With its five stained-glass panels, this rare and important tall case clock is one of the earliest uses of stained glass for a domestic purpose by Louis Comfort Tiffany.1 It is one of only five tall case clocks designed by L.C. Tiffany and the only collaboration between Tiffany and Paulding Farnham, the chief designer at Tiffany and Company.
In 1879, Tiffany and a group of artists established an interior design firm, known as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists, that quickly became one of the leading houses in New York, rivaling establishments such as Herter Brothers and Pottier and Stymus.2 With the exception of two major commissions, the New York City residence of Mr. and Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer (1890–92) and his own home, Laurelton Hall, in Oyster Bay, New York (1904), Tiffany’s work in interior design was limited to this period with Associated Artists. At this point, he experimented with the design of books, wallpaper, fabrics, and furniture, while exploring the numerous uses of glass. After Associated Artists dissolved in 1883, Tiffany began to focus on the establishment and production of several art-glass houses.
During the height of the Aesthetic Movement in the United States, throughout the 1870s and l880s, stained glass, which was traditionally used in ecclesiastical structures, began to appear in homes. From its placement in the actual structure, such as a staircase hall window, stained glass started to be used as aspects of furnishing, beginning with fireplace screens, then replacing the clear glass in bookcase doors. Tiffany took the medium of stained glass a step further in domestic casework with his use of it in this clock.
This clock was designed for display at the New England Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Institute Exhibition of 1883.3 Tiffany and Company fabricated the clock’s movement and silvered-bronze dial, as recorded in the Tiffany and Company Order Book.4 A square, polished silver-bronzed dial with a ring of chrysanthemums, matching those on the case, and black, lacquered hands, designed by Farnham, were set in an intricately carved case with five inset stained-glass panels. A carved floral crest of chrysanthemums surmounts the clock’s monumental rectangular case. The chrysanthemum motif, originating in Japanese art and popular during the Aesthetic Movement, is carried throughout the entire piece, including the three glass panels forming the clock’s body. Its central door consists of a rectangular stained-glass panel with a clear beveled oval panel to serve as a window through which the clock’s pendulum and weights can be seen. The upper portion, or bonnet, incorporates two additional glass panels on each side within a jeweled pebble border, providing a view of the clock’s intricate works. The tall case clock chimes each quarter hour in a Westminster tonal pattern.
Adapted from Tottis, James W. Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1–2 (2007): 30–31.
1. The first use was the 1879 Eggplant Window (private collection) designed for the dining room of Tiffany’s New York apartment. The first major commission for domestic stained glass Tiffany received was for the George Kemp House, New York (1880).
2. The firm of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists was established in 1879 as a premier design firm. In addition to Tiffany, Candice Wheeler, Lockwood de Forest, and Samuel Colman were principals in the firm. The premise of the firm was to unite all the art forms and in so doing create harmonious environments. The firm lasted until 1883.
3. The New England Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Institute Exhibition in 1883 was a project of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as stated in their 1884 annual report.
4. The clock is listed in the Tiffany and Company Order Book: Clock Department 1879–1916 as: “#241, Job number 9839, L. Tiffany & Co. Stock Make chime movement for glass hall case, Hands Farnham 7.75, Engraving, dial .75, Deliver Aug 31 ’83, Put in L. Tiffany & Co’s case for the Boston exhibition, out of case Job 538, Delv’d movmt out of case 265, new work order No., JT l hr, Wilkins polish, [Total]