"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626


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Saturday, 3 May 2008

Leaf of the Day: Tiffany's Leaves of Glass and the Japanese Holly Fern

Yesterday for a break I went to Winter Park Village to the Tiffany museum. Yes, here on my doorstep is the small Charles Hosmer Morse Museum celebrating the life and work of the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) son of Tiffany the jeweller, and designer and maker of the sumptuous stained glass windows and lamps.
I have to come clean and say I have never really been a big fan, perhaps because of the many dismal copies that used to clutter up cheap lighting shops in London but now having seen the originals I have to admit they are quite breathtaking.

Coming into the darkened museum from bright sunlight, just finding the ticket desk is quite a challenge, but once you are accustomed to the dim lighting, the glowing colours of the glass start to become apparent. The displays are beautifully lit and there are fragments of glass you can walk around ..so being able to see the structure on the reverse of the glass panels and the leading. There are exquisite lustred glass vases inset with tiny millefiori flowers, ceramics, jewellery, paintings and window panels big and small, and of course the lamps which are much larger, and therefore more impressive than I had imagined.

But what has turned me into a convert is the textural aspect of the glass ..this is not fragile thin stuff but gorgeous big chunks, sometimes with moulded textural surfaces set into large panels. Sometimes with real pebbles added , sometimes with pieces of natural rock crystal and, within some of the individual pieces, abstract chips of colour seem to float adding depth and shading.
In these fragments below you can see the slivers of darker glass in the grey piece top left.

There is a desperate and overwhelming desire to touch, glass does that doesn't it ...to run you fingers over these glowing surfaces and luckily there is one panel displayed at waist height for you to "get it out of your system" as the guide so rightly says.

In the spirit of Art Nouveau, Tiffany was an interpreter of nature par excellence, butterflies, dragonflies, wisteria dripping down window panes, shells, vegetable ceramics, spiders web lamps, daffodils and more and more.. there is a whole garden and it's inhabitants of shimmering painted and lustred glass.
What I particularly like about his work is that he took his inspiration from quite ordinary garden flowers and vegetables. One of the most beautiful Favrille ceramics is a cream vase based on celery. These sculptural pieces are almost life size.
Here is an example of the simple cream Favrille. This is not an octopus as I first thought, but fern fronds. (similarities in nature again)

Louis Comfort Tiffany's company was initially very successful and of course a huge help was being the son of the already celebrated jeweller. He grew up as a member of the New York elite and started in the interior design business. A legacy of 35 million dollars from his father also helped which he poured into new technology and designs constantly experimenting and developing new products and techniques. However the advent of the fashion for Art Deco, combined with Tiffany's own restless experimentation at the expense of company profits, eventually rendered the company bankrupt in 1932. Nowadays a good Tiffany lamp will cost you $35,000.00 and more.

Image from the Metropolitan Museum New York

My very modest contribution to this post, a tribute to Tiffany's fern vase, is a small study of two leaflets and a young frond of the Japanese Holly fern, cyrtomium falcatum. The Japanese actually call it the "devil´s fern" because of its serrated a edges and tough appearance. The leaflets are quite large approximately 4" from tip to toe, but it was the curling frond that I liked, with the new tiny leaflets cupped in the curl of the stem, carefully folded over each other, each protecting its sibling underneath. Quite lovely.


Japanese Holly Fern

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