Lot 214
  • 214

TIFFANY STUDIOS | An Important and Rare "Fish and Waves" Table Lamp

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Tiffany Studios
  • An Important and Rare "Fish and Waves" Table Lamp
  • base impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORK/25874 with the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company monogram
  • leaded glass, patinated bronze
  • 17 3/4  in. (45.1 cm) high15 in. (38.1 cm) diameter of shade16 in. (40.6 cm) diameter of base
  • circa 1900-1903
attributed to Clara Driscoll


Lillian Nassau, New York
Mr. Raymond Amy
William Doyle Galleries, 1974
Private Collection, New York
Christie's New York, May 30, 1981, lot 353
Collection of John and Katsy Mecom, Houston, Texas
Sotheby's New York, Highly Important Tiffany Lamps from the Collection of John W. Mecom, Jr., Houston, Texas, April 22, 1995, lot 22
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Dr. Egon Neustadt, The Lamps of Tiffany, New York, 1970, p. 41 (for the base)
William Feldstein, Jr. and Alastair Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios, New York, 1983, p. 141 (for the present lot illustrated)
Martin Eidelberg, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Nancy A. McClelland and Lars Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 2005, p. 200 (for the present lot illustrated)
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007, p. 64 (for the present lot illustrated)

For related works:
“The Most Artistic House in New York City: A Series of Views of the Home of Mr. Louis C. Tiffany,” Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1900, p. 13 (for an interior view of the entrance at Laurelton Hall showing a hanging fishbowl)
“Some Examples of American Glass Work at Paris,” The Art Interchange, 1900, p. 131 (for a related “Fish at Play” window)
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: Rebel in Glass, New York, 1964, pp. 97 (for a related “Carp” mosaic probably designed by Clara Driscoll) and 198 (for a period photograph showing the related “Feeding the Flamingoes” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows, each depicting fishbowls, in situ at Laurelton Hall)
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Windows, New York, 1980, pp. 18 (for a related “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl” window), 104 (for a related “Feeding the Flamingoes” watercolor), 112 (for the above mentioned “Fish at Play” window) and 161 (for the above mentioned period photograph showing the “Feeding the Flamingoes” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows in situ at Laurelton Hall)
The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1987, n.p. (for the above mentioned “Feeding the Flamingoes” watercolor and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” window)
Alastair Duncan, Martin Eidelberg and Neil Harris, Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, London, 1989, pp. 126 (for the above mentioned “Flower, Fish and Fruit” window) and fig. 62 (for the above mentioned “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl” window)
Takeo Horiuchi, ed., The World of Louis Comfort Tiffany: A Selection from the Anchorman Collection, Nagoya, Japan, 1994, pp. 60 (for a related “Deep Sea” window), 61 (for a related “Fish and Fishbowl” window) and 105 (for a related enameled tea screen depicting parakeets and gold fish)
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: The Collected Works of Robert Koch, Atglen, PA, 2001, pp. 12 (for the above mentioned “Feeding the Flamingoes” window), 53 (for the above mentioned “Carp” mosaic) and 124 (for the above mentioned period photograph showing the “Feeding the Flamingoes” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows in situ at Laurelton Hall)
John Loring, Louis Comfort Tiffany at Tiffany & Co., New York, 2002, pp. 176 (for the above mentioned “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl” window) and 177 (for the above mentioned tea screen depicting parakeets and gold fish)
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004, pp. 144 (for the above mentioned related “Fish at Play” window), 145 (for the above mentioned “Deep Sea” window), 146 (for the above mentioned “Fish and Fishbowl” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows), 376 (for a related “Fish” mosaic trivet and the above mentioned “Carp” mosaic) and 435 (for the above mentioned “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl” window)
Martin Eidelberg, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Nancy A. McClelland and Lars Rachen, The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 2005, p. 41 (for the above mentioned period photograph showing the “Feeding the Flamingoes” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows in situ at Laurelton Hall)
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, New York, 2006, pp. 45 (for the above mentioned period photograph of the entrance to Laurelton Hall showing a hanging fishbowl and the above mentioned “Feeding the Flamingoes” watercolor), 88 (for a sketch of a glass bowl with gold fish intended for adaptation into a fountain at Laurelton Hall), 137 (for the above mentioned period photograph showing the “Feeding the Flamingoes” and “Flower, Fish and Fruit” windows in situ at Laurelton Hall), 140-141 (for the related “Feeding the Flamingoes” window) and 143 (for the related “Flower, Fish and Fruit” window)
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007, p. 134 (for a related “Flying Fish” shade)
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, pp. 50-51, (for a sketch and illustration of a related “Flying Fish” shade and “Deep Sea” base designed by Clara Driscoll) and 79 (for the above mentioned related “Carp” mosaic)
David A. Hanks, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Treasures from the Driehaus Collection, New York, 2013, p. 27 (for the above mentioned “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl” window)
Timeless Beauty, The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Atglen, PA, 2016, pp. 52-53 (for the “Feeding the Flamingoes” watercolor and window)


