Masterpieces

Decorative Arts  

Decorative Arts

Decorative arts were perhaps the first American productions to be esteemed by international audiences. The earliest American artwork in the French public collections is an early 18th century silver mug by silversmith John Burt. Little is known about Burt, but his works are representative of the strong tradition of American silversmithing that had been introduced by early Dutch immigrants. French collections include several other examples of early American silverware, including a candelabra with three sconces and a pair of candlesticks in silver-plated metal. All exhibit the hallmarks of the eclectic Colonial American style, which blends elements of design from the Dutch, English, and northern European traditions.

By the early years of the 19th century, American silver was still noted for its high level of craftsmanship, and the trade of furniture making centered around New York City had begun to receive international acclaim as well. Highly sophisticated and refined pieces created by immigrant cabinetmakers such as Duncan Phyfe and Charles-Honoré Lannuier became sought after by international patrons. French collections contain several examples of furniture from this era, including a dining room table and chairs and a gate–leg table from the school of Duncan Phyfe, a console table in mahogany and marquetry, and a drop-front secretary in the Chippendale style. These pieces demonstrate the innovative blend of English Neoclassical and Regency styles that characterized much of Phyfe’s work.

American decorative arts experienced another florescence in the late 19th and early 20th century. This movement was epitomized by the decorative silver, ceramics, and glassware produced by Louis C. Tiffany. Tiffany designed many of the products produced by his firm, and he expanded the “Tiffany style” to encompass many different types of decorative object: lamps, furniture, mosaics, blown Favrile glass vases, windows, pottery, and enamelwork. Tiffany’s design was influenced by the tenets of the Aesthetic Movement, as well as by the Art Nouveau movement of the 1890s. His signature style was characterized by his use of brilliantly colored materials and organic, natural motifs. He often used multicoloured glass with rippling opalescent surfaces, and the flowing lines of his vases were drawn from natural plant motifs. Tiffany was adept at publicizing his designs abroad, and Tiffany pieces were collected in France as well as in the United States. The public collections of France include several fine examples of decorative art from this period from Tiffany’s firm such as a silver loving cup, vases and canteens in marbled Favrile glass, a green and blue glass vase in the form of an onion, and another shaped like an autumn crocus.