Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Louis Tiffany's eclecticism a harbingerof Art Nouveau

By Roberta Smith  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

A window from Louis Comfort Tiffany's home in the Bella Apartments in New York.

PHOTS: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist's Country Estate is the rare exhibition that comes with its own porch. And not just any porch. The Daffodil Terrace temporarily installed at the Metropolitan Museum is larger than many Manhattan apartments. Its tall marble columns are topped with clusters of yellow flowers — daffodils — made of blown glass, the material in which Tiffany achieved his greatest eloquence.

Reassembled here for the first time since Laurelton Hall burned to the ground in 1957, the Daffodil Terrace adds a fitting Temple of Dendur splendor to a strange and lovely exhibition. It has been organized by Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the Met's curator of American decorative arts, and presents a series of beautiful objects in search of a ghost.

The Daffodil Terrace once connected the dining room and the gardens at Laurelton Hall, the grand estate that Tiffany built for himself from 1902 to 1905 on 580 extensively landscaped acres overlooking Long Island Sound. It is displayed here in an enormous gallery, along with the stained-glass windows whose trailing wisteria vines brought the garden into the dining room, and the imposing white marble mantel whose three glass mosaic clocks let diners keep track of the time, the day and the month.

Tiffany was born in 1848, the industrious son of a wealthy founder of the luxury-goods business soon known as Tiffany & Co. He set out to be a painter, touring Europe and the Mediterranean and becoming especially smitten with Orientalism. But he had more facility than originality, as the paintings and watercolors here attest.

An inveterate shopper and cultural scavenger, he must have realized that his love of the exotic — Egyptian, Persian, Asian and North African — might be best expressed in objects, and that these objects could be orchestrated into seductive living environments that no painting could match.

By 1875 Tiffany was spending time in Brooklyn glasshouses, learning the craft. By 1885 he was in the process of melding the English Arts & Crafts notion of the unified interior and the Aesthetic Movement's love of eclecticism into an encompassing vision of his own that presaged Art Nouveau.

He oversaw a succession of companies and factories where as many as 300 artisans produced leaded-glass windows and lamps; favrile-glass vases made by a technique of his own invention; all kinds of objects in enamel and carved wood; and textiles, furniture and rugs. With these resources Tiffany designed lavish multicultural living quarters for the richest, most adventuresome figures of the Gilded Age, including the collectors H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer.

Had Laurelton Hall survived, it would have been Tiffany's ultimate work of art, a monument to a total vision on the scale of Frederic Edwin Church's Persian-Victorian fantasy, Olana, built in the late 1860s high above the Hudson River near Hudson, New York.

In 1918 Tiffany established a foundation to maintain the estate in perpetuity as a house museum and an artist's colony. But the Tiffany Foundation fell on hard times. Although it exists today as a grant-giving body, in 1946 it auctioned off the contents of the house, divided the property into parcels and sold those too. The new owners of the main house rarely visited.

Within days of the fire and at the Tiffany family's request, Hugh F. McKean, an artist who had received a residency at Laurelton Hall in 1930, went to the smoldering ruins and pulled out anything that was relatively intact. Later he and his wife, Jeannette Genius McKean, purchased the remains of Laurelton Hall from salvagers.

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