Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Pan-American Exposition

06/17/2020     19th & 20th Century Furniture & Decorative Arts

NEW YORK, NY -- The Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, boasted an attendance of more than 8 million people from around the world. It was the first World’s Fair hosted by the United States as it entered the new century, following on the heels of the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Situated on 350 acres of land, the Pan-American Exposition is perhaps today best remembered as the place where President William McKinley (1843-1901) was shot by an assassin at the Temple of Music on September 6, 1901. More favorably, the exposition is remembered also for its amazing exhibits and for the dramatic nighttime illumination. Hundreds of thousands of eight-watt light bulbs, powered by power plants at Niagara Falls, twenty miles away, were gradually lit as night fell on the fairgrounds. Until this time, most individuals in attendance would have been largely accustomed to experiencing and enjoying the benefit of nighttime illumination only by means of gas, oil and candlelight. The new experience of electric lighting must have been a beautiful and dazzling spectacle. At the time, the impressive display of electric light bulbs that outlined and illuminated the colorfully painted building structures, outdoor fountains, pools and fairgrounds, was the largest of its kind in our country. Thomas A. Edison, who patented his incandescent bulb in 1879, even captured the drama with a short film he made showing the illuminated fair grounds at night.

Like World’s Fairs before it, such as London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853 (the first World’s Fair), the purpose of the 1901 fair was to provide participating countries a platform to highlight and promote their respective cultures, scientific developments and artistic achievements. Electric technology was still a relatively new science and as such, it should not be surprising that it was a dominant feature of the fair. The massive “Electric Tower,” measuring 391 feet tall, celebrated the new technology, and, as if to emphasize the point, atop the building stood an 18-foot tall statue of a nude winged angel holding a torch and named “Goddess of Light.”

A centerpiece of the fair was the illuminated “Great Fountain,” designed especially for the Pan-American Exposition by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Located in the Inner Court of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building the fountain was part of the exhibit of Tiffany Studios. Described as one of the most artistic features of the exposition, attracting enthusiastic crowds day and night, the fountain was made of brilliantly colored glass mosaic, onyx and pearl. Electric lights installed below the water and colored lights projected from above the falling water resulted in a dramatic and mesmerizing effect. Prior to its installation in Buffalo, the fountain was placed on public view at the company’s showroom on Fourth Avenue (now Madison Avenue) between 24th Street and 25th Street in New York. Other artistic products, newly made for display at the fair, were also on view.

Louis C. Tiffany was one of the exposition’s most important and popular exhibitors. This was Tiffany’s third World’s Fair, having participated in two earlier fairs, the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, and the 1900 Paris Exposition. At the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (precursor to Tiffany Studios, established only one year earlier), was awarded fifty-four medals, including one for lighting. Some of Tiffany’s most important creations were exhibited there, including the Tiffany Chapel and the Feeding the Flamingos window, both now in the collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida, and the Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl window, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. At the 1900 Paris Exposition, now operating under the name Allied Arts Company and marketing its creations under the name Tiffany Studios, the firm was bestowed twenty-four awards, including a Grand Prix for applied arts, and Tiffany was conferred the title chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Tiffany’s exhibit at the Pan-American Exposition occupied 16,000 feet of space. One of the special items was a massive and lavishly “jeweled” leaded glass window depicting the seasons. Also on display were landscape windows, cartoons and designs for windows, colorful favrile glass vases, scent bottles and bowls, glass mosaic panels, jardinieres, rare cabinet pieces, copper enamel plaques, lamp fixtures and tapestries designed by Tiffany and woven at Tiffany Studios. In all, Tiffany presented more than three thousand creations to an admiring and appreciative world audience.

The legendary luxury retail firm of Tiffany & Co., established by Tiffany’s father, Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902), also participated in the fair in an adjacent pavilion. Among the items Tiffany & Co. exhibited were fashionable jeweled gold and silver mounted favrile glass vases and scent bottles made by Tiffany Studios. Another special exhibitor at the 1900 Paris Exposition was Siegfried Bing, a German-French art dealer, who was an early advocate and proponent of the younger Tiffany. Bing had visited the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in New York in 1894 and became Tiffany’s exclusive distributor in Europe. Among the pieces Bing exhibited were a Tiffany Dandelion lamp and a Dragonfly lamp base, designed by Clara Driscoll, which won an award. Bing and his Paris gallery, L’Art Nouveau, played an important role in influencing and popularizing the “new art” or modern art of the time, a style that came to be named after his shop, Art Nouveau.