Overall in excellent condition. The “Fish and Waves” lamp represents the only example known of this complex shade design, and has been beautifully preserved and maintained since it’s execution in circa 1901-1903. The shade is comprised of a magnificent glass selection of predominantly rippled and striated glass. The palette is comprised of rich and vibrant blues ranging from deep cobalt to aqua to azure, with inflections of deep greens and passages of purple, mauve, and lavender interspersed. The combination of the vivid color palette and textured glass culminates in a strongly aquatic effect, which captures the experience of seeing sunlight transmitted through moving water. The overwhelmingly blue water background is accented by garlands of green seaweed, ranging from forest green to emerald to shamrock and pale olive, creating a highly naturalistic habitat for the nine swimming goldfish. The goldfish are also executed in mostly rippled glass, with some instances of acid etching to the exterior glass surfaces, and are executed in a very faithful and naturalistic golden orange color palette, accurately emulating goldfish seen in nature. The full effect of goldfish observed in an aquarium is completed by the ingenious globular format of the shade, which has striking visual presence when viewed firsthand. The shade with approximately 9 hairline cracks dispersed throughout, all stable. The shade with some very light surface soiling concentrated to the top of the shade, not visually distracting and consistent with age. The shade with two tiles which were possibly reset during the time of production. With a period finial in very good condition which has been soldered onto the shade’s upper aperture at three points; when illuminated, some minimal light passes through the seam between the finial and shade, not visually distracting. The base is an incredibly dynamic and sculptural work of art depicting cresting waves executed in high relief with three fish swimming through the waves. The base is in very good condition and displays a rich brown patina. The bronze surfaces with some occasional extremely minor surface scratches, abrasions, and a few isolated areas of minor oxidation, consistent with age and gentle use. The recessed contours of the design with some light surface soiling and with some oxidation concentrated particularly to the recesses of the sculpted waves and riser. The outer edge of the foot to the left of the cord outlet with a small trace of clear dried residue, not visually distracting. With the original base switch and sockets. “Fish and Waves” exemplifies the ingenuity and masterful artistry of the earliest, formative years of Tiffany’s leaded glass lamp production. The design and imagery speaks directly to Tiffany’s deep affinity for nature and Japanese aesthetics. When experiencing “Fish and Waves” firsthand, it is a captivating and magical object that transcends the categorization of a lamp. Sotheby’s has produced a comprehensive dedicated catalogue focused on the “Fish and Waves” Lamp that includes additional written and visual content. Please contact the 20th Century Department to request a copy of the dedicated catalogue.
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

The magnificent “Fish and Waves” lamp integrates two of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s greatest passions: the natural world and Japanese aesthetics. The motif of fish swimming in water was one that Tiffany explored in some of his most important early landscape and figural windows, but it was seldomly seen within the firm’s leaded glass shades. The technical ingenuity of the spherical shade composition and vivid, aquatic glass selection distinguish this lamp as a masterwork of Tiffany’s earliest explorations in leaded glass. The shade depicts nine goldfish swimming amidst seaweed within the swirling currents of sun-dappled water.  The complementary sculptural base depicts three large fish leaping through waves in high relief.  Distinct from the firm’s production lamps, which typically display repetitive passages in the leaded glass patterns in each shade design, “Fish and Waves” presents a distinct, non-repeating pictorial composition around the shade circumference.  This lamp is the only known example of this highly evocative and complex leaded glass design, most likely representing a unique commission in the period.

Tiffany Studios’ “Fish and Waves” Lamp

Western culture was revolutionized through its contact with Japanese art. Beginning in the mid-19th Century when Commodore Perry and his naval fleet entered Yokohama and forced Japan to end its policy of isolation, Japanese prints and objects in all media—textiles, ceramics, bronzes—played an important part in transforming Western aesthetics. In the 1860s, and continuing into the 1870s and 1880s, the motifs borrowed from Japanese art became omnipresent: flying cranes, branches of flowering cherry, carp in turbulent water, birds in the rain, clouds crossing the moon. A silver water pitcher by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, made in 1882, is a striking example of this approach. Its surface is inundated by Japanese-style curling waves and carp imitating the Ukiyo-e prints of Hokusai and his followers. The pitcher’s handle is a menacing Eastern dragon.

