Saturday, June 22, 2024

Art Eyewitness Review: Collecting Inspiration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


 Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany Co.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 
June 9 - October 20, 2024

Reviewed by Ed Voves

Collecting Inspiration, the recently opened exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, celebrates the life and career of Edward C. Moore, and the firm he worked for, Tiffany Co.

Beautiful to behold, Collecting Inspiration was originally scheduled for presentation in 2020 as part of the Met 150 anniversary celebrations. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed, but fortunately did not derail this insightful look at Post-Civil War America. 

Special praise, therefore, needs to be accorded to Medill Higgins Harvey, the lead curator of Collecting Inspiration and the manager of the Met's Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art. The exhibition objects were assembled from several of the Met's curatorial departments, with some key loan items. To keep track of this vast, scattered treasure hoard and to keep the exhibition on track during years of delay required a curator of special talent and patience. Ms. Harvey certainly responded to these challenges.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024)
 Gallery views of Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany Co. Medill Higgins Harvey, curator of the exhibition, is shown in the bottom photo

Collecting Inspiration is also a cautionary tale of the cycle of fame and obscurity. One could easily overlook somber lessons on life while gazing at the array of Gilded Age silver masterpieces and ancient works of art in the Met's special exhibit gallery. But there are indeed some powerful reflections to be had from Collecting Inspiration and and not just from the glittering, polished Tiffany silverware on view!

Except among experts in American art history, few people are aware of the protagonist of Collecting Inspiration, Edward C. Moore (1827-1891). But the Tiffany Company, to which Moore devoted his formidable talents, is a name familiar to almost everyone.

Tiffany diamonds. Tiffany jewelry. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Little girls named Tiffany. Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany …

Tiffany Co. remains a byword for opulence, but Moore's highly esteemed reputation - he was the recipient of the French Legion of Honor in 1889  - gradually faded away, relegated to the footnotes of art history books.

Who, then, was Edward C. Moore? 

Portrait photo of Edward C. Moore
 from The Illustrated American, August 29, 1891

Trained as a silversmith by his father, Edward Moore developed into an astute scholar of art, ancient and modern. With an eye for quality and exacting standards of workmanship, Moore guided, supervised and inspired the artisans at Tiffany Co. during the "Gilded Age" decades of the late nineteenth century.

Moore amassed an awesome art collection, chiefly of glassware, metalwork and ceramics. Moore collected widely and wisely. His choice selections ranged from ancient Roman and Venetian glassware to superb metal objects from the Middle East to Japonisme, the hand-crafted masterpieces which astonished Western art lovers following the opening of trade links to Japan in the 1850's-1860's.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) 
Gallery view of Collecting Inspiration,
showing 17th & 18th century European glassware. 

The stunning works of decorative art which we can now admire in Collecting Inspiration were first displayed in an art gallery in Moore's home. This was not a matter of relaxed, recreational enjoyment. Moore closely studied the works in his collection to incorporate technical and aesthetic insights into new, original works being designed for Tiffany's.

Moore also built the "Prince Street Workshop." This five-story design and production site, located at 53-55 Prince Street, lower-Manhattan, was the epicenter of the Tiffany silver goods juggernaut. One of the most technologically advanced production sites of the Victorian era, the Prince Street Workshop was featured in a 1877 article of Scientific American. 

AdditionallyMoore turned his Prince Street "factory" into what today we would call a "learning lab." After Moore died in 1891, a contemporary journal, The Illustrated American, noted that early in the 1860's, before joining Tiffany's: 

Mr. Moore saw the need of better artistic instructions and, realizing the meager facilities offered in this city, more particularly in the decorative and industrial arts, he set to work to establish a system of instruction and training in his Prince Street works that soon developed into the most thorough and complete school of its kind in existence.

Of the caliber of Moore's teaching, The Illustrated American was equally laudatory: 

Constantly seeking to improve on old methods, silversmithing and metal-working were raised by him to such a standard that they graded insensibly into the fine arts.

Viewed from a broad historical focus, we can now see Edward C. Moore for what he was: one of the pioneers of American research and development, R&D.

Following Moore's death in 1891, his collection of nearly 1700 works of art and his professional library were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This act of generosity helped transform the Met into one of the greatest museums on earth. 

For many years, the Edward C. Moore collection was kept intact and displayed in a separate gallery at the Met.  A photo from the museum's archives gives us a rare look into the life achievement of one of America's greatest art collectors.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) 
An archival photo of the Edward C. Moore collection, 1894, 
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Collecting Inspiration  presents a judicious selection of 180 works of art collected by Moore. These "best of the best" are complemented by 70 of the silver treasures created in the Tiffany workshops under Moore's direction.

A native New Yorker, Edward C. Moore was the son of a master silversmith, John Chandler Moore. Together, father and son were so accomplished in creating silverware of every description that they won fame as New York City’s finest.

Edward C. Moore, Baby Presentation Cup, 1853

A baby presentation cup (above) made by Edward in 1853 recalls the austere beauty and technical proficiency of colonial New England silversmiths. No greater accolade could be paid to an American silversmith during the 1800's.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Moore’s company was hired as exclusive producers of silver objects for Tiffany Co. This “stationary and fancy goods emporium” had been founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young. Innovative in their marketing strategy and committed to the highest standards of quality, Tiffany was the perfect sales venue for the silver work of John and Edward Moore.

In 1868, after his father retired, Edward Moore sold his family firm to Tiffany’s and joined the company as its chief silver designer. A sharp business man, Moore retained ownership of 53-55 Prince Street. Tiffany Co. agreed to pay $6000 per year in rent, a hefty sum for the mid-1800's.

