- Tiffany Studios
An Important and Rare "Dragonfly" Table Lamp
- shade impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK
oil font impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK/7807
base impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK
- leaded glass, favrile mosaic glass and patinated bronze
- with a superb mosaic "Dragonfly" base
"Mrs. Driscoll's Paris Prize Dragon Fly Lamp"
The stylistic evolution of Tiffany's lamps advanced unevenly from its seminal years in the early 1890s until around 1898, the year after Clara Driscoll returned for her third tour at The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company and assumed the management of its Women's Glass Cutting Department. Until then, those Tiffany light fixtures featured in period literature show a random progression, many comprised of favrile glass blown into reticulated metal armatures enhanced with twisted or beaded wire ornamentation that, while appealing, lack the characteristic look that identifies a typical Tiffany lamp to today's observer. Driscoll's return, however, sparked a revolution in the firm's lighting designs: Not only was an in-house foundry put into operation to cast lamp bases and supplementary components, but novel forms, techniques and materials were introduced that transformed the medium. Overhaul was, in fact, radical and immediate, even as the heavy proportions necessitated by the need for a combustion form of illumination, supplied by fuels such as kerosene or oil housed in a canister, continued to dictate the bulkiness of the new base models. Whereas electrification through Edison's incandescent filament bulb was soon forthcoming, the basic contours of fuel bases—baluster, globular or gourd-formed—remained the immediate future.
The "Dragonfly" lamp model offered here (shade model no. 1462; base model no. 147) was almost certainly the first leaded glass lampshade with matching mosaic base designed by Driscoll and her staff. This occurred in mid-to-late 1898 (a variant of the shade that incorporates water flowers around the upper rim, model no. 1467 on the firm's 1906 Price List, was introduced at roughly the same time; see The House Beautiful, April 7, 1900, p. 278). As a unit, the shade-and-base pairing is a spectacular creation, both in its interdisciplinary technical sophistication and rich decorative appeal, one that arrived full-blown, so to speak, in that nothing remotely comparable anticipated it in Tiffany's existing lighting repertory. The larger "Butterfly" table lamp, model no. 148, comprised on its shade of insects swarming around the internal light above a field of primroses on the base rendered in colorful mosaic tesserae, made its appearance slightly later than the 16-inch "Dragonfly," perhaps in early 1899 (see Brush and Pencil, September, 1899, p. 309). Together, the two models spearheaded a new genre of matched shade-and-base lamps which, although a labor-intensive and therefore costly product line, sealed the firm's dominance in the idiom.
The "Dragonfly" lampshade made its public debut in the exhibit of Tiffany's works staged by Siegfried Bing at the Grafton Galleries in London from May-July, 1899, an event that served Tiffany as a dress rehearsal for the coming year's Exposition Universelle in Paris. Included on the list of 27 lamps and chandeliers in the London exhibition catalogue was one with a "dragon-fly design." It is not known which base model housed the shade at the London exhibition. The "Dragonfly" lamp shown in Paris, however, for which Driscoll was awarded a Grand Prix, comprised the 16-inch shade on its matching mosaic "Dragonfly" base. Driscoll would not have been credited for the model's design if not for the conditions of entry for the Exposition, which compelled entrants to list the names of their individual artist-designers, terms with which Tiffany, like other industrial art entities, had to comply. The firm's standard policy of blanket anonymity for its workers, which denied them individual recognition for their creations, was therefore momentarily set aside. An article which profiled Driscoll in The New York Daily News on April 17, 1904, included a sketch of the "Dragonfly" lamp displayed at the 1900 Exposition with the caption "Mrs. Driscoll's Paris Prize Dragon Fly Lamp." The model was included again in Tiffany's exhibit at the 1902 Turin Exposition, emphasizing the pride of place it had assumed within the firm's lamp hierarchy.