Lot 203
  • 203

TIFFANY STUDIOS | A Rare "Lava" Vase on Stand

25,000 - 35,000 USD
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  • Tiffany Studios
  • A Rare "Lava" Vase on Stand
  • favrile glass with the original patinated copper stand
  • 8 1/4  in. (21 cm) high including stand6 1/4  in. (15.9 cm) maximum diameter
  • circa 1906-1907


Dr. Douglas G. Smiley and Lois Gross Smiley, New York


Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: Rebel in Glass, New York, 1964, pl. X (for related examples)
Paul E. Doros, The Tiffany Collection of the Chrysler Museum at Norfolk, Norfolk, 1978, p. 54 (for a closely related example with stand in the collection of the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA)
Martin Eidelberg and Nancy McClelland, Behind the Scenes of Tiffany Glassmaking: The Nash Notebooks, New York, 2001, p. 214 (for a related example)
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: The Collected Works of Robert Koch, Atglen, PA, 2001, p. 199 (for related examples)
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004, pp. 6 and 253 (for a related example)


Overall very good condition. When viewed firsthand, this impressively-scaled vase displays superb visual impact and sculptural presence. The vase presents with a rich ground of indigo and navy with masterfully applied wavy bands of golden lava decoration encircling the vase exterior. The exterior is brilliantly iridized displaying vivid tones of turquoise, seafoam green, and magenta. The favrile glass surface with scattered extremely fine surface scratches consistent with age and gentle handling. The glass with scattered air bubbles and surface irregularities throughout, which appears to be inherent in the Lava technique and intentional to promote the naturalism of the design. The largest cabochon with a small internal X-form hairline crack measuring approximately ½ inch wide, which appears to be inherent in the annealing process, not visually distracting and only visible under strong remitted light. The inner edge of the rim with a minute fleck which could possibly be an inherent burst air bubble, not visually distracting. The interior of the vase with some scattered red spotting, inherent in the sprayed application of the iridescent surface treatment and not visually distracting, and with some light surface soiling. This vase rests in a patinated copper stand that was custom fit to the unique irregular contours of the vase. The vase rests tightly and securely in its stand and has not been removed in order to protect the delicate glass surface. The legs of the stand with some minor bending, which causes the stand to rock slightly on the table top but could easily be resolved with felt pads. The copper surfaces with some light wear to the patina, surface scratches and abrasions consistent with age and gentle handling. A highly artistic and sculptural example of this complex technique by Tiffany Studios.
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

There is a legend that Louis Tiffany was inspired to create Lava vases after visiting Sicily and seeing Mt. Etna erupt. This story is most likely apocryphal as none of the volcano’s eruptions coincide with any of his many trips to Europe.  It is far more likely that, as Jane Shadel Spellman theorized, Tiffany was influenced by 17th Century Japanese raku-fired ceramic tea bowls. He was an avid collector of Japanese objects, and it is no surprise that some of the earliest pieces of blown Favrile glass were compared to “those freakish little things made nowadays in Japan of a rough-textured, strong pottery…that strike one far more as grotesque than beautiful.”

Lava vases are intriguing as they were perhaps the only type of blown Favrile glass that required an extended period of development until the glassmakers were able to perfect the style and achieve the necessary technical skills to produce them. Unlike flower forms and paperweight-technique vases that took the glasshouse only a year or two to perfect, lavas evolved over a ten to twelve-year period.  Considering the length of time required to achieve the desired decorative effect, it is surprising that lava vases, featuring heavy irregular iridescent gold drippings over a textured dark navy ground, were produced by Tiffany Furnaces for only two brief periods: circa 1906-1907 (the first known example was displayed at the 1906 Paris Salon) and again around 1916.

The exceptional mounted vase offered here is remarkably similar to two other examples: one in the permanent collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, both of which are unsigned.  The decoration of this piece, however, is superior in that the iridescent gold bands of waves, as well as the oval convex sections, are in greater relief.  Also unusual in this example is the use of potassium nitrate to create a pock-marked surface, a feature rarely seen in lava vases, and the green highlights of the interior iridescence that are visible through the undecorated sections.

It clearly reflects the incredible mastery the glassworkers worked so tirelessly to achieve. Lava vases perhaps best typify the experimental decorative “accidents” Tiffany inspired (and expected) his men to attempt. Vases such as this one convincingly support Louis Tiffany’s claim that his objects were unique and beautiful works of art, equal to any painting or sculpture.

Former curator of glass at the Chrysler Museum (Norfolk, Virginia) and author of The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York: Vendome Press), 2013.