and wrote about a variety of subjects whose common connection was the late 19th and early 20th century. His interest in turn-of-the-century posters led to several articles on that subject. Robert greatly appreciated illustrated books and his collection grew substantial enough for visiting scholars to use his library as a source for conducting research. Robert greatly admired Will Bradley, one of America's greatest graphic artists, and he felt himself lucky to have interviewed Bradley in the 1960s. At the end of that interview, Robert promised Will Bradley that he would one day write a book about him. True to his word, in November of 2002, less than a year before his death, Robert's book, Will H. Bradley, American Illustrator, A Collector's Guide was released. Other books he authored were Louis C. Tiffany's Glass, Bronzes, Lamps - A Complete Collector's Guide and Louis C. Tiffany's Art Glass. In 2001, his books on Tiffany were compiled in a single volume, Louis C. Tiffany: the Collected Works of Robert Koch.
Robert taught at Berkeley, Yale, and Queens College. Most of his teaching career was spent at Southern Connecticut State University. Teaching suited him well by providing the academic environment consistent with his love for research, and allowing him time, particularly in the summer, for travel in pursuit of his interests. Teaching gave Dr. Koch the gratifying opportunity of introducing young people to his areas of expertise.
Robert's unrivaled knowledge of Tiffany and well-developed research abilities were perfectly complemented by Gladys' extraordinary business acumen. Gladys' unerring eye led her into the antiques business and with Robert's scholarly support and high visibility, the business thrived. Gladys quickly became a member of the group of outstanding women that included Lillian Nassau and Minna Rosenblatt who had the confidence and competence to establish themselves as leaders in their field. These women helped popularize the Art Nouveau movement and assured a place in history for artists of that short-lived but dynamic era.
Many of Tiffany's masterpieces passed through Koch hands, either through Gladys' business or through contacts by owners seeking the advice from the dean of Tiffany scholars. The Kochs were thrilled to own some of Tiffany's greatest works, yet they felt the responsibility to care for them for future generations. Consequently, many of their pieces are now found in museums housing some of the finest Tiffany collections in the world including the Virginia Museum in Richmond, Virginia and the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. Most recently, Robert donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York an extraordinary 1880 leaded glass window from Tiffany's own "Bella" apartment, his Manhattan residence early in his career. The Met is planning to install the Bella window as part of its permanent Tiffany exhibition.
The Kochs generously shared their time and knowledge; many Tiffany collectors and dealers got their start with ample helpings of Koch assistance. As the preeminent Tiffany scholar, and as one of the foremost Art Nouveau dealers, Robert and Gladys owned some of Tiffany's finest pieces. Those that remained in their collection held a special place in their hearts and minds and now are available for others to cherish.
Christie's is grateful to Bruce Barnett for providing this biography of Robert and Gladys Koch
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATES OF GLADYS AND ROBERT KOCH