Lot 16
  • 16

Tiffany Studios

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Tiffany Studios
  • An Important and Rare "Butterfly" Table Lamp
  • shade with small early tag impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK
    base with small circular tag impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK/21218 and with the Tiffany Glass and Decorative Company monogram
  • leaded glass and patinated bronze
shade designed by Clara Driscoll, and clear glass chimney (not illustrated) circa 1898
with a "Pepper" base


Dr. Egon Neustadt, The Lamps of Tiffany, New York, 1970, p. 169, no. 234 (for related examples of the shade model)
Hugh McKean, The Lost Treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 1980, pp. 82-83 (for a related Tiffany Butterfly window, formerly in Laurelton Hall, now in the collection of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art)
William Feldstein, Jr. and Alastair Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios, New York, 1983, p. 129 (for a related example of the model)
Alastair Duncan, Martin Eidelberg and Neil Harris, Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, London, 1989, p. 112, no. 48 (for a related example of the model)
Robert Koch, Louis C Tiffany's Glass, Bronzes, Lamps: A Complete Collector's Guide, New York, 1989, p. 111, no. 162 (for the model in a period photograph of the Tiffany Studios showroom, circa 1910-1913)
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: The Collected Works of Robert Koch, Atglen, PA, 2001, p. 226 (for the above image)
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004, p. 19 (for a related example of the model in context in the Collection of Dr. Egon Neustadt), p. 298 (for the above cited period photograph of the Tiffany Studios showroom), p. 299 (for a related example of the model), and p. 310 (for a related example in the Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April-September 1990)
Martin Eidelberg, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Nancy A. McClelland and Lars Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 2005, pp. 201 and 204-205 (for the present lot illustrated), pp. 201 and 203 (for a related example of the model), and p. 31 (for the above cited period photograph of the Tiffany Studios showroom)
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, New York, 2006, p. 35 (for the Tiffany Butterfly window cited above)
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007, p. 22, nos. 39-41 (for related examples of the model), and p. 46, no. 157 (for the base model)
Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, exh. cat., New York Historical Society, 2007, p. 44, no. 16 (for a related example of the model), p. 116, fig. 68 (for the above cited period photograph of the Tiffany Studios showroom)
Timeless Beauty, The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Atglen, 2016, p. 100 (for a related Butterfly trivet)


Overall very good condition. The sha de with approximately 35 cracks to the glass tiles dispersed throughout, which is a relatively low number in proportion to the vast number of individual tiles which were required to execute this complex pattern. The hairlines were recently sensitively stabilized by a professional conservator. The shade’s glass selection is incredibly artistic and thoughtfully selected to give the shade an exceptional dynamism and naturalistic quality. The butterflies are executed in an array of predominantly warm tones, ranging from cadmium yellow to bright orange, with some executed in delicate greens and yellow-greens. The shade is accented throughout with butterflies that are executed in an extraordinary selection of decorated blown glass, notably Cypriote and Aventurine glass, with some displaying fluid chromatic and iridized striations and others with more textural decoration with air bubble inclusions. Such an exquisite array of glass makes this shade a truly unique masterwork by the firm. The background passages are executed in rich amethyst, cobalt and azure blue hues, which transition beautifully around the circumference of the shade and shift into lighter tones with more translucent glass toward the bottom of the shade. The whirling overall composition, sweeping upward from right to left toward the shade’s upper aperture, imparts the lamp with incredible visual movement. The rare “Pepper” base was originally an oil base and was converted for electricity at some point in the history of the piece. The bronze surfaces present with a rich russet brown patina. With some light surface soiling and minor traces of oxidation to the recessed areas of the design. The bronze with some very minor occasional light surface scratches and areas of rubbing, consistent with age and gentle handling. The patina appears to have been enhanced in areas along the lower quadrant of the base gourd. The base with a minor shallow dent just above the cord guide. With a later key switch added at the time of electrical conversion. One of the shade arms appears to have been replaced at some point in the history of the piece. Offered with a later clear glass chimney. A masterful example exemplifying the firm’s most artistic early production.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Although the Butterfly model is one of the rarest of all Tiffany Studios shades, conversely, it is one of the best documented.  It was one of the first leaded glass shades designed by Clara Driscoll, soon after she designed her initial dragonfly shade.  An exceptionally full account of the new design is recorded in her correspondence with her family in June 1898:  

