Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company
- Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company
- An Important, Rare and Monumental Armchair
inside of seal rail with the partially illegible ink-stamped mark of upholsterer Fri[tz] Hohenwald/Berlin W15
carved American white oak and fabric upholstery
- 44 1/4 in. (112.4 cm) high
Private Collection, Berlin
Louisine W. Havemeyer, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector, New York, 1961, p. 16
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany, Rebel in Glass, New York, 1964, pp. 72-75
Siegfried Bing, Artistic America, Tiffany Glass, and Art Nouveau, Cambridge, MA, reprint ed. 1970, pp. 3-4, 6 and 146
Gabriel P. Weisberg, Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900, New York, 1986, pp. 34 and 49
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, et al., Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, pp. 176, 182 and 196-197
Louis C. Tiffany: Meisterwerke des Amerikanischen Jugendstils, exh. cat., Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 1999, p. 69 (for the chair in the Metropolitan Museum's collection)
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbride, Suffolk, 2004, pp. 90-91 (for the chair in the Garden Museum's collection)
This impressive monumental armchair, unrecorded until it recently emerged from a Berlin collection, is closely related to two documented chairs which were part of the original furnishings designed by Tiffany for the residence of the sugar refinery tycoon, Henry O. Havemeyer, and his wife Louisine, located at 1 East 66th Street in New York City in the late 1880s. These two related chairs, the only known surviving examples from the Havemeyer commission, now reside in the collections of The Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum, Japan, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The period illustration of the library in the Havemeyer residence, known as the "Rembrandt Room" as it housed the owners' collection of Dutch masters (Architectural Record, January-March, 1892, n.p.), includes a complete view of one armchair and partial views of three others, indicating that at least four examples of the armchair were produced for the interior.
The chair presently offered has the same massive proportions as the Havemeyer chairs, and is of nearly identical construction. For example, the arched stretchers are mortised on all three chairs into the seat rail above and the stretcher below with an identical row of circular tenons, all spaced equally apart. Whereas the two Havemeyer chairs have casters on their front legs, this chair has evidence of caster plates (now missing) on its front legs. In its carved Celtic ornamentation, this chair displays minor variations, including the addition of stippled detailing in the background areas to the relief carving, perhaps an element of "artistic license" invoked by the chair's carver.
Samuel Colman (1832-1930) was a landscape artist who served as a mentor to Louis Comfort Tiffany during his initial career as a painter, following which the two became friends and occasional collaborators when Tiffany turned his energies in the late 1870s to interior design and furniture manufacture. Colman worked on several Tiffany interiors during this period before retiring to Newport to concentrate on painting. A friend from the mid-1870s also of Mrs. Havemeyer, whose interest in Chinese porcelains and textiles he shared, Colman came out of retirement in 1888 to work with his former associate on the Havemeyer commission. He is credited specifically with the designs of the furnishings in the residence's library. In her book, The Proud Possessors, Aline B. Saarinen provides a description of Colman's role: "The furniture and the woodwork in the library were based on Viking designs and Celtic motifs. In order to stain the oak woodwork the exact color of a Japanese lacquer he admired, Mr. Colman invented a system of acid staining that intrigued Mrs. Havemeyer so much she busily diverted herself for many years experimenting with it..." Colman repeated the scroll motifs that he designed for the carved detailing on the room's mantel on the room's frieze, stenciled wall papers, carved seating furniture, and quilted upholstery. Tiffany designed matching andirons and fireplace tools for the room's hearth.
It is likely that this armchair was commissioned from the Tiffany workshop shortly after the Havemeyer interiors were completed in the spring of 1892. This could explain its slightly modified design and construction, introduced by the cabinetmaker to refine the design of the Havemeyer prototypes. As the present example came from a Berlin collection, one can speculate that the armchair was ordered by the renowned Hamburg-born art connoisseur and dealer, Siegfried Bing (1838-1905). Bing is today known as the owner of the renowned gallery, L'Art Nouveau, which opened in December 1895 at 22 rue de Provence, Paris. Well before this date, in the 1880s, Bing had established showrooms in New York, London and Berlin, through which to sell Oriental ceramics and textiles. Amongst his wealthy clientele and art world acquaintances in New York at the time were the Havemeyers, who, as established collectors of Oriental art, in 1894 purchased from his inventory a collection of Japanese textiles that they then donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The business relationship and friendship that Bing cultivated with Tiffany at the same time was ultimately even more closely forged and mutually beneficial. In the report Bing published in 1895 for the French government on his observations of current developments in American painting, sculpture, architecture, and the industrial arts, entitled La Culture Artistique en Amerique (Artistic America), he wrote glowingly of Tiffany's multi-disciplinary operation: "Tiffany saw only one means of effecting this perfect union between the various branches of industry: the establishment of a large factory, a vast central workshop that could consolidate under one roof an army of craftsmen representing every relevant technique: glassmakers and stone setters, silversmiths, embroiderers and weavers, casemakers and carvers, gilders, jewelers, cabinetmakers - all working to give shape to the carefully planned concepts of a group of directing artists, themselves united by a common current of ideas."
Bing toured the Havemeyer residence shortly after its completion and later wrote of its unifying impact on the viewer: "Art objects of the most far-flung origins are placed side by side, but the ingenious eclecticism responsible for these interiors has so skillfully combined disparate elements, integrating them so artfully, that we are left with an impression of perfect harmony."
Bing returned to Paris around 1894 with a contract for the sole distribution of Tiffany wares in Europe and the British Isles, and the following year included ten Tiffany windows in his display at the annual Salon du Champ-de-Mars. Between this time and his death in 1905, he continued to champion Tiffany's achievements while selling a host of his artworks to numerous European museums, including, in Germany, those in Krefeld, Berlin, Kaiserlautern, Leipzig, Hamburg and Nuremberg. Familiar with the Havemeyer armchair, Bing may well have commissioned an example of it from Tiffany for a private or institutional German client.