Object of the Month: August 2015
Louis Comfort Tiffany (workshop of)
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Though M&G is widely known for its European Old Master paintings, the reach of the collection extends into other genres as well—icons, antiquities, sculptures, furniture, tapestries and mosaics. These various art forms beckon visitors for multiple reasons—the fame of the maker, the artistic medium, the historical time period, or the sheer size. Inspiration by Louis Comfort Tiffany is no exception. It piques the curiosity of our guests for all of these aspects and more.
For most of us the name Tiffany is associated with exquisite jewelry or radiant stained glass. Our limited understanding may have come from hearing about a beautiful brooch once owned by Aunt Isabelle or Grandma’s “be careful when you dust it” lamp. But the cognomen Tiffany has a diversity of artistic expressions connected to it. Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was thoroughly exposed to the voluminous jewelry inventory of his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany. Choosing first to explore painting, in his early 20’s Louis settled into what would be his métier—the decorative arts. The range of objects he and his studio produced was extensive—furniture, metalwork, textiles, pottery, enamels, and almost anything else that had to do with furnishing and beautifying interiors.
Mr. Tiffany was ahead of his time in his employment of women. Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls” both designed and executed many of the renowned lamps and mosaics; and, as is the case, with many large firms of the era received little to no public recognition for their contributions during their lifetime (neither did the men working for Tiffany’s well-known brand).
M&G’s Inspiration was fashioned in 1887 for the First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY. Though originally installed in the sanctuary above the choir loft, during a 1948 renovation it was decided that it no longer fit the décor. As with the acquisitions of many of M&G’s objects, the story is a stunning example of the providence of God. Dr. Bob Jones Jr. “just happened to be preaching at the New York church and was asked if the University might like to have the piece.” Not only did the church gift the beautiful mosaic, but they also transported it to Greenville. Housed originally in an outside setting near the BJU Fine Arts building, it was moved to its present location in Gallery 19 around 1965. Installing a work of art 8 feet across and weighing 1500 pounds took nothing less than a crane!
Mosaics of any size are intriguing, but Inspiration features Tiffany Studios’ artistry, craftsmanship and beauty on a monumental scale. Meticulously positioned mother-of-pearl and myriads of tesserae, ranging from gold to deep purple, join to create an image of a magnificent angel poring over a book. Combined with the tongue of fire atop the angel’s head, the artist symbolically portrays the biblical doctrine of inspiration—God “breathing out” His words—as explained in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21.
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s love of design, color, mediums, and techniques poised him as one of the aesthetes of his time, and he has left mankind with a trail of exquisite works of art communicating his passion. Allow yourself the pleasure of visiting M&G and marveling at this handsome example of Art Nouveau.
Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent
Published in 2015