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Tiffany Studios: Painting with Glass

An exhibition organized by The Neustadt, the largest collection of Tiffany glass, comes to Cincinnati.

Begonia Reading Lamp, circa 1905

Begonia Reading Lamp, circa 1905, Tiffany Studios, leaded glass and bronze.

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Dr. Egon Neustadt and his wife Hildegard bought their first Tiffany lamp in 1935. Neustadt, an orthodontist, had recently moved with Hildegard to the United States from Austria. During the process of setting up their new home in Flushing, Queens, the couple found a daffodil-patterned Tiffany lamp in an antique store in Greenwich Village. Limited by budget, the Neustadts initially left the object behind. However, Egon returned to the shop shortly after their initial visit and purchased the lamp for $12.50.

Though the surging wave of American Modernism had swept Tiffany glass aside by the mid-1930s, the Neustadts saw the piece with new eyes. Fascinated by the shade’s floral motif, the couple learned from the dealer that the glass confection was in fact by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist. Within decades of the fortuitous find, the Neustadts would become not only collectors of Tiffany glass but also historians of Tiffany Studios.

The Neustadts went on to amass a nearly exhaustive collection of Tiffany lamp designs. Their collection—which totals over 200 objects—is considered the largest and most comprehensive cache of Tiffany lamps ever accumulated. In 1967, the Neustadts purchased the inventory of opalescent sheet glass and pressed-glass “jewels” left behind by Tiffany Studios after its closure in the late 1930s. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Neustadt published the first major book dedicated to the range of Tiffany Studios’ glass designs, The Lamps of Tiffany (Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Art, 1970). The Neustadt became incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1969 and has since preserved and studied the glass works of Tiffany studios, often helping other institutions conserve their own Tiffany pieces. In 1995 the organization partnered with the Queens Museum, where The Neustadt Collection Gallery exhibits works from the collection.

Aside from its own gallery at the Queens Museum, The Neustadt develops traveling exhibitions as a way of sharing its collection with museums throughout the country. “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” an exhibition organized by The Neustadt, opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum on April 1 and runs through August 30. The show boasts five windows, 20 lamps, and 100 pieces of opalescent flat glass and glass “jewels,” giving museum-goers the opportunity to see the full breadth of Tiffany Studio’s innovations in glass.

As it happens, the Cincinnati Art Museum was one of the first institutions to collect Tiffany works. Albert Traber Goshorn, the museum’s first director, acquired 37 Tiffany Favrile glass vases in 1897 and 1898. Over a century later, the museum purchased four ecclesiastical windows by the studio from a nearby Cincinnati church, St. Michaels & All Angels. The windows, which were commissioned from Tiffany around 1900, were removed from the church in 2010, and underwent 17 months of conservation. Two of the windows were designed by Frederick Wilson, a prominent Tiffany designer and the head of the company’s ecclesiastical department and religious wing. In light of the museum’s history with Tiffany glass, Amy Dehan, the curator of decorative arts and design at the Cincinnati Art Museum, who had heard The Neustadt was putting together the exhibition (it previously ran at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware), thought “Tiffany Glass” was a wonderful show to bring to Cincinnati.

Though it went by several different names, Tiffany Studios was the brainchild of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany, who trained as a painter but turned to furnishings and design, directed his attention toward establishing a glass-making enterprise in the 1880s. Working with Arthur Nash, a skilled glassworker and chemist from Stourbridge, England, he developed a glass-blowing technique that he called “Favrile.” The innovation allowed different colors to blend together during the molten state of the glass-making process. The result was sophisticated coloration that appeared to have shading and texture. Tiffany’s work with glass brought a similar phenomenon to the tradition of stained glass windows, which had hardly changed since medieval times. The company developed methods of layering several pieces of glass to create depth, texture, and rich color fields akin to painting. Different types of glass—including Favrile and also opalescent glass, an opaque or rainbow-hued type Tiffany patented—that had their own variegations of hues were used by craftsmen to emphasize pictorial details in the glass scenes, to dazzling effect. In 1898, Tiffany and his studios began working with lighting and lamps. They used patterns—typically inspired by nature—to produce the glass lampshades, yet each lamp is unique due to variations in color and density in the individual pieces of glass used in their construction.

One standout of the exhibition is Well by Fence (circa 1910) a window designed by Agnes Northrop. The landscape scene, which epitomizes Tiffany Studios’ innovative techniques, pictures dense foliage before a wooden well and fence. In the scene’s background, a moody, swirling sky of pinks and purples peaks above rolling green hills. To achieve the texture of wood and bark on the fence, well, and trees, the studio used streaky glass, while modeled glass was used to indicate depth on the hills and to simulate pebbles on the walkway. For the sky, edged glass was layered to mimic the effect of a sunset.

Northrop, who designed this window and nearly all of the landscape windows for Tiffany (Well by Fence and another Northrop-designed window are in the exhibition), had an unusually high position in the company for a woman of her era. “Northrop was the foremost female designer at Tiffany and worked there for five decades,” says Dehan. “Like her male counterparts, she had a private studio.” Northrop’s work was recognized at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900, where she won a silver medal for her stained-glass designs.

Clara Driscoll, another prominent woman in the company and an Ohio native, supervised the female glass-cutting division at Tiffany Studios. Her Dragonfly lamp, which is featured in the exhibition, won her a bronze medal at the Paris World’s Fair the same year (she also won a bronze medal that year for her metalwork). Driscoll’s dragonfly patterns can be seen in two forms in the show. The Dragonfly Hanging Shade (circa 1905)—a lamp suspended from the ceiling with bronze chains—features an incredibly dense pattern of green dragonflies with aqua accents crowding a yellow background, while the Dragonfly Reading Lamp (circa 1899), features larger, blue-bodied dragonflies pictured upside down on a bronze-based desk lamp.

The Wisteria Library Lamp (circa 1901), another highlight of Cincinnati Art Museum’s show, is also a Driscoll design. “Wisteria is a motif you see again and again in Tiffany designs,” says Dehan. A favorite of Tiffany’s, the flower could be found on the grounds of Laurelton Hall, the designer’s country house on Long Island. To create this lamp, 2,000 pieces of glass were used. The lamp’s top, which features open metal work, gives the appearance of wisteria branches sprouting from it. “Blossoms drip off the branches,” says Dehan, “and the bottom rim has a beautiful, irregular outline mimicking the way the wisteria blossoms would fall.” The shade sits atop a bronze base, also designed by Driscoll.

Aside from beautiful examples of Tiffany craftsmanship, the museum will feature educational models and forgeries of Tiffany wares. The forgeries will reinforce the quality and elegance of Tiffany’s pieces. “In the forgeries, you’ll see the soldering isn’t as expertly done, the glass selection is not as tasteful, or the color and shading aren’t right,” says Dehan. “It’s the special nuances, extreme attention to detail, and overall superior artistry that set Tiffany’s pieces apart.” The educational models will show viewers how the pieces were built and designed, while over 100 pieces of sheet glass will be on hand to illustrate how and when different types of glass were used.

For presentation purposes, all the lamps on view will be lit, and all of the windows will be illuminated.

The Cincinnati show is not the only Tiffany viewing opportunity this month. On April 8, the New-York Historical Society will open a 4,800-square-foot, two-story glassed-in space, designed by Czech architect Eva Jiricna, called the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps. It will display 100 illuminated examples from the Society’s collection, including a unique Dogwood floor lamp (circa 1900–06) and a rare Cobweb shade on a Narcissus mosaic base.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Author: Art & Antiques Magazine | Publish Date: March 2017

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