Dyed he is with the
Color of Autumnal days,
O red dragonfly.
Here, the notion of autumnal glory—resplendent and glowing—is deeply evocative in the poetry of the Bashō revival, and this lyrical description highlights visual symmetries in Tiffany’s glass selection in the present offering. The heavily rippled, textured glass heightens a distinctly aquatic sensibility. The coloration of the background glass is executed in deep ambers and burnt oranges with rich aqua. The dragonfly spines are articulated in red and white with subtle hints of green, complemented by the wings displaying aqua mixed with golden amber.
What makes this lamp so exceptional is its dramatic and highly contrasting glass selection, exhibiting golden flames projecting below the top aperture of the shade. The rich background passages heighten the perception and brilliance of the cabochon jewels. The monumental base elevates the lamp to a heroic stature. The iridized turtle-back tiles and mosaic decoration in harmonious cobalt and green tones support the grand composition of the lamp. The aquatic color scheme suggests a sense of the natural world, adding to the dream-like quality evoked by the glass selection.
Images of nature during this period of cultural cross-pollination from the romanticized lands of the Middle East and Asia relate to a larger discourse on the notion of decoration in functional objects and the conventionalization of surface ornaments in design. The naturalism of the color scheme for this Dragonfly model harkens back to a painterly quality that abstracts the form of the dragonfly while the wing overlays provide a contrasting layer of texture and trompe l’oeil depth in the depiction of the body. The discussion of nature as a source for decorative works of art follows the directive of Parisian Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard’s to “seize the stem”—an endorsement of biomorphic design during this period. Photographic and design studies of plant and aquatic life published in this period were highly influential to the study of conventionalized decoration, including many design sourcebooks such as Hugo Froelich’s conventionalization of forms published in Keramic Studio (1905). This conventionalized design relates to the complexity of the overlay on the dragonfly wings in the shade and lends a sense of depth and movement to the striped red and white bodies encircling the shade.
Tiffany Studios’ collection of study photographs depicted natural flora and fauna, and served a similar inspirational purpose in the design process. One of the firm’s photographs in the archive shows a dragonfly pinned to a collector’s mount, demonstrating a burgeoning interest in entomology arising from 19th century movements in the collection and identification of all forms of naturalia, especially insects like dragonflies and butterflies. Inherent in this study of the dragonfly’s graceful body is the overarching theme of rationality, that is, that catalogued taxonomies of plants, animals and insects would ultimately reveal more knowledge about their physical properties, and shed new light on vast areas of unknown patterns in nature. This fascination with nature is inherently translated by the designer’s hand, and delineates a sense of both rationalized study and interpretive wonder at the variations in tonality and texture exhibited by the dragonfly species.
The turn-of-the-century captivation with natural elements in design is richly exhibited in the aquatic, dream-like color palette of the Dragonfly shade’s composition. Tiffany deftly translates the dragonfly motif into a distinctive American visual aesthetic, acutely aware of both international flows of cultural images, and an awe-inspired view of the natural world.
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