Tiffany & Co Antique Sterling Silver Aesthetic Movement Mixed Metal Water 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.
The brass along the back, the dorsal fin and upper part of the tail seems 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 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 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 was the first American firm to win the grand prize for silverware and their silver in this style captivated the audience at the 1878 exhibition, highlighting Tiffany's, and America's emergence as a creative artistic power.
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)
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 (the best we have seen in several years). 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.
Also see Magnificent Tiffany Silver by John Loring for a detailed discussion of Edward C. Moore's contribution to Tiffany's silver.