A Tale of Two Rivals
Stephen Harrison Curator of Decorative Art and Design
Peacock Lamp c. 1898–1906. Tiffany Studios (American). Glass, bronze; h. 65 cm. Private collection, 149.2007
The two small galleries flanking the south door, which display the museum’s renowned collections of works by American designer and glass artisan Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Russian counterpart, Peter Carl Fabergé, are about to receive a face-lift. State-of-the-art glass and steel cases from Germany, open on both sides, will give the galleries display frontage on the south foyer and provide more natural light. The overall effect will be inviting and intriguing, given that these two master craftsmen and entrepreneurs were notorious rivals. Now their works will face one another more directly: Fabergé heralding traditional, historicist designs, and Tiffany trumpeting the modern notes of the Art Nouveau.
Kremlin Tower Clock 1913. Firm of Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846–1920). Rhodonite, silver, enamel, emeralds, sapphires; 29 x 14.6 cm. The India Early Minshall Collection, 1966.477
Each designer was a master of his craft who captured the taste of customers. As a young artist, Tiffany quickly realized that his talents were more attuned to interior decoration and design than to painting or drawing. He gathered together fellow artisans and began a successful business designing interiors and decorative accessories for a wealthy clientele. After conceiving a style of glassmaking that imitated ancient glass, he applied the technique to all manner of designs for objects, lamps, and windows. Meanwhile in Russia, Fabergé honed his design skills by studying the Hermitage Museum’s collections of precious objects owned by Catherine the Great. He would later draw inspiration from these works to create sumptuous objects for the Russian imperial family. Though contemporaries, Tiffany and Fabergé exhibited in the same world’s fair only once, in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Beginning this spring, their works can be seen together in the CMA’s newly renovated Tiffany and Fabergé galleries, respectively named in honor of these donors: the Ruth and Charles Maurer Family and the Cara and Howard Stirn Family.
Cleveland Art, March/April 2018