Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Tiffany Fireplace in Florida

As you know I was a dealer in Old Master paintings and my wife trained in the field of French 18th century decorative arts.  After joining the Metropolitan Museum, she discovered some pieces in the storerooms of the Met of French furniture made by Emile Jacques Ruhlmann and other Parisian works of the 1920s and published one of the first articles defining Art Deco.  As curator she was able to bring the Met pieces out of storage and establish the field of 20th-century decorative arts at the Met, later known as the design collection.

I mention this to explain that our first collection which we put together for ourselves was in Art Deco and Art Nouveau under the latter category one can place Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933).  We visited all the dealers in the field. One which we felt very close to was Lilian Nassau who established her eponymous gallery in 1945 specializing in Tiffany.  After Lillian Nassau retired (she passed away in 1995) her son Paul took over the gallery.  Then in 2006 Lillian's associate since 1980, Arlie Sulka, acquired The Lillian Nassau Gallery.

Sometimes an art dealer has the deep satisfaction of knowing where a piece belongs and succeeds in placing it there. As soon as Arlie Sulka was able to acquire the fireplace hood from  Laurelton Hall, she knew to get in direct touch with the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.

The Morse Museum was founded in 1942 and according to its website it houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), including the artist and designer’s jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps, and windows; his chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; and art and architectural objects from his Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall.

The Chapel by Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse

When I asked Arlie about this sale she responded, “Having been able to exhibit the fireplace hood and to subsequently facilitate its placement in the permanent collection of the Morse is deeply gratifying. I feel fortunate to have had this tour de force at Lillian Nassau for both its historical significance and its very personal connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany. While the gallery has handled many Tiffany masterpieces over the past 75 years, I consider the fireplace to be among the most significant objects ever to come through our hands.”

The communications director at the Morse, Emily Margaret Sujka, saw that I had published the photo before when I saw the fire hood the first time in the Lillian Nassau booth at TEFAF (the European Art Fair) New York Edition, last year.  Since it had obviously struck my fancy, she contacted me about the museum’s acquisition supplying more information about its provenance. 

The piece was designed and fabricated in Tiffany’s studio and installed around 1883 in his 72nd Street home in New York City. Building Laurelton Hall with the idea of filling it with his most important works, Tiffany had moved the fireplace hood there in 1919. When the country house burned in 1957 the fireplace hood was thought to have been destroyed.  Apparently, it was salvaged by the demolition company and remained in their warehouse until its recent discovery.

Fireplace in situ in Tiffany’s 72nd Street Home

This is a case in point of the strange life of objects: an architectural object resurrected from the ashes of the home the artist planned as the showcase of his achievement, to be acquired by a museum that has fulfilled his vision as the greatest repository of his work.

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