PROPERTY FROM THE DESCENDANTS OF LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY
The lure of exotic lands cast a spell over Louis C. Tiffany and many artists of his generation. He had traveled to North Africa in 1870 and again in 1875-1876, and had been enthralled by the richness and color of what he saw there. His close friend and business partner, Lockwood de Forest, traveled to Egypt and the Near East in 1875-1876 and again in 1877-1878. Then he went to India in 1881 and stayed there for more than a year, setting up a business to import Indian carved wood and cut brass. He used these exotic wares to create furniture and interiors that enriched prestigious homes across America. The two men were formally joined in a partnership and although this was dissolved in 1882, they remained linked both by a shared taste for the exotic, business affairs and close social ties. For example, de Forest was responsible for procuring some of the most dramatic examples of Indian wood and metal work that decorated Tiffany’s great mansion at 72nd Street and Madison Avenue. While such exoticism was an extremely significant aspect of American culture in the last decades of the nineteenth century, little survives. Changes in taste and the purging effects of Modernism destroyed most of the great ensembles of the Gilded Age.
The piano offered here (lot 313) is a rare witness to those heady days when lavish expenditures for interior furnishings were the norm. It was specially ordered by Louis C. Tiffany from Steinway in 1888. The registry card in the piano company’s archive notes that it was to be delivered to 255 Madison Avenue, the address of the building where his father had an apartment. However, it was destined for the 72nd Street mansion, which was just being completed and into which Tiffany and his family moved that year. Helena De Kay Gilder Miller (1913-2001) remembered that the piano had been positioned under the balcony in Tiffany’s studio, and that she and the other children in the family clustered around it, listening to Tiffany play music. 
The card in the Steinway archives specifies that the case was to be decorated “according to design furnished by Mr. Louis C. Tiffany.” It was painted with a distinctive, quite elaborate decoration of stylized cypress and palm trees set under an arcade, with six-pointed stars set in spandrels, and several other geometric patterns. These were executed in silver paint edged with gold to simulate the mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture that made Damascus famous. In fact, the design directly emulated a Syrian chest that also was positioned under the balcony in the great salon (fig. 1). This chest must have come from Lockwood de Forest, who had evidently bought a large number of them on his travels, all elaborately enriched with inlaid mother-of-pearl decoration. Another such chest can be seen in de Forest’s showroom on 10th Street (fig. 2), and two extant examples from his collection are in the Metropolitan Museum (fig. 3). Other de Forest clients purchased similar chests from him. Mary Elizabeth Garrett of Baltimore, a friend of both de Forest’s sister and Tiffany’s second wife, owned three of them. De Forest still owned twenty-five of them when he sold his remaining stock at auction in 1922. Although at the time these chests were thought to have been from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were probably of relatively recent vintage when de Forest bought them.
While these chests have similar motifs and patterns, each is slightly different. The chest owned by Tiffany has certain distinguishing features, such as a single enframing band of triangles that set it apart even from the closely related design now in the Metropolitan Museum. Undoubtedly, Tiffany intended his piano to be specifically en suite with the chest he owned. Unfortunately, there are no photographs of the piano in situ, and the several photographs of the chest in the 72nd Street mansion were taken only at the turn of the century, by which time the piano was not adjacent.
Tiffany’s ensemble of Oriental furnishings in his Manhattan residence was renown, and was deemed worthy of a palace from the Tales of Scheherazade. Despite a temptation to isolate the artist from his cultural milieu and proclaim him a unique genius, his was a taste shared by his associates and clients. Otherwise he could not have run a profitable business. But Tiffany executed it on a far grander, more extravagant scale. Nor was his taste for the exotic confined to just the last decades of the nineteenth century. He remained enamored of the Near East throughout his long career. Laurelton Hall, the great mansion he built after the turn of the century, was even more wholly dependent on Near Eastern sources but in a more modern, less darkly Romantic mode. The architecture and some of the interior spaces, especially the fountain court, were blatantly Moorish. Fittingly, the walls of the great salon were stenciled with a pattern of stylized cypress trees copied from the tiles of the Tokapi Palace in Istanbul ¾ a pattern that continues, in a general way, some of the motifs on this intriguing piano.
[1 ]My discussion of this piano is indebted to the earlier research of Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, as presented in Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall, exh. cat. (New York and New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press: 2006), 39-40. However, she looked to a related Syrian chest in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection that is not as closely related to the one that was in Tiffany’s collection. The example she cites has rosettes rather than six-pointed stars, has a different pattern in the brackets below, and lacks the second row of small arches above the main frieze. Also, I owe much to the generous help of Dr. Roberta A. Mayer, author of Lockwood de Forest, Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008).
 This was reported in a conversation between Julia Hartman and Jodi Pollack that took place on August 12, 2013.
 Garrett’s three chests are now in the Deanery, Bryn Mawr College.
 New York, American Art Galleries, November 24-25, 1922, lots 486-88, 491-512.
This extraordinary piano has remained in the Tiffany family since its original date of creation, and has resided in three locations in the past 125 years. The Steinway Archives record card for the piano commission states that is was delivered to "C. L. Tiffany of Tiffany Inc." on November 12, 1888, and that the piano was "executed according to design furnished by Mr. Louis C. Tiffany" for an "M" upright model in cherry.
The piano first resided in the Charles Tiffany mansion on Seventy-Second Street and Madison Avenue where it was placed in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio. Tiffany and his family lived on the top two floors of the multi-family house, and the interiors of their apartment were decorated according to the artist’s penchant for decorative motifs derived from the Near East. Tiffany’s great love of music is demonstrated in his design of a piano to harmonize with the other exotic decorative works of art and furniture in this residence. It was placed in the studio beneath a balcony in an alcove where the children of the family would gather every afternoon to listen to Tiffany play.
After Louis C. Tiffany’s death in 1935, the piano was moved to the Laurelton Hall estate on Long Island, where it was placed in Laurel Hollow, the residence built for Tiffany's daughter, Comfort Tiffany Gilder. Ann Spring Alsop, a member of the Tiffany family, recalls a remarkable memory of playing this piano at Laurel Hollow around 1936 when she was just 18 years old and newly married. This unique experience clearly left a lasting impression on Alsop; she is still alive today at the age of 95.
Between 1936 and 1939, the Gilder family left Laurelton Hall for Massachusetts, bringing the piano to their new residence in Tyringham. The piano resided there until it was relocated to New York for the present auction.
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