Laurelton Hall, Louis Comfort Tiffany's extraordinary country estate in Oyster Bay, New York, completed in 1905, was the epitome of the designer's achievement and in many ways defined this multifaceted artist. Tiffany designed every aspect of the project inside and out, creating a total aesthetic environment. The exhibition is a window into Tiffany's most personal art, bringing into focus this remarkable artist who lavished as much care and creativity on the design and furnishing of his home and gardens as he did on all the wide-ranging media in which he worked. Although the house tragically burned to the ground in 1957, the exhibition brings together many of its surviving architectural elements and interior features. In addition, the exhibition features Tiffany's personal collections of his own work—breathtaking stained-glass windows, paintings, glass and ceramic vases—as well as the artist's collections of Japanese, Chinese, and Native American works of art.
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) was one of America's most acclaimed and multitalented artists working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During his nearly fifty-year career, from the 1870s through the 1920s, Tiffany embraced virtually every artistic and decorative medium, designing and directing the production of artistic windows, mosaics, lighting, glass vases, pottery metalwork, enamels, jewelry, and interiors. The son of Charles L. Tiffany—who was the scion of the eponymous New York jewelry and silver firm—Louis Tiffany painted throughout his lifetime. Beginning in the late 1870s, however, he turned his attention to decorative work, saying, "There is more in it than in painting pictures."
Of all of Tiffany's artistic endeavors, stained glass brought him the greatest recognition. Tiffany and his early rival John La Farge revolutionized the look of stained glass. Prior to their involvement in the medium, the craft had remained essentially the same since medieval times, utilizing flat panes of white and colored glass with details of ornament, modeling, light, and shadow painted on the panes with either enamels or dark opaque glass paints, and then fired before leading. Both Tiffany and La Farge experimented with new types of glass and achieved a more varied palette with richer hues and greater density. By 1881, each had patented an opalescent glass, a unique American phenomenon, which had a milky, opaque, and sometimes rainbow-hued appearance when light shone through it. Internally colored with variegated shades of the same or different hues, Tiffany's Favrile glass enabled artists to substitute random tonal gradations, lines, textures, and densities inherent in the material itself for the pictorial details usually painted onto the glass. Tiffany's workshops would go on to design and fabricate literally thousands of leaded-glass windows for churches, mausoleums, schools, and other buildings across the country and abroad.
The exhibition is made possible by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.
Additional support is provided by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund.
It was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in collaboration with The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida.
Tiffany achieved aesthetic unity in all of the environments that he designed for himself—in his three New York City homes, his first Long Island summer residence, and, especially, Laurelton Hall. Included in this exhibition are examples of Tiffany's earliest experiments with interior design for his apartment in the Bella Apartment house at 48 East 26th Street and within the Tiffany house at 72nd Street and Madison Avenue. Of particular interest are the extraordinarily rare objects that survive from these homes, such as the immense carved teakwood doors from the entrance to Tiffany's studio on the top floor of the 72nd Street house and a remarkable Tiffany-designed Steinway piano, inspired by a Damascus chest.
Tiffany's reverence for nature, which found lasting expression in his artistic vision, was evident in the care he lavished on the landscape surrounding Laurelton Hall. Using native species, Tiffany adapted his vision to the existing site rather than imposing a particular style on it. Like an artist working with different hues, he "painted" the grounds with color—broad sweeps of pink mountain laurel, purple Japanese irises, yellow bearded irises, and tawny marsh marigolds, beds of tulips, azalea, and phlox. Outdoor flowers became an extension of the house; Tiffany designed heavy canopies of wisteria supported on great webs of wire outside, and in the dining room installed a frieze of leaded-glass windows, whose floral motifs echoed the drooping wisteria vines. The Daffodil Terrace, with its capitals of vibrant yellow glass flowers, was an impressive pergola-like structure that successfully mediated the indoor and outdoor spaces. It has been reassembled in this exhibition for the first time since 1957, when a fire ravaged Laurelton Hall.
Of all of Tiffany's artistic endeavors, leaded-glass brought him the greatest recognition. This exhibition, which presents a veritable retrospective of his work in the medium, includes examples from about 1878 to 1931. One of Tiffany's earliest domestic windows from his home at the Bella apartments illustrates his experimental use of glass. Windows from Tiffany's apartment on 72nd Street and Madison Avenue include the delicate Magnolia panels that he later transferred to Laurelton Hall. Some are notable for their technical effects, others for their unusual subject matter. Flower, Fish, and Fruit (Baltimore Museum of Art), a design dating to about 1885 and shown in London at the Grafton Galleries in 1899, demonstrates Tiffany's remarkable ability to exploit the variations and textures of glass and to employ plating of different layers of glass as seen in the goldfish bowls. Additional highlights are the individual Four Seasons panels, originally together, which were prominently displayed at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.
Tiffany's work first entered the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in 1896, when Museum patron H. O. Havemeyer presented a collection of fifty-six Favrile glass vases. According to Havemeyer, "Mr. Louis Tiffany [had] set aside the finest pieces of their production." That collection was further enriched by a spectacular loan by Tiffany himself in 1925 of pieces from his personal collection of blown glass, enamels, and pottery. This collection became a gift to the Museum from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in 1951. Together they form one of the most important and comprehensive collections of Tiffany's Favrile glass and enamels. Individual gifts and selected purchases, including important examples of furniture and architectural fragments from the Havemeyer house, have considerably enhanced the Museum's holdings. One of the most impressive works is the four-column loggia from Laurelton Hall, with its vibrant floral capitals and glass-mosaic decorations, that graces The Charles Engelhard Court in The American Wing.