What you see: A “Wisteria” table lamp by Tiffany Studios, circa 1905. Phillips estimates it at $450,000 to $650,000.
The expert: Cordelia Lembo, Head of Design for Phillips in New York.
Where does the Wisteria design stand among Tiffany designs, in terms of its desirability when it was new, and its desirability now? The Wisteria lampshade’s naturalistic beauty has a broad appeal, outside of its historical and market contexts. It was one of the most popular and expensive shades in its time, and continues to be today.
How many iterations did Tiffany Studios make of this lamp? Is the table version the most popular? There are some slight variations in the shapes of the larger Wisteria table lamp shades, and then there is also the “Pony Wisteria” which is a miniaturized version.
Could you talk for a bit about Clara Driscoll, her importance to Tiffany, and how this Wisteria design testifies to her artistry? Clara Driscoll was Tiffany’s lead designer. She was behind some of his more elaborate and commercially successful shades, but it wasn’t until recent years that she has received the recognition she deserves. I highly recommend the book A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls for the full story of Clara Driscoll, her career and contributions to Tiffany. [A Wisteria lamp appears on the cover of the book.] She was a fascinating woman far ahead of her time in so many ways.
Could you talk a bit about what went into making a Wisteria? I get the impression that this shade was particularly labor-intensive. Yes, that is immediately evident in the intricate design which required around 2,000 pieces of glass. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Tiffany lamp production was the glass selection, a process in which a “glass selector” would choose the type of glass to be cut for specific placement on the lampshade. Even more than the design or glass-making processes, this is where you can see the individual perspective of the artisan.
This lamp dates to 1905. The Wisteria design was produced between 1901 and 1910. Does the date matter? Do collectors have a clear preference for Wisterias made early or late in the run? We’ve actually dated the lamp circa 1905, which is fairly standard dating for a Wisteria. Some lamps have certain indicators which, considered together, can give a more specific date within the window of production. As with some other Tiffany lamp models, the preference tends to be for earlier examples, but that is one factor among many.
How does this shade compare to other Wisteria table lamp shades that you have seen? What aspects of its color palette distinguishes it? How does its appearance testify to the skill of the pair of artisans who assembled it? What strikes me about this shade is its delicacy and realism. The glass selector clearly intended to showcase the shape of individual blossoms. The paler pannicles [individual pieces of glass] can be interpreted as either a glittering background or white and pink blossoms. My favorite part about the lamp is that as light passes through the blue and purple glass, it colors the white glass a pale blue. These kinds of subtle and almost magical effects are one of the reasons that people are drawn to Tiffany.
I see in the lot notes that the shade has a tag that has the number 342, and the base is impressed with the number 342. Does that mean the shade and the base left the factory together, and have remained together? Or could it have left the factory with a different base and had the tree base swapped in later? “342” refers to the model number. I am not sure if this base and shade are an original pairing, though that is certainly possible. It would have originally been paired with a tree base.
Phillips handled this particular Wisteria in 2012. How has the Tiffany lamp market changed over time? Are Wisteria table lamps even more desirable now than they were six years ago? The Tiffany market is one of the strongest and most consistent categories within 20th century design. A number of other Wisterias have come to market in the last five years, some of which have achieved truly exceptional results. This means that some of the collectors who were actively seeking to acquire a Wisteria no longer are, but also that these results have established certain benchmarks and brought visibility to the market, inviting new collectors to participate. The Design department at Phillips has a track record in bringing new audiences to established categories, and we are pleased to have the chance to introduce them to Tiffany.
How did you arrive at the estimate? As with any other, we took into account other auction results for similar examples, and in this case of course the 2012 result for this particular example.
How often do Tiffany Wisteria table lamps come to auction? Approximately 2-4 a year in recent years. But each one is unique.
What is the world auction record for a Tiffany Wisteria table lamp? I believe it is over 1.5 million USD, and there are more than a few results in the high six and low seven figures.
Does the lamp work? If so, what sort of bulb does it use, and how has its wiring changed over time? Are LED bulbs recommended now? If so, do LED bulbs change the appearance of the lit shade? The lamp does work, it’s very important that it illuminate! I recommend a bulb that doesn’t emit too warm of a light.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? For me personally, this lamp was sold in my first sale at Phillips, and so for that reason alone I will always remember it. One of the best things about working at an auction house is that sometimes we have the chance to be the custodian of certain works more than once.
Cordelia Lembo spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a record-setting Lucie Rie bowl.
I like Tiffany Studios lamps and all things Tiffany. I’ve written about Tiffany Studios and Clara Driscoll for Art & Antiques magazine and I did a piece for Andrew Harper Travel (now Hideaway Report) on a Tiffany Studios-themed tour of New York City.
You can buy A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls from Powell’s or your favorite independent bookstore.
Also, just sayin’: Somebody needs to do a solid period miniseries about Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. AMC? PBS? Netflix? Get on it, please, and see the “About the Hot Bid” page to contact me and compensate me for the idea. You’re welcome.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.
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