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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Laurelton Hall

Tiffany lamps.   Image courtesy of Ophir/Flickr.

The name "Tiffany" evokes wondrous stained glass images, especially lamps.  I remember when I was a young girl any lamp that looked like a stained glass one was called a "Tiffany" lamp, even if it was made of colored plastic.  Now they are called "Tiffany-style lamps", but that is often a dubious connection.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, circa 1908.
Image courtesy of LOC.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was an American artist and designer best known for his stained glass, but he also worked in jewelry, enamel, metalwork, ceramics, blown glass, and glass mosaics.  He is the American artist most representative of the Art Nouveau movement.

"Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco" 1873.
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Born in New York in 1848, his first training as an artist was in painting, studying in both New York and Paris.  He became interested in glassmaking and began working at several glass houses in Brooklyn.  In 1879, he formed "Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists" with Samuel Colman, Lockwood de Forest, and Candace Wheeler.  The business was successful.

The library opens up to a conservatory in Mark Twain's home.  Interior
design by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists.
Image courtesy of The Mark Twain House and Museum.

In 1881, he designed the interior of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.  But the firm's most noteworthy assignment was in 1882, when Chester Arthur refused to move into the White House until it had been redone. Tiffany redid the East Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, the East Dining Room, and the Entrance Hall.  He refurnished , repainted, designed mantelpieces, wallpapers, and added Tiffany glass to the gaslight fixtures.  He also did windows, and added the floor-to-ceiling glass screen in the Entrance Hall.

The Entrance Hall in 1882 with Tiffany glass screen to left.
Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnson, White House Historical Association.

The firm was disbanded in 1885 when Tiffany decided to concentrate on glass and opened the Tiffany Studios.  Because he could not get the glass he wanted, he made his own.  He began using opalescent glass in a wide array of colors and textures.  This was in contrast to the dominant style used then, which consisted of colorless glass that was painted.  The use of colored glass was considered the new American style of stained glass, and other American artists adopted it.

Blown favrile glass, 1896-1902 by Tiffany Glass.  Favrile was a type of glass
designed and named by Tiffany.  It is an iridescent art glass where the color is
embedded in the glass.  He also used the glass in stained glass windows.
Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

But Tiffany used all of his artistic skills in all the media he worked in to create his own home, Laurelton Hall.  This was in Laurel Hollow, Long Island, New York. The 65-room mansion, and 600 acre estate was completed in 1905, and housed many of his best works.  Every aspect of it, inside and out, was designed by him.

The front of Laurelton Hall.
Rear view of Laurelton Hall.

In 1918 it became the location for a residential school for artists called The Tiffany Art Foundation.  A separate building was made for the Tiffany Chapel, which had several significant windows, and a separate art gallery building.  The interior of the Chapel was one that Tiffany had created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Tiffany set up a foundation to support the art school, museum, and studio.

The "Spring" fountain.

Fountain overlooking Cold Harbor
Glass-covered connecting bridge.

After his death in 1933, the estate fell into disrepair.  The Foundation suffered from financial problems, and sold Laurelton Hall in 1949.  It had cost about $2 million to build, including landscaping the grounds, but it was sold for only $10,000.  A fire destroyed much of what remained in 1957.

Living room.
Reconstructed loggia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Details of capitols of the loggia.

Hugh McKean had been a fellow at Laurelton Hall when he was a young man.  At the invitation of Tiffany's daughter he and his wife, Jeannette Genius McKean, salvaged what they could after the fire, and were able to remove a majority of the windows and some of the other architectural pieces.  They then spent the next 30 years collecting as much of Tiffany's work as they could.  Eventually they had the world's foremost Tiffany collection composed of the finest of his work from all the media he had mastered.

Hugh McKean looking over the fire damage, circa 1957.
Image courtesy of the Morse Museum.

In 1942 the McKeans had founded the Morse Museum of American Art on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.  Named for Mrs. McKean's grandfather, Charles Hosmer Morse - an industrialist and philanthropist - the museum was relocated in 1977 in Winter Park.  In 1995, a new museum was constructed from a former bank and office buildings, and in 1999, the museum built a new gallery with 6,000 square feet of space to house the Tiffany collection. This was at the cost of $5 billion.

A daffodil capitol from the daffodil terrace.  Each petal is made of glass
from 12 different molds.  Stems are of blue-green glass embedded in concrete.
Photo courtesy of Raymond Martinot/Morse Museum.
The daffodil terrace reconstructed at the Morse Museum.
The original terrace served as the entry to Laurelton Hall.

The centerpiece of this private museum is the Tiffany collection.  The materials from Laurelton Hall include Tiffany's most prized paintings, art glass, pottery, and furniture, as well as windows and lamps.  Most of these objects were from international expositions.  There are also archival materials at the museum, including Tiffany's letters, designs, photographs, plans, and ephemera.

Wisteria panel.  Image courtesy of the Morse Museum.

Thankfully, the McKeans had the foresight and means to see that Tiffany's outstanding work was not lost.  It is sad that, unlike other countries, the United States does not have a National Treasures program. If it had, Laurelton Hall might have survived intact - a testimony to an amazing American artist.

Photographs of Laurelton Hall courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Check out the Morse Museum website


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write a fascinating article about a complex man and his art, as well as his vision-Laurelton Hall. Your work is insightful and interesting!

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Tiffany still amazes!