NORTHWEST MUSEUM OF ARTS & CULTURE, Spokane WA – To Feb 13, 2022
by Matthew Kangas
It was Louis Comfort Tiffany’s father, Charles, who founded the legendary luxury goods firm Tiffany & Co. The younger Tiffany (1848-1933) gained fame as the greatest interior designer and decorator of the Gilded Age, during America’s late 19th century. The collection on view in Spokane was assembled by philanthropist Richard H. Dreihaus (1942-2021) for display in the Dreihaus Museum, the restored 1883 mansion of banker Samuel M. Nickerson in Chicago.
Visitors will marvel at the objects created over a 50-year period in Tiffany’s workshops, Tiffany Studios, and the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Co. Windows, lamps, vases and various accessories are testament to the unending imaginative power of the artist, who trained as a painter in Paris with Adrien Bailly before an extended grand tour of Europe and North Africa. The family companies merged in 1883 and soon after garnered commissions for the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York and the White House.
Tiffany’s experiments in glass with master artisan Arthur J. Nash led to further prestige projects. Many styles – including Romanesque Revival, Neo-Byzantine and Art Nouveau – are revealed in the numerous spectacular gem-encrusted gold jewelry pieces, boudoir comb sets and residential mosaics. Viewers of Antiques Roadshow are familiar with costly, desirable Tiffany lamps (Barbra Streisand had 12); they will not be surprised to see examples of the company-patented Favrile technique, an oxidation-spray process that aged or “antiqued” glass surfaces to resemble the iridescent surfaces of newly excavated archaeological sites in the Middle East.
Nature in all her glory – flowers, leaves, plants, blossoms – was the continuing inspiration for the Long Island genius whose import is unequaled in the history of 19th- and early 20th-century American decorative arts. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the richly decorated lampshades, chandeliers, brooches and other objects reflecting what economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen called the “conspicuous consumption” of the age.
The exhibition fits in nicely with the museum’s adjacent Campbell House (1898), a Gilded Age mansion by architect Kirtland K. Cutter. It provides the perfect counterpoint to Tiffany’s over-the-top ornaments of the same era.