Louis Comfort Tiffany’s experimentation and innovation in glasswork at the turn of the 20th century remains legendary. Freeman’s October 26 Design auction offers multiple opportunities to collect work by Tiffany Studios—at both domestic and monumental scale.
10/14/2022 News and Film, 20th Century and Contemporary Design
Lot 5 I "Dragonfly" Lamp Screen I Estimate: $6,000-8,000
The decorative arts of Louis Comfort Tiffany—and his output through Tiffany Studios—are world-renowned for works as distinct as benches and monumental windows. The quality of the firm’s work was recognized internationally as the gold standard, so much so that by the turn of the 20th century, its innovations came to be referred to as “Tiffany glass.” But what exactly is Tiffany glass, and how was it produced?
As the technique for creating stained glass had gone largely unchanged since the medieval era, Tiffany’s process for glass production using copper foil and leaded techniques was cutting-edge for its time. In 1894, Tiffany patented the production process for Favrile glass, in which metallic oxides integrated into the glass itself create an iridescent appearance.
Though Tiffany Studios often used the Favrile glass techniques for works like windows and lamps, where the passing of light through the form accentuates its unique qualities—like the large gourd-form decorative Favrile vase on offer in Freeman’s October 26 Design auction (Lot 3; estimate: $4,000-6,000)—it was also used in other decorative objects, like a large decorated Favrile vase (Lot 2; estimate: $2,000-3,000). The techniques Tiffany used for cutting glass, and the chemical formulas he developed, allowed him to create a previously unreachable level of detail that brought about a rebirth of the medium.
Even though Louis Comfort Tiffany’s name is synonymous with the ornate style of America’s Gilded Age, little was known about the day-to-day operations of his firm, as records were destroyed in the early 1930s. Luckily, a cache of letters written by Clara Driscoll, a worker at the Tiffany Studios firm, was brought to light in 2005. After the Lead Glaziers and Glass Cutters Union strike in 1892, Tiffany created the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, an all-female department led by Driscoll. At its peak, the department ranged from 27 to 35 women, and produced iconic lamps, mosaics, and stained-glass windows.
Working with patents for opalescent glass alongside colored, plated, textured, flashed, etched, and enameled glass, artists at Tiffany’s glass studio in Corona, Queens, New York, created a staggering array of masterworks in glass. The firm’s versatility led to works that ranged in scope from a small “Dragonfly” lamp screen (Lot 5; estimate: $6,000-8,000) to a number of monumental stained-glass windows the firm created for private and public clients.
Lot 7 I Boy Christ in the Temple I Estimate: $80,000-120,000
One such selection is on offer in Freeman’s Design auction: a series of windows created by Tiffany Studios for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Meriden, Connecticut, between 1892 and 1910. At a towering scale, these windows depict three separate, elaborately crafted scenes: a “Passionflower, Iris, and Mock Orange” landscape (Lot 6; estimate: $200,000-300,000), a twelve-year-old Jesus debating with elders in the temple (Lot 7; estimate: $80,000-120,000), and a highlight from the Good Samaritan parable (Lot 8; estimate: $80,000-120,000). Breathtaking in both their narrative and aesthetic qualities, this set of windows demonstrates the range of techniques at the disposal of Tiffany Studios—from “confetti” and “spotted” glass to a drapery technique that created rippled texturing in the glass itself—and the mastery with which the studio created works.
Design also offers excellent collecting opportunities for the works with which Tiffany Studios has become synonymous: exquisitely crafted lamps. The October 26 auction presents both table and floor varieties: a “Vine Border” bell floor lamp (Lot 4; estimate: $12,000-18,000), and a “Poppy” table lamp (Lot 1; estimate: $60,000-80,000). Though the detailed patterned glass itself, with its recurring motifs of flora and fauna, captures the attention first, the lamp’s base is just as intricately rendered. Both bronzes forged at Tiffany Studios’ foundry in Queens, the bases of the present lamps exhibit the care and mastery that went into every aspect of the studio’s output.