A wonderfully vivid account of the Pan-American Exposition exhibit of Tiffany Studios under Louis Tiffany’s direction is provided by an unnamed reporter for the Shreveport Evening Journal (Louisiana), in a Sunday paper on September 22, 1901:

“Nine elaborate cases contain specimens of favrile glass in various formed vases, metal work and glass combinations in candlesticks, small delicate screens and jewel boxes. One case contains the lustre enamel work, which is one of the latest achievements, being the first enamel productions ever exhibited. A magnificent collection of lustre lamps in various forms and great beauty are shown. Large collections of beautiful glass lamps, with remarkable leaded shades, same as leaded windows, are also seen, and the famous peacock lamp, with favrile glass stem three feet high, peacock feather decorations surmounted by three peacock heads supporting a favrile glass globe with necklace or group of scarab shaded drops. There is a collection of beautiful large hanging shades in very rare and unusual colors and combinations and of graceful forms. In the arches of the pavilion are two very decorative lanterns, and a magnificent centerpiece lighted from above.”

The Peacock lamp described above may be the spectacular and monumental lamp now in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond, Virginia. The epitome of Art Nouveau design, this exceptionally artistic and original lamp was originally commissioned around 1898 by Charles Winthrop Gould (1849-1931), a prominent New York lawyer, relative of Jay Gould, art collector, trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and friend of Louis C. Tiffany. Gould had asked Tiffany to decorate the interior of his house. The peacock motif was a main design theme and may have inspired the lamp. Gould’s Peacock lamp was bequeathed to the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation after his death. The foundation was established in 1918 by Tiffany to run his estate, Laurelton Hall, located on Long Island. It also served as a summer retreat for artists. When the foundation closed in 1946 its holdings were sold at public auction, including the Peacock lamp. At the sale, the lamp sold for $225, not a princely sum, however, it was the highest price achieved of any item in the sale.

Another contemporary account of Louis C. Tiffany at the Pan-American Exposition is gleaned in an article written by James L. Harvey, published in Brush and Pencil (Vol. 9, No. 3) in December 1901, titled Source of Beauty of Favrile Glass. In it, the author justifiably praises Tiffany’s favrile glass, and remarks how the display of Tiffany Studios was far superior to his display the previous year at the Paris Exposition. To today’s admirers of Tiffany favrile glass, a very welcome and special feature of the article are thirteen black and white photographs accompanying it. Of great note is the depiction of a rare bronze and glass electrified hanging lamp in the form of a scarab. The striking hanging lamp is made of “turtleback” tiles and is embellished with a set of wings, presumably of colored glass, and two spheres, presumably in golden color, and is suspended by chains. The survival or current whereabouts of this unique hanging lamp is not known to this author. An identical Tiffany Studios bronze and glass Scarab hanging lamp, equally rare, (differing only by the absence of wings and a second sphere), may have also been exhibited at Buffalo. Doyle is honored to offer this rare Tiffany Studios Leaded Glass Scarab Lamp as a highlight of the June 23 Doyle+Design auction.

The popularity of the scarab, or dung beetle, as a design motif can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Scarabs lay their eggs in dung balls, which they form by rolling on the ground. Ancient Egyptians believed their sun god, Khepri, was responsible for rolling the morning sun, believed to be a disk, across the sky at the break of each day. The scarab was thus imbued with great symbolism and seen as a potent symbol of rebirth, transformation, and resurrection. It is often depicted clutching a ball. Tiffany used the scarab as a design motif with great artistic success. It appears in many different forms such as inkstands, stamp boxes, sconces, hanging lamps and even table lamps made of bronze and a single large molded green glass “turtleback” tile.

As noted earlier, the elder Mr. Tiffany (Charles L.) visited the Pan-American Exposition. A reporter for the Buffalo Courier had the pleasure of interviewing the prominent visitor, then aged 89, in early October 1901, regarding his thoughts about the fair. The account provides a concise summation and personal testimony of his experience of the fair:

“I shall not see many more expositions. I have seen many, but I am thankful that the faculty for enjoying these things is not dead within me. I have never had a more enjoyable stay anywhere than I have had here in Buffalo, and every night make it a point to see the illumination and every day I see a hundred things which are entirely new to me and many more which give me food for thought and reflection. It is a magnificent presentation.”

The importance and success of the Pan-American Exposition is undeniable. Louis C. Tiffany ’s participation in the fair bolstered America’s position and status in the world, as we together strived to celebrate our technological innovation and artistic achievement at the turn of the century.

A highlight of the Doyle+Design auction on June 23, 2020 is a rare Tiffany Studios green patinated bronze and Favrile glass Scarab hanging lamp possibly made for display at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.