By the turn of the century such superficial borrowings gave way to a subtler understanding of Japanese art. Artists were urged to cease a literal copying of Japanese prints and, instead, return to the source of Japanese art—nature itself. Artists were encouraged to go into the field and study the simplest of plants and insects. They were instructed to go to the sea shore and study the fish, the crustacea, and the seaweed first hand. To penetrate the forest and discover the beauty of the humblest mushrooms and ferns. Tiffany and his assistants were swept up in this new and fervent exaltation of Nature. As Tiffany proclaimed: “Nature is always right. Nature is always beautiful.”

This Tiffany Studios lamp, with its base ornamented with a design of swirling water and leaping fish, and its leaded glass sphere depicting fish swimming among seaweed, represents the strong resurgence of interest in studying Nature at the turn of the century. But underlying it all are the lessons learnt from having earlier studied Japanese art. It also represents an early moment in Tiffany Studios’ creation of table lamps. Indeed, the very concept of creating a table lamp with a bronze base and a leaded glass shade was relatively new, having been developed in the late 1890s by Clara Driscoll, the head of the Women’s Glass Cutting Division at Tiffany Studios. While not Driscoll’s first design for a lamp with a leaded shade, this exciting lamp belongs to the same creative period. The impressed marks on the underside of the base testify to its date around the turn of the century. The “TGDCO” monogram of the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company is a mark that was used only through 1902, when the company name was changed. Likewise, the five-digit production number “25874” represents a marking system that was abandoned by 1903.

Dating the “Fish and Waves” lamp to the years just around the turn of the century is also confirmed by a number of other lamps, leaded glass windows, and other objects that were created around that time—all with the theme of fish swimming among sea weed. Some were probably designed by Tiffany himself, especially the windows that he sent to European exhibitions, and many were probably executed by Driscoll and her staff, known as “the Tiffany Girls.” In 1897 Tiffany exhibited a leaded glass window titled “Deep Sea” at the Libre Esthétique exhibition in Brussels. Its vertical format and its design of fish swimming among seaweed reflects the type of Japanese-inspired Naturalism that became the hallmark of his work. The following year Driscoll created a Deep Sea table lamp with a leaded glass shade depicting fish and a mosaic-covered base depicting sea life and studded with mother-of-pearl sea shells. To help create the design for the shade, Driscoll sent one of her assistants to the New York Aquarium to study the fish in motion and the dramatic lighting that had been installed to recreate the mysteries of the deep. Unfortunately, that lamp shade has not survived.

Swimming fish then became a staple of Tiffany’s design repertoire. This can be seen in an exquisite mosaic of swimming fish, now in the Darmstadt Museum, and a leaded window titled “Fish at Play.” Both were exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900. When the “Fish at Play” window was described by a journalist who wrote , “the Favrile glass chosen by Tiffany was of a ripply texture, and super-position of brilliant glass gives to the whole an exceedingly aqueous effect.” Those words could be applied equally well to the Fish and Waves lamp with its colorful, rippled glass. All these lamps, windows, and objects reveal the remarkable unity of taste and talent shared by Tiffany and Driscoll.

What of the charming bronze base? Normally bronze objects were designed and cast by the male employees at the Tiffany foundry in Corona, Long Island. Yet, as we know from Driscoll’s correspondence, there were occasions, when she and her assistants designed such objects. If the shade summons up the imagery learned from Ukiyo-e woodcut prints, so too the base recalls the richly modelled, naturalistic bronzes that were being exported from Meiji Japan and universally admired in the West. Together, they mark this significant transition from Japonism to a wholehearted admiration of Nature and a forward-looking aesthetic.

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.


Water and various aquatic creatures, including gold fish, were major elements of Louis Tiffany’s decorative schemes throughout his artistic career. Tiffany had a significant collection of Chinese and Japanese decorative objects and it is likely that he knew of the significance of the gold fish to those cultures. First displayed in bowls and later in ornamental ponds in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the fish came to symbolize abundance and wealth. Chinese traders brought gold fish to Japan in the 16th century, where it became known as koi, and was soon an important facet of that country’s art and culture. To the Japanese, koi represented perseverance and inner strength as well as prosperity.

