New York Times Best-Selling Author M.J. Rose Talks Louis Comfort Tiffany's Love of Nature and the Eternal Mystery of Laurelton Hall

By Stephanie Sporn
This December, Sotheby’s is offering two jewels designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as four objects from his personal collection, which were once housed in the now-destroyed Laurelton Hall, the subject of M.J. Rose’s latest book.

M.J. Rose possesses a rare ability to weave fact and fiction in her page-turning novels. Known for her nuanced characters and vivid descriptions of past eras, The New York Times best-selling author is a voracious researcher and passionate historian. Given her penchant for mystery, romance, beauty and art, the subject of her latest book Tiffany Blues essentially wrote itself. Completed in 1905, Laurelton Hall was Louis Comfort Tiffany’s magnificent estate overlooking Cold Spring Harbor on the north shore of Long Island. Treating the home like his personal museum, Tiffany oversaw its every last detail. “It’s fascinating to read about a person with a vision who fully accomplishes it,” Rose told Sotheby’s of Tiffany. But in 1957, the mansion was completely destroyed in a fire that's origin is still unknown. Following protagonist Jenny Bell who studies at Laurelton Hall under the guidance of Tiffany in the 1920s, the book fictionalizes what caused the devastating fire. Though Bell is fictional, all descriptions of Laurelton Hall and its artist colony were taken directly from source material of people who were there. Ahead, Rose, who was recently profiled for her jewelry collection by The Adventurine, discusses where her love of Tiffany began, the intrigue of Laurelton Hall and why the jewels and decorative pieces in Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels (4 December | New York) and Dreaming in Glass: Masterworks by Tiffany and LaFarge (12 December | New York) auctions are particularly significant.

M.J. Rose's latest book, Tiffany Blues.

How did you first fall in love with Tiffany?
My great grandparents had a house in Brooklyn, and in their dining room they had a Tiffany window of roses – Rose was their last name. Even when I was as little as three years old, I was mesmerized by how the sun’s reflections shone through the window and onto the floor. Sadly when they sold the house in the late 1960s, they didn’t take the window. But I do have two brass Tiffany door knobs from their home, as well as two Favrile glass wall sconces.

My grandmother was an artist, and my mother was a photographer. I grew up across the street from The Met, so we’d visit often. My mother was very encouraging, and she’d make lists of all the places in New York where there were Tiffany windows, and we’d go on excursions to see them. So I’ve been in love with Tiffany my whole life.

"He was one of the truest pictures of an artist that I’ve ever read about. He connected to the world through beauty."

How did you learn of Laurelton Hall?
In the 1970s, my mother and I visited the first Laurelton Hall exhibit at The Met. I was so taken with it, and I bought the book. Years later when I was reading it, I learned that Laurelton Hall had been an art colony, and I became fascinated. Louis Comfort Tiffany was one of the truest pictures of an artist that I’ve ever read about. He connected to the world through beauty. He was an insatiable collector. He possessed amazing control over his environment. For example, the way he had Laurelton Hall planted so that the flowers flow into each other in terms of color reminds me a lot of Monet.

Property from the Collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Laurelton Hall

What did L.C. Tiffany want the students he invited to his artist colony at Laurelton Hall to experience?
It was a very complicated process to be accepted. He wanted to create a place for young working artists who deserved to have a break from their day-to-day lives. At Laurelton Hall they could reconnect with nature and see things anew. Any art – photography, pottery, jewelry making, stained glass, painting, sculpture, drawing – was welcome. The only rule was that you couldn’t use a live model. You had to commune with nature.

When you look at the works in Sotheby’s catalogue, each piece consistently connects back to nature. With the “Crocus” vases, for example, the Art Nouveau and Japanese influences are visible, but they’re also quite modern and organic. They look like they grew out of the ground.

How do we see the influence of nature in his jewelry?
One of the things that really made Louis Comfort Tiffany stand out was that he didn’t use the same stones that everyone else was using. Moonstones and opals and tourmaline and topaz – he felt that these less common stones could emulate the forms and colors found in nature, so there was no reason to dwell only on diamonds, emeralds, and rubies and sapphires. The moonstone bracelet and necklace Sotheby’s is selling are astonishing. Their simplicity of design is quintessential Tiffany.

I know you like to buy a memento every time your book comes out – can you share why?
There are two different times I buy jewelry. The first is when I’m coming up with the idea for the book. I have to buy a piece of jewelry that belongs to one of the characters. It’s the way I connect to them. I wear the piece of jewelry when I’m writing the book like a talisman. Also I try to celebrate the publication of the book with another piece. I bought a Tiffany Favrile scarab ring when I started Tiffany Blues. For its publication I bought a Tiffany letter opener in the Zodiac pattern.

What were some of the most exciting parts of your research for Tiffany Blues?
I write books so that I have an excuse to do research. The most interesting parts for this book were working closely with The Met, the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida, and the New York Society Library, which has one of the very few copies of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s self-published autobiography. The memoir, which I read in full, is physically signed by him, and it is astoundingly beautiful. It is made with gold embossed leather and features illustrations. He made 500 of them for his friends and family.

Walking through the Morse Museum, you really get a feel for what Laurelton Hall must have been like. They recreated many of its rooms, including the living room and dining room, not to mention the Morse Museum also has the gorgeous chapel Tiffany designed for the 1893 World’s Fair.

What is most striking to you about the objects in Sotheby’s auctions?
Knowing some of these pieces were in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s personal collection is what makes them especially unique and important. He could take anything from his factory, so with his eye, you know the pieces he chose to keep had to be amongst the most incredible.

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