TIFFANY STUDIOS | A RARE AND EARLY PAIR OF "TURTLE-BACK" LANTERNS
Property from an Important American Collection
A RARE AND EARLY PAIR OF "TURTLE-BACK" LANTERNS
leaded glass, bronze
52 in. (132.1 cm) drop each
lanterns: 12 in. (30.5 cm) high each
10 in. (25.4 cm) diameter each
Overall in very good condition. When viewed firsthand the lanterns display an incredibly rich red color palette displaying a range of hues including crimson, brick red, fiery orange and deep maroon. One Turtleback lantern with approximately 3 hairline cracks disbursed throughout; the other with approximately 2 hairline cracks; stable. The lanterns with some extremely minor traces of surface soiling concentrated to the contours adjacent to the leadlines, consistent with age. Each lantern with an open aperture on the reverse. When illuminated, the lanterns themselves glow beautifully and the open aperture allows light to be cast on the wall. The fins surrounding the open apertures which face the wall with some minor bending which is possibly inherent in the making. One lantern with one tile along the top border of the open aperture on the reverse of the lantern with a small loss to the bottom edge of the tile through which light is remitted but is only visible upon close inspection and is not visually distracting. The “Turtle-Back” tiles are beautifully decorated and display rich jewel-tone iridescence when viewed firsthand. The Turtle-Back tiles all appear completely original and undisturbed. One Turtle-Back tile with a hairline crack, stable. The complex hanging hardware of each lantern appears to be original and displays a highly complementary composition of interlocking circles which create a stunning unit overall with a dramatic drop. The bronze surfaces with scattered light surface scratches, abrasions, some minor bending to the individual elements, light wear and scattered traces of surface soiling and oxidation consistent with age and handling. The hanging componentry appears to have been rewired at some point in the history of the lanterns evidenced by some open holes in some of the elements. The lanterns have each been recently rewired so that the wiring is concealed completely internally within the hardware. The upper ceiling canopies are later replacements. Each of the lanterns also comes with shorter reproduction hanging chains which would allow for installation of the lanterns with a lower ceiling height (overall drop with alternate hardware: 27 inches). Each of the lanterns with a period socket. An extraordinarily rare and dynamic pair of lanterns that are robust in coloration and form, yet retain a highly artistic and refined quality. When viewed firsthand these lanterns are incredibly radiant and dazzling.
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.
Lillian Nassau, New York
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 18
Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: The Collected Works of Robert Koch, Atglen, PA, 2001, pp. 124 and 280 (for period photographs of a related "Turtle-Back" lantern in situ at Laurelton Hall)
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)
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, New York, 2006, p. 137 (for the above mentioned period photograph)
Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007, p. 282, no. 1097 (for one of the present lanterns illustrated)
Timeless Beauty, The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Atglen, PA, 2016, pp. 108 (for the above mentioned period photograph) and 109 (for a related "Turtle-Back" lantern with related hardware)
Louis Tiffany was intrigued by utilizing colored glass in all manner of lighting fixtures and incorporated highly innovative designs into his earliest interior decorating commissions. Among these were “sconces of jeweled glass set in a lead framework” for the Blue Room of the White House in 1882. This fascination took full flight with the establishment of the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1892.
The pair of exceptional hanging fixtures offered here are interesting for several reasons. They were made early in the company’s history, likely prior to 1895, based on the opalescent glass used and the lack of any patina on the leading. They were also presumably originally intended to be lit by a gas flame and not an electric bulb. The unusual angled and flared opening in the back perhaps indicates that they were originally installed in a room with rounded walls. This clever alteration would have permitted the globe to hang flat against the wall so light would only illuminate the opalescent glass and not leak out of the back and diminish the desired effect. The geometric design is of an unknown pattern, but is highly reminiscent of the Indian Basket hanging shade, currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, designed by Tiffany for Robert and Emily de Forest in 1899.
Special mention needs to be made of the "Turtle-Back" tiles employed. These are not the later, more familiar examples, which were made of opalescent white, blue, green or red glass enhanced with a heavy multi-hued surface iridescence. Instead, these molded tiles were made with transparent clear and green-tinted iridized glass with heavy brown internal speckling, creating a dazzling tortoise-shell effect when the globes are illuminated.
Beyond their aesthetic beauty and technical complexity, these fixtures are important examples of Tiffany’s earlier efforts in lighting interior living spaces. Tiffany's admiration for this form is evidenced by the inclusion of a similar spherical lantern design with Turtle-Back band installed in the living room at Laurelton Hall. That lantern is suspended by a chain with a dramatic drop, similar to the present lanterns. In the present lot, the lanterns are outfitted with complementary hanging hardware comprised by a network of interlocking circles. Much like the shades themselves, the suspension hardware is highly artistic, making the lanterns as a unit appear particularly refined and jewel-like.