Tiffany and Co Antique Sterling Silver Mixed Metal Pitcher in the Japanese Taste, c. 1878
An iconic example of Tiffany's Japanesque silver, this wonderful pitcher features silver, copper and mixed metal fish swimming around the globular body through aquatic plants. The fully integrated naturalistic design encompasses the entire piece. A chased dragonfly, perched on a reed on the neck, watches the school of fish swimming below.
Some fish are small and young; others are large and fully developed. One large mixed metal fish is formed of silver with copper fins and a brass eye. Another, eating an eel (?), is made of both copper and brass with a smaller fish swimming underneath going in for the steal.
The brass along the back, the dorsal fin, and upper part of the tail seem to shimmer like sunlight reflecting off the fish – in clear appreciation of the budding impressionist art movement, which also derived inspiration from Japan. All these elements are presented on a spot-hammered matte surface that reinforces the aquatic, shimmering qualities of the silver.
Tiffany's exhibit at the 1878 Exhibition Universelle in Paris was an artistic triumph. Among their many prizes, Tiffany & Co. won the Grand Prize for silverware. At their display, a Japanesque water pitcher of nearly identical design was widely acclaimed, and its image was reproduced in publications throughout the world. (1)
The Japanese style developed by Edward C. Moore at Tiffany evolved dramatically in the couple of years before the 1878 exposition. While the earlier pieces are engraved with diverse Japanese elements, later pieces include applied mixed metal elements and comprehensive naturalistic designs that integrate the entire piece on a boldly hammered background.
Tiffany & Co.'s display at the 1878 Paris Exposition was a high-water mark of American decorative arts. The firm's mixed-metal wares and Japanese styled silver gained international attention and acclaim, making Tiffany the first American firm to win a 'Grand Prize' for silver work at an international exhibition.
As The New York Times noted of their native firm's achievement:
[Tiffany's] award of a grand prize, the highest of all recompenses of goldsmiths' and silversmiths' work, showed the appreciation of foreigners for American taste and industry. The specialty of this house seems to be a combination of silver and copper alloy, with inlaid enamel work, after the fashion of the Japanese, whose secret has been discovered and improved upon by our countrymen. The metallic enamels used for small articles, such as forks and spoons, the repoussé sculptures, beautifully modeled, the incrustations of metal upon metal, or of metal upon wood, form a style of goldsmiths' work entirely novel of great artistic value….A victory equal to this has never before been recorded.(2)
The great British designer Christopher Dresser wrote Tiffany after the fair, naming them the "first silversmiths of the world":
I can not refrain from expressing to you the pleasure that I have derived from the contemplation of your exhibit in the present Paris Exposition. No silversmith, that I know, has made the progress in art as applied to their industry in the last few years that you have - indeed, the rapidity of your advancement has astonished many of my art friends as well as myself. After much consideration, I cannot help thinking - you occupy the proud position of being the first silversmiths of the world, but if my saying this should in any way prevent your still exercising that energy which has done so much for you in the last few years, I should, indeed, be sorry. I cannot refrain from offering you my warm congratulations on your present success. (3)
With their extraordinary success at the 1878 Paris World's Fair, Charles Tiffany was awarded the honor of 'Chevalier' of the French Legion of Honor, Tiffany & Co. won the Grand Prize, Tiffany 'Collaborator' Edward C. Moore was awarded the Gold Medal, 'Collaborator' Charles Grosjean The Silver Medal, and 'Collaborator' Dimes was awarded the Bronze medal.
Whether viewed from one side, viewed from all 360 degrees, or viewed art historically, this iconic water pitcher is a masterpiece of American decorative arts.
This outstanding piece measures 7.5 inches high, 8 inches across the handle and is marked underneath 'TIFFANY & CO./ 4706 MAKERS 144/ STERLING SILVER/ -AND-/ OTHER METALS/ 104'. It weighs 29.75 troy ounces and is in very good antique condition. Underneath, unseen, a monogram has been removed.
Charles H. Carpenter with Mary Grace Carpenter, Tiffany Silver, Rev. Ed. (San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997), p. 166.
'More American Triumphs: Successful Exhibitors at the Paris Show' in The New York Times, September 15, 1878, page 5.
Correspondence with Janet Zapata.
Also, see Magnificent Tiffany Silver by John Loring for a detailed discussion of Edward C. Moore's contribution to Tiffany's silver.
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