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Exuberant enameled blossoms of the "Moss Roses" (portulaca grandiflora) seem to burst from the confines of this amazing vase. Boldly designed in soft hues including cream, yellow, pink, rose and magenta, they have deep and rich color finished with a matte surface - an enameling style created by Tiffany and mastered so successfully that it became known as "American Enamel."
From a swirling base, ferns and flower stems rise to the flowers that seem to burst from the vase. Green enamel flows up the swirls and lattice design. Above the floral band, leaves and buds rise to the shaped rim. Inside the rim, etched and engraved moss rose buds are decorated with yellow and rose-colored gilding.
Designed and executed expressly for the Columbian World's Fair of 1893, this piece is a visual and technical masterpiece. (For more about Tiffany & Co.'s exhibition at the fair, see here.) As with most of the other John T. Curran designed enameled vases at the exhibition, the focus is the realistically represented natural world - a style that would develop into American art nouveau.
Tiffany & Co. listed the vase in their catalog to the fair as:
Aesthetically, the "Moss-Roses" Vase is very similar to Curran's undisputed masterpiece, the "Magnolia Vase", another of the 7 floral enameled vases created for the Columbian Exposition. Now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see here), the "Magnolia Vase" is one of the most important pieces of American silver ever made.
151. Floral Vase, Moss-Roses, form Greek, groundwork of etched ferns, with moss-roses enameled in natural colors.
Technically, the "Moss Roses" Vase was acid etched and then lightly repousséd from the inside under the flowers. At this point, enamel was applied in several layers (and firings) into spaces created by the acid bath, making this champlevé painted enamel. At the 1893 World's Fair, Tiffany won an award for their champlevé enamels including this vase. (1)
The matte enamels with soft muted colors seen on this vase were developed by Edward C. Moore and Charles Grosjean for Tiffany during the 1880s. (2) Curran, as a young designer, was involved in some of the first designs with this style enamel. (3) Henry Vever, the noted 19th-century jewelry historian, stated in a report to the French Government on Tiffany's 1893 exhibit that the 'use of opaque and transparent enamels…produces a most fortunate effect.' (4)
This type of matte enamel with soft colors was unique to Tiffany and their 'American' style of enameling and was not replicated by other firms. Gorham hired European enamelers to run their department and generally chose to follow styles prevalent there. Tiffany's virtuosity with their very own enameling style is a technical triumph in light of the fact they only started enameling 15 years earlier. For more about Tiffany & Co.'s enameling, see here.
John T. Curran and Paulding Farnham were two young assistants of Edward C. Moore at Tiffany. Both helped at the Paris 1889 exhibition, with Farnham's jewelry designs winning the gold medal. (5) When Moore died in 1891, Farnham took charge of the Jewelry department, and Curran took charge of the silver department, under Farnham's ultimate control. (6) Farnham's work can be seen clearly in the mixed-metal "Viking" and "Pueblo" pieces. Curran, who was highly influenced by Charles Osborne (7) and Charles Grosjean, designed the naturalistic enameled vases and sea-inspired pieces at the fair. Collaboration with Farnham on the "Moss-Roses" Vase cannot be ruled out. An original design drawing for the "Magnolia Vase" at the Metropolitan Museum shows Farnham's design work on some floral decoration. (8) Curran is credited with the overall designs for both the 'Magnolia Vase' and the 'Daisy Vase,' the "Moss-Roses" Vase was designed by the same person.
This extraordinary vase measures 6.25 inches high and weighs 6.55 troy ounces. It is marked underneath "TIFFANY & CO./ 11183 T 3166/ STERLING" and below with Tiffany's Columbian Exposition stamp. It is in excellent antique condition, with only minor losses to the enamel. It appears to be in better condition than two of its siblings, the "Magnolia Vase" or the "Daisy Vase."
World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1983
Catalog of Tiffany & Co.'s Exhibit
Tiffany at the World's Columbian Exposition
"Curious Objects at the Winter Show: a gallery of notable artworks on exhibit at the 2020 edition of the Fair," in The Winter Show 2020 Catalog, p. 58.
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