Lot 218
  • 218

Tiffany Studios

Estimate
600,000 - 800,000 USD
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Description

  • Tiffany Studios
  • An Important "Wisteria" Table Lamp
  • mounting post on underside of shade crown twice impressed 23917/2
    top of base column twice impressed 23917/2, TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK, and twice impressed with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company monogram
    base plate impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK/23917/2 with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company monogram
  • leaded glass and patinated bronze
with a "Tree" base

Provenance

Lillian Nassau, New York
Private Collection, Woodsburgh, New York, acquired from the above in 1957
Thence by descent to the present owner

Literature

William Feldstein, Jr. and Alastair Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios, New York, 1983, pp. 36-37
Alastair Duncan, Fin de Siècle Masterpieces from the Silverman Collection, New York, 1989, p. 40
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004, p. 293
Martin Eidelberg, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Nancy A. McClelland and Lars Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 2005, pp. 106-107 
Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, London, 2007, p. 48

Condition

Overall very good condition. The shade and base are both impressed with the firm's production numbers, 23917 / 2, reinforcing that the shade and base have originated together from the time of manufacture. The shade with approximately 35 cracks to the glass tiles dispersed throughout, which is a relatively low number in proportion to the vast number of glass tiles (approximately 2,000) required to execute this complex and monumental shade. All of these hairlines appear stable. As is commonly seen with the Wisteria model, a few of the lower panicles along the bottom irregular border are very subtly bent. These elements all appear stable. With some light surface soiling and minor traces of oxidation to the recessed contours of the shade armature. The “Tree” base displays exceptional quality to the casting, and the branching on the lower base cushion is particularly sculptural and well defined. The patinated bronze base with occasional minor surface scratches, abrasions and a few scattered minor discolorations consistent with age and gentle use. The bronze with some light surface soiling to the recessed contours of the design. The base switch appears to have been replaced but is fully functional. Four small drilled holes at each quadrant of the base cushion and adjacent areas on the underside base plate have been sensitively restored by a professional Tiffany conservator (only visible under very close inspection). All of the sockets appear original and undisturbed. The lamp displays beautifully in person with strong visual presence. The glass selection is highly artistic and thoughtful, displaying a heavily saturated and well-varied color palette. This lamp is among the very finest examples of the Wisteria model ever to appear on the market. When viewing this lamp firsthand, the colors are slightly more saturated and nuanced than seen in the catalogue illustrations, and the Wisteria passages appear more of a rich cobalt blue. The catalogue photography is slightly too red and under saturated and does not fully capture the richness and luminosity of the glass. An extraordinary example of Tiffany's iconic Wisteria lamp design, displaying the highest artistry of Tiffany's lamp 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.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

Catalogue Note


The Wisteria is probably Tiffany’s most iconic invention in the field of lamps. But as we now know, it actually was designed by Clara Driscoll at sometime around 1901. This was revealed in the weekly letters that she sent to her family, where she boasted of their success: “All of it goes to my credit, it being my design.” In February 1902, Driscoll reported that some fifteen Wisteria lamps had been sold and by 1905 she reported that 123 had been sold—one of the few times where we gain insight into how many lamps were made at the time. This is all the more remarkable because Wisteria lamps were priced at $400, among the most expensive of all the lamps made.

The lamps were so much in demand that three sets of templates were in use and, moreover, Driscoll had to cut new sets because the original ones had worn out. By 1906 when the women’s glass-cutting department could not keep up with demand, it was decided that the male glass cutters in Corona, Long Island, would take on the work of producing Wisteria lamps, even though until then the men had been entrusted only with shades with geometric designs. The floral-themed shades had been the exclusive domain of the women. Not until 1910, when overall lamp production at Tiffany Studios was cut back severely, was the Wisteria lamp dropped from the company’s Price List.

This Wisteria lamp has a remarkable provenance. Sixty years ago it was owned by Lillian Nassau, the undisputed New York doyenne of Tiffany and Art Nouveau, and then remained with one family for the next half century. Unknown to the outside world, its re-emergence reveals unexpected and exciting aspects about Tiffany, his business, and his art.

This Wisteria lamp has the distinction of being one of the earliest examples created, and this is shown several ways. First, both the underside of the base and the top of the vine’s thick stem are marked with the monogram of the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, a name that became obsolete in 1902. Also, both the tag inside the shade and on the underside of the base are stamped “23917 2,” production numbers that preceded the introduction of standardized model numbers around 1903.

The early date of this Wisteria lamp is also revealed in the refined selection of the glass used here. Especially pertinent is the striated amethyst and clear glass at the lower irregular edge—a fringe of color that adds a piquant accent and suggests that the newest of the blossoms are about to open. Significantly, the very same color accent is found on two other Wisteria lamps, both offered at Sotheby’s in December 2014. Moreover, these two lamps had the production numbers 23917 4 and 23917 5, suggesting that there was an early, tightly controlled series of Wisteria lamps following the same specific color scheme, one undoubtedly invented by Clara Driscoll. All three share not only this commonality of production numbers and edge of extra color but also a remarkable finesse of color throughout the design. The extravagant counterpoint of a wide variety of violets, lavenders, and blues, is extravagant and yet nuanced. The thoughtful juxtapositions of colored glass reveal the great care that was taken when these lamps were executed in the early years of Tiffany Studios.

MARTIN EIDELBERG, co-author of The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York: Vendome Press), 2005 and author of Tiffany Favrile Glass and the Quest of Beauty (New York: Lillian Nassau), 2007 and Tiffany Favrile Pottery and the Quest of Beauty (New York: Lillian Nassau), 2010
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