caption: The front entrance loggia and bell tower of Laurelton Hall.
caption: Portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany, circa 1908 (Courtesy of the Doros Archive Collection)
Tiffany Glass - The Third Decade
Tiffany: Innovation in American Design
Amazingly, we now have passed into our third decade of Tiffany auctions. As they have evolved, each sale cycle has been characterized by different trends in collecting influenced by the selection of property that comes to market and by collectors and museums focusing on different aspects of this subject. Such is the case with the Tiffany sales of the last two years. The most noticeable imprint on these offerings has been an historical theme highlighted by a few very choice lots of archival material. These lots have spanned photographs by David Aronow of the house and gardens at Laurelton Hall in Oyster Bay, Tiffany's last home in the country, to the offering in this December's sale of the papers of Leslie Nash, Tiffany's director of the Tiffany Furnaces. Nash described his duties as "Designer--chemist--General supervision of all work" and later in the archive, "So it goes, each day, in my job you have to be a genius, a magician and a 'jack of all trades'." Like most of his peers at the turn of the century, Louis Comfort Tiffany did not credit the specific designs of his employees in any way, which makes the current offering a revelation in its frank disdain for this practice by Tiffany's most important collaborator in this enterprise. The richness and diversity of this material is breathtaking even to those of us who have been in the market for a long time.
Most treasured amongst these papers is Leslie Nash's unpublished biography outlining the development of "Nash glass" by his father, Arthur Nash, and narrating their years at the Tiffany firm. This manuscript is not currently being offered for sale by the family. However, the auction does include nearly all of the remaining archives (lots 301-311) comprising photographs of much of Tiffany's early glass production and a scrapbook of watercolors and pencil drawings by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Leslie Nash for glass, enamel works and for the pottery production. Incorporated in Nash's scrapbook is his employment contract dated July 20th, 1914, from the Tiffany Furnaces, with an annotation by Nash written up one side in pencil as an apparent afterthought: "When I received this I was ready to quit before I started." Divided into eleven lots, these papers provide a surprising insight into the work of the Studios and comprise what is probably the most important archival property to have come to public auction on this subject.
In the context of Louis C. Tiffany's work at the Studios during his middle and later life, Nash's notes and photographic references substantially expand our knowledge of the nomenclature of Favrile glass. We have in many cases incorporated that information within the current catalogue text. For many years we have had available to us the Tiffany Price lists of various dates from which to work in assigning names to the Tiffany Studios lamp shades, bases and desk items, but this archive has provided the missing links in our knowledge of pattern names for the glass produced at the firm.
In the midst of the sale's rich offerings are a highly important pair of mosaic columns lot 348 and lot 349) inlaid with Cypriote glass tesserae tiles to depict lustrous textile tassels in a trompe l'oeil manner. Said to have been fascinated by the Byzantine mosaics he had seen at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Tiffany began a love-affair with this technique which was fully exercised in his chapel for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Two of his public commissions that can still be seen in their original setting used this technique on an heroic scale: the proscenium curtain of 1909 for the National Theater in Mexico City, and "The Dream Garden" completed in 1914 after a painting by Maxfield Parrish at the Curtis Publishing Company building in Philadelphia.
The Tiffany mosaic columns first appear in period photographs of the Tiffany Studios showroom on Madison Avenue at 45th Street, but much later were moved by Louis Comfort Tiffany to Laurelton Hall. Although they cannot be dated exactly, their iconography would suggest a genesis in the late 19th century or the very early part of the 20th century. The other four columns from the group of six can all be seen in public collections: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Louis C. Tiffany Museum in Japan.
The Danner Memorial window (lot 387) stands as one of Tiffany's masterworks for his 1910-1915 period. Technical mastery in glass making is combined with great beauty of design. The fruit pendant from the tree branches is set amidst boldly mottled and fractured background glass of intense coloration and is plated with various layers of glass to create a strong three dimensional effect. Designed for the First Baptist Church of Canton, Ohio, which was later razed, the window ranks well amongst Tiffany's best windows of this period.
Following in this historical vein is a group of stellar Tiffany lamps from the earliest of collections-- The Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection of Richmond, Virginia. Few collectors can boast such seminal involvement in a broad range of markets with such brilliant results. The six lamps included in this sale exhibit the diversity of the shades and bases that were available through the Studios and demonstrate what could be accomplished through deft combinations of these elements. The majority of the Lewis' collecting endeavors can now be seen at the Virginia Museum to which the greater part of their collections were donated in 1985.
This sale, unique in its presentation of the mosaic columns and the relevatory archival material, continues our tradition of presenting stellar achievements in Tiffany glass design.
Nancy A. McClelland
International Head of 20th Century Decorative Arts
THE SYDNEY AND FRANCES LEWIS COLLECTION
Since the 1960s, Sydney and Frances Lewis of Richmond, Virginia, have been at the forefront of national and international collectors of post-War painting and sculpture and late 19th and 20th century decorative arts. Their keen knowledge resulting from astute observation, incessant research, and an unquenchable appetite and love for art enabled the Lewises to build an incredible personal collection ranging from Emile Gallé to Willem de Kooning to Gaetano Pesce, all of the highest quality. A vast number of their works have been shown in national and international exhibitions and published both in this country and abroad.
In 1985, as one of their many national philanthropic endeavors, the Lewises contributed a major portion of their painting and sculpture collections as well as almost their entire Art Nouveau, Art Déco, and Arts and Crafts collections to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts along with funds to help build large galleries and a storage extension to that institution. In addition, they provided an endowment for the care and development of the collection and its continued growth through acquisition. They have also maintained their support of the museum in many other ways including serving on various Board committees as Trustees while continuing their assistance of other educational institutions in Richmond and throughout the country.
This auction and those preceding fine art auctions this autumn include a number of important works from the private collection of Sydney and Frances Lewis, by such major artists as Tiffany, Burton, Estes, de Kooning, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Martin, Thiebaud, Wesselman, and others. They are diverse and important works, but only capture a glimpse of the vast scope of this remarkable collection, one of the most distinguished collections of the twentieth century.
Frederick R. Brandt
Curator, Lewis Collection
Viewing for lots 301-311 is by appointment only.
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF LESLIE H. NASH