Quietly preserved in the same family collection since December 1941, the present lot represents a remarkable rediscovery of one of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s (LCT) most important works in silver. This silver, gold and enamel vase was one of thirteen pieces designed by LCT to represent Tiffany & Co. at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, for which the firm won the Gold Medal. In sharp contrast to the hundreds of objects sent by the firm to previous international expositions, Tiffany & Co. chose to send only a very edited selection to the 1915 Exposition, all of which were designed by LCT, who had joined his father’s firm as Design Director in 1902. Executed in a number of styles and materials but linked through the inclusion of sophisticated enamel decoration, the selection included three works of silver, four pieces of jewelry, three works of copper, and three works in gold. All thirteen works were engraved with the firm’s special exposition mark and numbered 1 through 13. The present vase is numbered PP11.
Listed under “Sculpture,” Tiffany’s display was showcased in Gallery 71 of the Palace of Fine Arts, alongside pictures by William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, James Abbott McNeil Whistler and John Singer Sargent. The Jeweler’s Circle notes that the Tiffany’s works were presented in three cases—two stand-alone cases for large scale works, and one long case housing eleven works (Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1993, p. 153). Archival images of the long case at the Exposition and similar studio shots show the present vase as the centerpiece of the long case. Flanking the vase are two gold cups, and below, on a lower level, are three copper works, four pieces of jewelry and a gold and enamel tea screen.
Of the thirteen works sent to the Panama-Pacific Exposition, only six pieces are known to be extant. A silver covered jar (PP13) with enamel frieze based on an 1898 painting titled “Spring” by Louis Comfort Tiffany is in the collection of the Allentown Museum of Art, Allentown, PA (see Zapata 1993, p. 148). A gold and plique-a-jour enamel cup (PP12) illustrated by John Loring in Louis Comfort Tiffany at Tiffany & Co., 2002, p. 174, was purchased at the 1915 Exposition by Henry Walters and is preserved in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD. The gold and enamel tea screen (PP7), based on LCT’s “Parakeets and Goldfish Bowl” stained glass window originally shown at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was formerly in the collection of the Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum, Matsue, Japan, and is presently in a private collection (see Loring 2002 p. 177). A small copper vase (PP6) is in a private collection, and the colored glass and gold “Mistletoe” pendant necklace (PP5) was sold in these rooms on 12 April 2011, lot 51 ($182,500).
It was around the time of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s birth in 1848 that his father’s fancy good and jewelry firm, Tiffany, Young & Ellis, expanded their ventures into silver. By 1851, they had partnered with John C. Moore to produce silver exclusively for the firm, with Moore’s son, Edward C. Moore, installed as head of manufacturing and the primary designer. Regarded as one of America’s greatest and most important silversmiths, Edward C. Moore’s illustrious career at Tiffany would continue until his death in 1891. LCT demonstrated a propensity for the arts at a young age and it is thought that he was likely one of Moore’s earliest pupils in his emerging “Tiffany School;” a training ground for apprentices to learn to draw and model from organic objects. Moore’s mentorship probably began around age twelve, and his influence would have a profound resonance on LCT throughout his professional career and personal collecting interests (Zapata 1993, pp. 18-22).
It wasn’t until five years into his tenure as Design Director at his father’s firm, Tiffany & Co., that Louis Comfort Tiffany progressed from creating enameled copper wares to enameled silver and gold. Equipped by Moore and later John T. Curran, Tiffany & Co.’s enameling studios had already become well-established and were entirely capable of producing the finest enameled holloware in the United States. In 1908 LCT promoted Albert Angell Southwick to oversee the firm’s silver production. Southwick, who had trained in Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and Paris, had a unique personal style that was influenced both by the organic Art Nouveau and more academic Beaux-Arts movements. His ordered yet delicately sinuous designs appealed to LCT, who’s own style displayed a compatible rhythm. Gustav Stickley noted of Southwick’s design work at Tiffany & Co. “…where freedom of thought is permitted there is a new art feeling, the using of simple designs in permanently beautiful effects.” LCT and Southwick worked closely until 1919, and it is believed that Southwick is likely responsible for the finished drawings of works originally conceived and sketched by LCT, including those works designed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition (John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 200, pp. 227-231).
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s silver designs were born into life on the sixth floor workshop of Tiffany & Co.’s store on 37th St. in Manhattan. For enameled works such as the present vase, LCT and Southwick collaborated with Dr. Parker McIlhiney, who oversaw enamel wares at Tiffany Studios before joining Tiffany & Co. It is not known how many enameled silver and gold works were designed by LCT, but 1912-1916 appears to have been his most productive period. In 1916, LCT gathered the works he considered his “true artistic achievements” to be displayed at Tiffany Studios on Madison Avenue as part of a retrospective of his life’s work titled “The Art Work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.” The exhibition showcased six of the thirteen works created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The present vase is noted to have been displayed in case 146 and is visible in archival images of the exhibition (Zapata 1993, pp143, 159-160). It is likely that the 1916 retrospective of the works LCT believed to be his most important artistic contributions is the last time this vase was seen by a public audience.