Louis Tiffany appreciated glass in all its multitude of characteristics and uses and was a genius for incorporating the material in an almost limitless variety of decorative applications. Enlisting the aid of Arthur J. Nash, the superintendent of his glasshouse, and Parker C. McIlhiney, his chief chemist, Tiffany was able to introduce a line of enamelware around 1899. They were first publicly displayed in the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company’s exhibition at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, where the company described them as “visions of delight.” The pieces featured both iridescent highlights and, more significantly, a unique translucency that allowed portions of the copper body to sparkle under reflected light. The incredible attention Tiffany’s enamelware received was only heightened when the Exposition awarded them the Grand Prix.
A similar display was shown by the firm at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York and caused one critic to proclaim: “The future extensive use of enamel seems to be assured, since experiments are now making, under the direction of Mr. Louis C. Tiffany, in his studio at Corona, Long Island, with the purpose of doing for enamel what has already been accomplished for glass. And surely all that ingenuity, skill and knowledge can suggest, this artist will work out and complete!”
Given the premier position at the entrance of the American exhibition at the 1902 International Modern Decorative Art exposition held at Turin, Italy, Tiffany decided to highlight his latest “mature works that show the shimmering enamel.” The vase offered here presents what is possibly the only design by Tiffany that features the gingko. It would have obvious appeal to his adoration of nature as well as his love of Asian art, where the tree symbolized various positive traits, including peace, hope and love.
This vase, with its gold and green serrated leaves, yellow, brown and red spherical berries, and sinuous branches in green-streaked navy, all in relief, against a slightly iridescent maroon ground, vibrantly displays all of the supreme creativity and technical command one hopes to find in Tiffany’s finest enamelware. The shape and form are fashioned flawlessly, and the actual enamels are applied as only a master craftsperson can. The products of Tiffany’s Enamel Department are as treasured today as they were when they originally appeared. This exhibition piece is indicative of the department’s primary tenet, as expressed by Elizabeth Willmarth, one of its first heads: “Nothing takes too long, costs too much or is too much trouble to produce.”