Window Dressing: Reinstallations Highlight Tiffany and Fabergé
Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design
It is hard to believe that more than ten years have passed since the original 1916 building of the Cleveland Museum of Art was renovated, its galleries reinstalled, and reopened to the public. Since then, new acquisitions have strengthened the collections while higher standards of conservation have resulted in the need for upgraded displays.
The latest galleries to undergo a transformation are the two flanking the south door leading to the Fine Arts Garden (galleries 209 and 211, the Howard F Stirn Gallery). These arcaded spaces are devoted to the work of two great Gilded Age artisans and entrepreneurs, Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933) and Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846–1920), legends in their own time and even more revered today.
The most obvious change that visitors will see in these galleries is the openness of the cases, which are state-of-the-art, custom-built designs from Germany, featuring glass so nonreflective that the barrier isn’t noticeable until it comes in contact with an inquiring nose! Equipped with much better lighting, these new cases provide a tantalizing glimpse inside the gallery beyond, drawing the eye to the treasures within: a whole new array of brightly colored stained glass lamps, glass, and mosaics in the Tiffany gallery, while exquisitely enameled flowers, figures, and bejeweled accessories by Fabergé beckon in the other.
Both galleries feature the museum’s signature masterpieces by each designer. In the Tiffany gallery, the large stained glass window, commissioned from Tiffany for the Hinds family home in Cleveland, still holds pride of place, with its layers of iridescent “Favrile” glass producing ghostly shadows not unlike an illuminated painted landscape. All the works surrounding it are new, from the iconic peony, daffodil, and wisteria lamps to a rare jack-in-the-pulpit vase and examples of Tiffany’s vases based on ancient Cypriot glass. Don’t forget to look up; glowing overhead is an exquisite stained glass pendant ceiling fixture in the grape vine pattern.
Likewise, the Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg of 1915 remains the star attraction of the Fabergé gallery. A poignant work created during the height of the First World War, its aesthetic austerity masks the opulence of its technique. Featuring red and white translucent enamel over an engraved gold ground[JE1] [AS2] , the egg opens to reveal a triptych icon of the Resurrection, the most powerful Easter symbol of rebirth. As it probably would have been shown a century ago, the egg will be open during the Easter season to highlight its intricately painted icon and displayed closed the rest of the year to feature its extraordinary enameled surface and painted miniatures of Tsar Nicholas’s two daughters, Olga and Tatiana.
Elsewhere in this gallery, the many works documented as having been owned by the tsar (the ones with “Imperial” in their title) now include the handsome gold-mounted wooden desk barometer by Fabergé, discovered sitting on the tsar’s desk in a previously unknown photograph that surfaced recently in the Russian archives. Also, don’t miss the exquisite pink enameled parasol handle studded with diamonds that recently joined the collection as a generous bequest.
The fresh new installations have also been augmented by a more comprehensive labeling approach by the museum’s interpretive team, taking into consideration interesting facts and overarching context to enhance the visiting experience. Redesigned galleries are a fitting tribute to the legacy of the donors and supporters of these two renowned areas of the CMA’s decorative arts collections, especially Ruth and Charles Maurer and Cara and Howard Stirn, whose generous contributions have endowed the Tiffany and Fabergé galleries respectively. Come see these breathtaking collections now on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Check out a series of stunning installation images from the two galleries (209 and 211) below, and see them in person NOW!