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Thursday, 07 March 2013 02:39

A Tiffany Masterpiece for the New MFA


Louis Comfort Tiffany created Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl to showcase his firm’s design and glass manufacturing skills at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In a promotional brochure for the fair, Tiffany stated that it “illustrate[s] most perfectly the possibilities of American glass.”

This magnificent window was painstakingly constructed out of rough and polished pieces of opalescent and “favrile” glass (the latter patented by L. C. Tiffany in 1894), which created effects unlike traditional stained glass windows that relied on uniform, solid-colored pieces of glass along with enameling, paint, or ink to create detailed images. With favrile glass, each piece could have several different rich colors that swirl together in varying degrees of thickness and intensity. Careful glass selection and manipulation allowed the artisans to create form and figure, including shading and depth. The variations in the yellow glass in the background of this window give the effect of ethereal, dappled sunlight, while irregularly shaped pieces of opalescent glass were used to create dimension in the composition. Opaque white drapery glass (so called because the heavily folded glass suggests fabric folds), was used over multicolored glass to suggest the impression of water in the fish bowl. To heighten the illusionistic effect, Tiffany incorporated a real chain to suspend the fish bowl. These daring techniques represented a new direction for Tiffany’s leaded glasswork that he continued to refine for years and for which he is well known today.

Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933)
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (active 1892–1902)
Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl
New York, New York, circa 1893
Glass, lead, bronze chain, 77 x 38½ inches
Gift of Barbara L. and Theodore B. Alfond in honor of Malcolm Rogers. 2008.1415

Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl was recently donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by MFA board president Barbara L. Alfond and her husband Theodore in honor of MFA director Malcolm Rogers. The window will be unveiled in the Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson Gallery for Art of the Aesthetic Movement at the November opening of the new Art of the Americas Wing, and will be shown alongside works by Tiffany’s great rival, John La Farge, as well as James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Dewing, Tiffany and Company, and the Herter Brothers.

Nonie Gadsden is the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.