So for the last four days, I have been devoting my energies to the butterfly idea that I had before I went to Unionville.  By Friday I had made a model of paper and linen and wire so that Mr. Tiffany could see exactly what my idea was and a man here [in Driscoll’s  boarding house], Mr.  Booth, had let me take two large cases of moths and butterflies which he had collected in England, and a book of colored plates—So I had this material all spread out and Mr.  Tiffany was not only pleased but quite enthusiastic.  .  .  .  He told Mr. Mitchell about it and he too was very nice about it and said he thought it an original idea and suggested making a transparency to hang on his gas globe in the office.  So I am going to do that first.  I have three of the best selectors on the lookout for glass for me.  Miss Egbert and Miss Palmié have already brought me some beautiful pieces with suggestive markings.  I have a drawing nearly made for Mr. Mitchell’s transparency and shall begin the patterns for it.  .  .  .  I left the clumsy paper and wire model I made myself, with him [a professional mold maker] and he is to do it in clay first for me to criticize, and then make a plaster cast on which I can make my drawing and glass patterns.  .  .  .  Last and most important and requiring the aid of my family—a big beautiful lamp [base] made of the evening primrose.  Like that field of them on Mr. Root’s land—This mosaic will be the lamp, and a cloud of little yellow butterflies which you know look exactly like the primrose blossoms, in a net work of gold wire made in beautiful lines like the lines of smoke – is to be the shade.  I described this to Mr. Tiffany while he was in Mr. Mitchell’s office sitting in front of the electric fan in Mr. Mitchell’s chair, waiting for him to come in, and looking as if life were a burden that he could not support much longer.  But then he heard about the primroses, he braced up at once, seized a pencil and began to make pictures all over Mr. Mitchell’s clean blotter—talking to himself and to me, while the fan made his thick curls stand up around his bearded brow like a halo, after his fashion— “The lamp mutht be tall and thlim” (the words tall and slim being unnaturally lengthened while he drew long up and down lines to illustrate) “like the flowerth, and the shade—” but every time he came to that he wavered off into such vague lines that you could scarcely distinguish them from the gray of the blotter, and then he would say—“well, work out your own idea—” This is all very pleasant but the next thing is, to do it.  I am so afraid I can’t rise to what will now be expected of me.  I want to know, by return mail, when the primroses will be in blossom and also I want a large collection of yellow butterflies in all positions.  .  .  .  Yesterday in the afternoon I tried to imagine this butterfly shade more difinitely [sic] but thought of a war balloon instead—to be made in sections like an orange so that if one section should be injured, there would be a chance of the others remaining intact and keeping the balloon up. 

Although Driscoll’s explanation is unusually ample, it is rambling and not always that clear.  Her inspiration for this lamp was the remembrance of yellow butterflies flying over a field of yellow primrose.  Its genesis was aided by actual insect specimens and books lent to her by one of her fellow boarders (she later marred the man’s brother).  Her account deviates in the middle when she discusses two other variations, including a globe with three moths.  Some of her other letters reveal that she was planning butterfly shades for candles and a butterfly calendar.

A fascinating aspect of Driscoll’s letter is Tiffany’s close involvement and active participation in the design process.  In the past, it was assumed that Tiffany alone designed the lamps.  Then, with the discovery of Driscoll’s letters, critical opinion swung in the opposite direction, crediting her as the sole designer and removing Tiffany from the process.  Clearly, a more balanced assessment is needed.  Indeed, Driscoll and Tiffany enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, and their tastes concurred.  Indeed, while Driscoll may have thought of a butterfly lamp, previously Tiffany had installed a butterfly window in his house.  One might even wonder if Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls executed that window.

The first Butterfly lamp had a shade with yellow butterflies, a base with a mosaic of yellow primroses, and a spiraling “metal construction” that connected the two parts—all of which is discussed in her letter.  Subsequently, variants were introduced in which other types of bases were used, and where the wire structure was eliminated.

In other examples, as in the Ferranti shade, the butterflies are not all yellow but, rather, are of a spectacular variety of different colors and types of glass, some iridescent, some with aventurine and some pitted Cypriote glass. When Driscoll wrote of the women saving pieces of interesting glass for her, perhaps this is what was envisioned.

—Martin Eidelberg