The Dandelion Lamp
by Martin Eidelberg
When this extraordinary Dandelion lamp was first shown publicly at the Paris 1900 World’s Fair, Louis C. Tiffany was at the height of his career. In the preceding decade he had opened a glass factory and introduced his new Favrile glass, he established a bronze casting department, and created a workshop for enamels. Most germane, he initiated the idea of producing lamps—an endeavor which often crossed the division between these different materials.
His interest in lamps had begun in the mid-1890s with bases and shades of blown Favrile glass; some with bronze bases and glass shades overlaid with wire filigree—foreshadowing the leaded shades we readily associate with Tiffany’s name after the turn of the century. As the 1890s drew to a close, he and his staff explored new ideas in lighting, and as the Paris World’s Fair approached, he redoubled his efforts to create a series of special masterpieces—showstoppers that would attract both the public and the press.
Not only is the lamp a tour-de-force of metal working, but it is remarkable that the surface is in such pristine shape, undoubtedly the result of its having been hidden away for over a century.
This Dandelion lamp is one of the designs created especially for the World’s Fair. We are unprepared for its large, almost theatrical scale and the richness of its materials. The entire base is copper, but with differently colored patinations. The thick shaft is repousséd with a design of dandelion plants—leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and puff balls--in abundant profusion. It is like a clump of dandelions growing naturally in the field. The Favrile globe atop the lamp completes the allusion, its white-flecked surface alluding to dandelion seeds floating in unseen currents of air.
Although often described as being enameled, there are no enamels. Instead, its rich harmony of colors was attained in a very different way. The green that covers the plants come from oxidizing the copper. The dark brown base resembles a rich bronze, but it too is copper, covered with a different patina. The golden dandelion blossoms seem to be made from thin strips of brass soldered in place. And the ring of puff balls that encircle the top of the shaft have been coated with silver or another white metal. Not only is the lamp a tour-de-force of metal working, but it is remarkable that the surface is in such pristine shape, undoubtedly the result of its having been hidden away for over a century.
The idea of fashioning the lamp in the form of a dandelion plant was both novel and, at the same time, very au courant. In the 1890s French avant-garde designers such as Gallé argued in favor of turning to nature for inspiration. So too Tiffany and his designers, such as Clara Driscoll, the woman responsible for most of his floral lamps, emulated natural form in ingenious ways. Her Dandelion lamp like her Wisteria and Lily lamps, all created around 1900, emulate nature but in very different ways. Inspired by simple meadow and pond plants, they ingeniously transform metal and glass into marvels of illumination. Two of Tiffany’s maxims, after all, were “Nature is always right,” and “Nature is always beautiful.”
This tour-de-force of a lamp exemplified all that his art was intended to convey—a love of nature, a delight in materials, and a richness of color.
Tiffany was evidently proud of the Dandelion lamp. After showing it in Paris, he exhibited it a year later at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition of 1901. It enjoyed celebrity status, photographs of it appearing in European and American journals. As unique as the Dandelion lamp is, one other example of this design was made but with some minor changes; a photograph of it appeared in Brush and Pencil in 1900. But that even one duplicate lamp was made is surprising, given its labor-intensive demands. Unlike the Wisteria lamp that Driscoll conceived around this same time, and whose bronze base and leaded glass shade were more readily duplicated, the design of the Dandelion lamp did not lend itself to that sort of serial production.
In the newly-discovered correspondence between Clara Driscoll and her family, she wrote of her delight in designing and creating complex lamps. Often the mid-level managers at Tiffany Studios opposed her, wanting her to simplify her designs to lower costs and increase profits. This happened apropos of her idea for the Dragonfly lamp, but Tiffany stepped in and not only heartily approved her design, but he declared that he wanted the first one for himself and he sent that lamp off to London to be included in the exhibition of his work that Siegfried Bing was staging in the English capital.
One can easily imagine that the Dandelion lamp aroused a similar response. The number of hours necessary to hand hammer the intricate design, the complicated patinations, the delicate process of adding brass strips for the flowers, all these complicated and untried processes would undoubtedly have raised the eyebrows of the managers but would have delighted Tiffany. This tour-de-force of a lamp exemplified all that his art was intended to convey—a love of nature, a delight in materials, and a richness of color. It was only natural that he chose this extravagant lamp to be shown in Paris—an exhibition upon which he lavished special attention. The attention that it garnered proved him right.
“The Tiffany Glass at the Pan American,” Keramic Studio, vol. 3 (June 1901-02), 31. |Der Moderne Stil, vol. 3 (1901), plate 57.
Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York, 1993), pp. 70-71.
William Feldstein and Alastair Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios (New York and London: 1983), p. 145.
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany, the Collected Works of Robert Koch (Atglen, PA: 2001), p. 235.
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: 2007), p. 38, fig. 128.
References to the second version of the Dandelion lamp:
Gardner Teall, “Artistic American Wares at Expositions,” Brush and Pencil, vol. 6 (July 1900), p. 179.
Rüdiger Joppien, ed., Louis C. Tiffany, Meisterwerke aus amerikanische Jugendstils (Cologne: 1999), p. 225.
Martin Eidelberg, Alice C. Frelinghuysen, Nancy A. McClelland, and Lars Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York: 2005), p. 23.