Today on Museum Bites we’re taking an enchanting tour through the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s dazzling collection of Tiffany glass. Artist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and pioneer, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was a darling of the Gilded Age. His lavish designs and cutting-edge style made him the hot new interior designer of the rich and famous. The UMMA’s Tiffany collection includes items from the Henry and Lousine Havemeyer House, a medieval-style Manhattan mansion built in 1889. Join me for a brief look at Tiffany’s fancy yet functional art. We begin at the front door…
I Hear You Knocking: Solid and intimidating, the massive doors that once graced the Havemeyer House look more at home on an elaborate vault than a welcoming front door. The copper patina and stained glass panels add a decorative touch but imagine trying to haul these monsters open after a grueling day of work. Since the Havemeyers were avid art collectors, the bulky doors were no doubt built to protect the million dollar treasures inside. When I caught sight of these doors, the Munster’s mansion of 1960s & 70s afterschool fame came to mind. Remember the never-ending cobwebs and booming door knockers? Click on this Munster’s video clip to see Herman, Lilly and the gang and decide for yourself.
Disco Inferno: Once visitors made it past the impressive front doors, they entered a world of enchantment. Tiffany’s colorful mosaics, whimsical chandeliers, and shimmering Favrile glass were nestled among masterpieces by Monet, Rembrandt, and Degas, to name a few. Tiffany’s creations were both pretty and practical. This ornate fire screen once sat beneath the famous peacock mosaic, located in the front entrance hall of the Chez Havemeyer. Its painstaking intricacy is stunning.
Imagine a cozy fire, the flames dancing in the background and casting a warm glow through these delicate glass beads. Truly a visual feast! And we’ve only made it into the entry hall. Next up, the pièce de résistance.
Stairway to Heaven: The crowning achievement of the Havemeyer manse was the spectacular flying staircase. Suspended from the ceiling by cables, this lofty, third-floor stairway was an artistic and architectural sensation.
Made of gilded metal and Tiffany’s signature Favrile glass, this ornamental railing is just one section from this amazing structure. Fancy and functional, like his other Havemeyer pieces, Tiffany’s flying staircase had the added bonus of making music. Yes, music! Whenever anyone made their way up or down the stairs, the pearlescent glass embedded in the balustrade jingled. No doubt those brave enough to make the climb could not gaze too long at the flying staircase’s beauty for fear of stumbling. At least their trip down (and any cussing!) would be accompanied by a merry little tune! 😉
Heart of Glass: Once construction on their home was complete, the Havemeyers continued to pursue and collect all things Tiffany. Decanters, vases, bowls, and lamps made of Tiffany’s Favrile glass were on display throughout the manse. After the death of Lousine Havemeyer in 1929 (Henry had died in 1907), her children had the mansion torn down and much of the art and fixtures were donated or auctioned off. The UMMA was fortunate to acquire some of Tiffany’s blown glass from the Havemeyer collection. The lush, swirling colors and fanciful designs are truly fetching.
Louis Comfort Tiffany retired from the design business in 1919 at the ripe old age of 71. He continued to paint and died in 1933 just a few short weeks before his 85th birthday. This is just a small snapshot of the life and work of this prolific and talented man. Click on this Tiffany & Company link for an entertaining and informative slideshow of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work.
Fun Fandom Fact: Prior to the Havemeyer House, Louis Comfort Tiffany added his artistic touch to several other famous houses. In 1881, up-and-comer Mark Twain hired Tiffany and his associates to decorate his Hartford mansion. The following year, President Chester A. Arthur commissioned Tiffany to create a massive stained glass screen for the entrance to the White House.
Fatherly Fact: In 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s father died. Charles Lewis Tiffany was the famed jeweler and owner of Tiffany & Company. After his father’s death, Louis took over as artistic director. Click on this Tiffany & Company video clip to view his brilliant jewelry.
Fun Feminist Fact: Clara Driscoll, director of the Women’s Glass Cutting Department at Tiffany Studios was responsible for designing many of the iconic Tiffany lamps.
That wraps up our tour through the University of Michigan Museum of Art. We’ll be off to new adventures next week. In the meantime, have a great week!