In Focus: UMMA’s Tiffany collection
With UMMA’s expanded ability to showcase its until now largely hidden array of Tiffany objects, Ann Arbor has become one of three must-see sights—in addition to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Morse Museum in Florida—on any Tiffany pilgrimage.
As a worldwide brand, Tiffany conjures images of luxury, status, and quality. Tiffany & Co. was founded in New York in 1837 by Charles Tiffany, as a purveyor of stationery, jewelry, and other “fancy goods.” His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, embarked on a career as an artist at age 18, and though he began as a painter, Tiffany turned to the decorative arts at the suggestion of a silver designer at Tiffany & Co. It’s been said that Tiffany’s glasswork reflects his early expressive watercolors.
In 1879, Tiffany established the interior design firm Associated Artists, which considered everything in the well-to-do home—from fixtures and floors to woodwork and wallpaper—to be a design opportunity. One of Tiffany’s most ambitious and impressive “total environments” was the design of the interiors of the Havemeyer House in New York City, the residence of sugar magnate Henry O. Havemeyer (1847–1907) and his wife, Louisine. The Havemeyers counted many artists among their friends, including Mary Cassatt and Tiffany, and were inveterate collectors of contemporary fine and decorative art, particularly 19th-century French paintings and Tiffany glass. When the Havemeyers and their collections outgrew their original home in Manhattan, they built a larger home on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 66th Street. Beginning in 1888, Tiffany and one of his Associated Artists partners, Samuel Colman, created a sumptuous Asian-Near Eastern-medieval-inspired design program throughout the house that greeted visitors from the moment they passed through the magnificent entryway doors. It was completed over four years.
As art dealer Samuel Bing said at the time: “The ingenious eclecticism responsible for these interiors has so skillfully combined disparate elements, integrating them so artfully, that we are left with an impression of perfect harmony…”
Those incredible doors, along with a wealth of other Tiffany pieces from the Havemeyer house—including opulent glass, metal work, and decorative objects—are now on display in the new European and American Decorative Art Gallery on the second floor of the Museum’s historic wing. These priceless works came to Ann Arbor through the quick action of University of Michigan’s Emil Lorch, founder and dean of the School of Art and Architecture, who acquired them shortly after the Havemeyer house was demolished in 1930.
Today, UMMA’s luminous Tiffany chandelier presides over one of the loveliest, most well-appointed conversation overlooks found in any museum in the country. Fold into one of the chairs and transport yourself back to the authentic craftsmanship and luxury of the Gilded Age.