This exhibition marks the return of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work to the Musée du Luxembourg. The original museum was in the Palais du Luxembourg, today the seat of the French Sénat, which was built for Marie de Médicis in 1615 by the architect Salomon de Brosse. De Brosse’s design included two galleries to hold a cycle of 24 Rubens paintings glorifying the queen. Two hundred years and several regimes later, in 1815, the Louvre was emptied of all seized artworks, and the paintings from the Musée du Luxembourg were brought in to fill it. Luxembourg then became a museum of living artists and was bequeathed works by Caillebotte. Picasso, Bonnard and Degas, among others. The present building was constructed in 1884-1886, and Tiffany’s Paris dealer, Siegfried Bing, whose shop, L’Art Noveau, named an entire decorative arts movement, donated several vases in 1894—the only non-French pieces ever allowed in.
Today, the Musée du Luxembourg functions as a jewel-like venue for temporary exhibitions and is situated in one of the most charming sections of Paris, on the street that borders the top of the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Tiffany show galleries were designed by Hubert Le Gall, who did “René Lalique, bijoux d’exception” for the Luxembourg Museum in 2007. The spaces provide chic backdrops for Tiffany’s designs and, with the exception of a stained glass-patterned carpet in the largest room, allow the work to speak for itself. And it speaks volumes: From tiny Favrile vases to enormous and elaborate windows, the forms are astonishing and the color almost overwhelming.
The exhibition includes furnishings from Tiffany’s interior design projects (which lean decidedly more towards an Arts and Crafts aesthetic) and the first stained glass window he designed, to cover an ugly view at his New York home in the Bella Apartments.
Photographs document Tiffany’s next move to the mansion that architect Stanford White built for Tiffany père in 1882. Today, that building houses the Ralph Lauren shop at Madison Avenue and 72nd Street. Tiffany’s studio occupied the top level, and he filled his residence there with fantastic lanterns and mosaic tile decoration—the height of fin de siècle souk-chic.
Although glassmaker John La Farge patented opalescent glass, both he and Tiffany worked to master it. Tiffany pushed the medium further with “drapery glass,” executed by pulling glass while it cools. In the exhibition, a window panel displayed flat at tabletop height shows the sculptural quality of this technique.
Tiffany enjoyed playing with the material and pushed his artisans to achieve an unexpected outcome. He valued flawed pieces of glass for the way they would fracture light, and his windows feature patterns of tiny confetti-like pieces.
An expanded version of the show will open in Richmond on May 29, and, according to the VMFA’s Robin Nicholson, it will include additional windows from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as many other Tiffany objects from the VMFA collection.
The exhibition is being co-curated by the three prominent Tiffany scholars: Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Martin Eidelberg, an independent scholar who co-curated the last show at New York Historical about the female designers in Tiffany Studios; and Rosalind Pepall, curator of decorative arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The restoration of the Montreal museum’s Erskine and American Church occasioned the removal of the windows and launched the idea of sending them out on exhibit.
19 rue Vaugirard
Through January 17, 2010
Monday and Friday 10:30-10:00
Tuesday-Thursday from 10:30-7
Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9:30-8
Montreal Fine Arts Museum- February 11 to May 2
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts -May 29 to August 15
If You’re Going:
Café Médicis is the museum’s adorable café, with outdoor tables that are plopping distance from the entrance. Count on it for a coffee if you are feeling winded.
But if you still have steam in your sails, venture deeper into the Luxembourg Gardens, just past the glorious ivy garland-draped Fontaine Médicis (built from the remnants of a 1630 Italianate grotto), and find a place at the outdoor café for classic café attitude en plein air.
For café dining par excellence, check out Bouillon Racine, a fantastic brasserie in an authentic 1906 Art Nouveau interior. It is listed as a historical monument, but the food would hold up anywhere. So order up your escargots and duck confit, but don’t even think of skipping their Valrhona chocolate glace or, at the very least, a tiny plate of delicious grape, lemon and peach sherbet. Be sure and have a look at the second floor, which is a gorgeous copper-green cage of mirrors and glass. 3 rue Racine, open daily noon to 11:00
There are two nice hotels on Rue de Vaugirard that you could hit either with a well-aimed bouclé from the Jardin du Luxembourg. Hôtel Fontaines du Luxembourg, at No. 4 Rue Vaugirard, was built into an ancient residence once used to house Louis XIV’s grooms. The lobby and guest rooms are stylishly redone, but the façade needed a few more weeks to finish when we were there in late September. I would check the status of the renovation before booking.
Best Western Trianon Rive Gauche at No. 1 rue de Vaugirard, where I stayed, was tidy and polite and about 40 Euros less expensive per night than Fontaines. Boasts a stunning view of the Pantheon from the front door.
Check back for more Paris dispatches ....