Friday - 31 October 2014

Tiffany rarities show designer’s versatility

27 February 2012Written by Anne Crane

THE two Tiffany works of art that gave strong performances within days of each other in recent US sales were not the usual lamps, glassware or table silver.

They were sufficiently unusual examples of the celebrated firm's work to command keen competition and multi-estimate prices.

First off on February 8 at Doyle New York's Belle Epoque sale came a 5ft 7¾in (1.7m) wide two-seater spindle-backed sofa in carved and parcel-gilt ash. The back and seatrail had eastern-influenced densely foliate carving, while the four reeded legs were joined by stretchers and the upholstered seat featured a repeat motif of a dragonfly.

The sofa came from the Music Room of the Fifth Avenue mansion belonging to the influential industrialist and arts patron Henry Osborne Havemeyer and his wife Louisine, who commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany and Samuel Colman to create the interiors. The Tiffany decor, which incorporated Japanese, Indian and Islamic motifs to produce an American Aesthetic style, was a departure from prevailing French Revival taste. Although the house was demolished in 1930, some of the interior furnishings survived, several of them now in institutions, like the pair of armchairs from its Rembrandt room which are now in the Met.

Seven pieces from the Music Room have survived, including Doyle's settee, which had passed down by direct descent through the family.

Pedigree has its price. Doyle had reckoned on around $125,000-175,000 for this piece of Gilded Age history, but come sale day bidding from the rooms, the phones and the internet drove the price up to $350,000 (£233,335).

Eleven days later, over on the West Coast, Clars Auction Gallery's February 19 art and antiques sale in Oakland California featured a Tiffany presentation silver dagger in Aztec style that had been designed in the early 1900s by the firm's chief jewellery designer, G. Paulding Farnham.

Farnham was an inventive talent who raided a broad range of past cultures to provide inspiration for his works including ancient Egypt, Russia, the Celtic nations and Native America. In the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle  he was awarded the grand prize for his Native American silverware.

Clars' dagger, which is 11½in (57cm) long, features an Aztec-type face in elaborate headdress to the mount of the ivory-inlaid hilt, while the blade is inset with panels of dark obsidian, a direct reference to the Aztecs' use of this sharpened stone to create highly effective daggers.

Clars had the advantage of being consigned this piece without reserve and were accordingly able to offer it with an very attractive estimate of just $10,000-20,000, a level which it easily outstripped as interest online, in the room and on the phones took the bidding to $90,000 ($60,000), at which point it was purchased by an unnamed institution for their permanent collection.

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Written by

Anne Crane

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