Gold fish were the first non-indigenous fish brought into the United States. Pet stores were selling native versions in the mid-19th Century, but the popularity of the species increased dramatically when the first shipment of the fish from Japan arrived in this country in 1878.  Tiffany was an early owner of the exotic animals. A suspended water-filled glass globe holding gold fish was featured in Louis Tiffany’s apartments within the family’s New York City mansion located on the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street. Later, they could be seen around his Laurelton Hall estate. A supposed initial attempt was to place an inverted 36-inch transparent glass globe in the center of the lily pond created at the back of the mansion. The intent was for the gold fish to swim into, and be showcased within, the globe. Unfortunately, the heat of the sun on the globe and the enclosed water caused the glass to explode and also possibly poach the fish in the process.

Tiffany was not deterred and future efforts at Laurelton Hall met with greater success. On the side facing Long Island Sound, there was an expansive green lawn with a “large pool of gold fish in the center and masses of blue iris.” They were displayed more prominently within the mansion itself. At the conclusion of Tiffany’s famous Peacock Feast in May 1914, the invited guests “all went for coffee to the Moorish conservatory. The floor is of glass and covers a pool of water filled with gold fish.” It is no wonder that Tiffany, appreciating the symbolic nature of the gold fish and its expanding place in American life, adapted it to his earliest window and lamp designs.

Gold fish are significantly featured in three of Tiffany’s best-known windows: Flower, Fish and Fruit, made for Miss M.E. Garrett of Baltimore in 1885 (now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art); Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl, circa 1889 (Museum of Fine Arts Boston); and Feeding the Flamingoes, circa 1892 (Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida).  The Garret window, which features flanking suspended gold fish bowls, was so important to Tiffany that it is one of only twelve windows he selected to be illustrated in The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany, his 1914 authorized biography. The two latter windows, both displayed in the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company’s exhibition at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, depict suspended globes containing impressionistic gold fish as their primary and central focal points. There is an obvious connection between all of these fishbowls and that ornamenting Tiffany’s Madison Avenue living quarters. 

The theme perfectly combined Tiffany’s love of water and his appreciation of Asian art and symbolism. In a 1917 Harper’s Bazaar article, he explained how he utilized it in the decoration and landscaping of Laurelton Hall: “Well, you see,…here water is used as an element of beauty, following the methods of the Far East. The Orientals worship water. To them it is a treasure rare, a guest they honor. Here it not only harmonizes with the architectural scheme, but the vital liquid suggests hope, a message even to those living in the arid places of life. So here I have a cascade. Just listen to its merry music as it splashes over the rockery. It is the quick movement of the water that interests me, constant and pure as sunlight. I glory in its whimsicality.”

The "Fish and Wave" table lamp is perhaps Tiffany’s finest representation of water and gold fish and, at the same time, brilliantly showcases the finest attributes of his glass and metalwork.  The base, attributed to Clara Driscoll, is listed in the company’s 1906 Price List as number 341. However, the selling price of $150 would suggest that the standard accompaniment for the base would have been a blown Favrile glass globe, which would seem to indicate the shade on this example, also attributed to Driscoll, was a special order and was apparently never again made by Tiffany Studios.

The glass selected for the shade is exceptional and creates an unsurpassed sense of motion. Unlike most of the company’s floral shades that show a repetitive design around the circumference, each of the gold fish are entirely distinct in shape and character. Beautifully comprised of amber and orange-streaked yellow glass, most of the fish are swimming counter-clockwise, with one diving towards the bottom. In an effect rarely seen in Tiffany’s shades, the glass comprising the fish was given a matte acid finish in order to reduce the glare produced by the electric lights. The sinuous vertical strands of seaweed, in glorious shades of green, aquamarine, teal and blue, sway gently upwards, with some overlapping a few of the gold fish. The glass selected for the background water passages is equally exceptional. Composed of rippled transparent green-streaked navy and blue glass, the pieces were placed so that the ripples go in a number of different directions, greatly adding to the overall effect of moving water. Mauve glass streaked with brilliant jewel-tone hues is selectively interspersed, evoking the sens of light reflecting on the water’s surface.

Not to be overlooked is the cast bronze base, which is one of the finest examples of metalware produced by the company’s foundry. The design, inspired by the gold fish’s legendary desire and fortitude to swim upstream no matter the effort, depicts three large fish swimming upwards against the current towards cresting waves surmounted by a rope-twist collar that supports the shade. The casting is of phenomenal quality, as is the applied rich brown patina with green highlights.

A major aspect of Tiffany Studios' marketing at the turn of the 20th Century was to proclaim that their glass and lamps were true works of art, the equivalent of any great painting or sculpture. This unique example of their Fish and Waves lamp superbly exemplifies that claim and highlights the firm’s remarkable standards of excellence in both manufacturing and aesthetics. It is indeed a masterwork and an object to be revered and treasured by all admirers of Tiffany’s oeuvre.