Tarrytown Opulence

Louis Tiffany and the East Coast Elite

An early example of Eastern-influenced design, this unusual screen was acquired in 1996 by the present owner from a Tarrytown, New York estate. Tarrytown, like other surrounding communities on the eastern bank of the Hudson, was a commuter town for the well-to-do members of New York society at the turn of the century, with the likes of Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller acquiring mansions in the area. The present lot has three panels of mottled and opalescent favrile glass with turtleback tiles in stylized medallions, encased in a mahogany frame. Additional design elements include hand-chipped iridescent jewels, as well as jewels with metallic reverse painting. This technique, meant to emulate the appearance of cloisonné enamel, was also used in an 1881 commission for the Union League Club of New York City and later patented by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1882. One of the most elaborate Tiffany commissions of the period with similar medallion and jewel designs would have been the White House entrance screen commissioned and installed by President Chester Arthur's administration in 1883, later removed by the Roosevelt administration in 1902, and subsequently lost in a fire in 1923. 

The White House entrance hall with Tiffany Studios screen (left), c. 1883

Tiffany Studios

Louis Comfort Tiffany, artist, innovator, and pioneer of form and color, was born in New York City in 1848.

The son of celebrated jeweler and founder of Tiffany & Co., Charles Tiffany, Louis C. Tiffany began his career as a painter in the late 1860s studying under a series of masters including George Inness and Samuel Colman. In the mid-1870s, he turned his attention away from painting and toward the family business of decorative arts and interior design. He built a strong reputation with his exemplary work, even taking part in the 1882 redecoration of the White House.

Despite being highly regarded for his interior design work, Tiffany found he was increasingly drawn to the production of art glass, working for several glass manufacturers from 1875-1878 and honing his skills in the medium that would ultimately bring him the greatest recognition. In 1881, he filed his first patent in glass production, pioneering a new method in glass-tiled mosaic design. Tiffany continued to develop his craft and, in 1885, opened an affiliated interior design company, Tiffany Glass Company, which later changed its name to Tiffany Studios. This new company specialized in the design of private interiors and public spaces, working with numerous clients including Louisine and Henry Osborne Havemeyer and the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1892, Tiffany received a patent for a new technique in glass production that would establish his place in art glass history: Favrile blown glass. Favrile glass is created by treating molten glass with metallic oxides in order to create a colored glass. Before the invention of Favrile glass, iridescent art glass was created by simply applying color, in the form of paint or enamel, over a piece of colorless glass. Tiffany displayed his Favrile glass at the 1900 Paris Exhibition where it won the Grand Prize.

In 1898, Tiffany Studios began manufacturing lighting fixtures and lamps. A year later, Tiffany added enamelwork to his firm’s repertoire, and later, ceramics. He continued to advance the use of Favrile glass, designing glass mosaics for use in interior settings, innovating as he did with new techniques of modeling, shading, and cutting. Upon his father's death in 1902, Tiffany assumed the roles of Vice-president and Art Director of Tiffany & Co. He watched the company’s bottom line fastidiously, ending production of any item that went unsold for one year.

No amount of careful accounting could safeguard Tiffany Studios against the shift in public taste during the 1920s. The scrolls and natural curves so integral to Tiffany’s designs gave way to the right angles of Modernism. Tiffany Studios declared bankruptcy in 1932. Louis C. Tiffany died a year later, personally bankrupt and in relative obscurity. That obscurity was not to last; scholars rediscovered Tiffany’s work in the 1950s, followed by the art market a decade later.

Today, works by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios are highly sought after in the modern art market, with collectors valuing them for their high production quality, intricate and nature-inspired designs, and stunning use of colored glass.