Tiffany & Co. trademark, from the base of the Magnolia Vase, 1893. 

Now that Moore was in charge of silverware production, Tiffany Co. was no longer a mere retail “emporium.” It was an art & craft empire, an able competitor to the best designers and artisans of Europe. 

As we will see, many notable silver pieces, presentation vases and yacht-race "challenge" cups, would be created in the Tiffany workshops. But one of Moore's most important decisions was to begin production of sets of high-grade silver flatware - knives, forks, spoons and serving implements. Especially when purchased as wedding gifts, sales of flatware yielded huge profits for Tiffany's.

Over the next three decades, Tiffany’s silver would win prize medals and renown at the numerous exhibitions which were such a notable feature of the late nineteenth century.

Of these “world fairs”, none was so significant for the United States – and Tiffany Co. - as the Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia in 1876.

The wounds of the Civil War had barely scabbed-over by 1876. Though the stated purpose of the Exposition was to demonstrate U.S. industrial power, the Centennial also aimed to assert that the American union of states was once again strong and secure. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2024)
 Swan Centerpiece, 1874. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co.

With Moore at the helm of the silver department, Tiffany prepared a show-stopping display for the Centennial. On view was a spectacular silver and gilt swan centerpiece. Hammered from a single sheet of silver, with only the head, feet and beaded decorations fashioned separately, the swan floated on a mirror placed on top of a silver pedestal.

The silver-gilt swan centerpiece (priced at $3,000!) was outshone by the Bryant Vase, commissioned to honor the poet, William Cullen Bryant, shortly before the opening of Centennial Exposition.

The Bryant Vase, 1876. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co.

The Bryant Vase was one of the sensations of the Centennial. It is a hugely significant work of art in the saga of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, being one of the earliest American-made works of art to enter the Met's collection.

Edward Moore oversaw the creation of The Bryant Vase, but the actual work was done by the team of experts he recruited. The designer of the vase was James Horton Whitehouse (1833-1902) and the craftmanship, known as “chasing", was executed by Eugene Soligny (1832-1901). Such brilliant teamwork was a characteristic of Tiffany’s silver department during Moore’s tenure.

There is no mistaking the Bryant Vase as a signature piece of High Victorian taste. Unlike the classic simplicity of the 1853 presentation cup made by Moore himself, the Bryant Vase is so loaded with symbolism and embellishments that it almost sinks under its dense mass of fretwork, oak leaves, corn stalks, apple blossoms, cattails and water lilies.

 Detail of The Bryant Vase, 1876. One of the medallions, by August Saint-Gaudens, depicting the life of William Cullen Bryant, is shown.

Almost … In its finished state, the Bryant Vase secured its masterpiece status by virtue of the medallions depicting incidents in the long, storied life of William Cullen Bryant. One of America’s first great poets, newspaper editor of genius and staunch opponent of slavery, Bryant was a great friend of the landscape painter, Thomas Cole, and, with Cole, an early environmentalist.

These medallions, depicting key episodes in Bryant’s life, were designed by a young Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Dublin-born sculptor’s awesome talent was already in evidence two decades before his greatest work, the Colonel Robert Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial, was unveiled in Boston in 1897.

Saint-Gauden's medallions on the Bryant Vase are incredibly small and sculpted in low-relief. The example (above) shows a young William Cullen Bryant meditating in a forest glade. The scene depicts the genesis of Bryant's once-celebrated poem, Thanatopsis. It is simply marvelous to behold, the story of man immersed in nature, scaled down to scarcely bigger in size than a silver dollar coin.

Despite the outpouring of heart-felt sentiment, artistic skill and untold hours of hard work that were devoted to it, the Bryant Vase is difficult for modern art lovers to embrace. Hero worship has gone out of style and the Victorian mania for trophy presentation often seems faintly absurd. 

Some of the examples of Tiffany presentation pieces have retained a measure of their original appeal. The Goelet Cup, Schooner Prize (1884) on loan from the New York Yacht Club, certainly is a striking work of art. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2024)
 Goelet Cup, Schooner Prize, 1884. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co.

After examining the "Gilded Age" trophies and presentation pieces made by Tiffany Co. craftsmen under Moore's direction, the Met exhibition adjusts its focus to the display of Moore's sensational art collection.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024)
 Gallery view of Collecting Inspiration, showing glass bottles and a glass cinerary urn from the Roman era.

Moore was an frequent and experienced traveler to Europe, at a time when trans-Atlantic voyages were still perilous undertakings. His world view extended far beyond the Western world, enabling him to appreciate works like the exquisite decorated plate from Iran (below), dated to the seventeenth century.

Plate with Vegetal Decoration in a Seven-pointed Star, 1655-80. Made in Iran.

Moore appraised the Iranian plate and other works from Asia (below) from the same standpoint as the more familiar terracotta mixing vessel from a Greek colony in southern Italy. That is to say from aesthetic and craft perspectives.  Over and above all other considerations regarding his collection was a utilitarian appreciation of the salient features of these superbly made works of art.

Footed Bowl with Eagle Emblem, mid-13th century. Probably Syria.

Terracotta calyx-krater (mixing bowl), ca. 350–300 BCE. 
From the Greek colonies, southern Italy.

How much of the cultural background of his works of art from Asia Moore understood is not known. Art scholarship related to the non-Western world was still not advanced in his day. But Moore had a powerful mind and an eye for quality. Even down to the small fragments of ancient Greek and Roman glass, Moore collected only masterpieces.

Meiji era Lacquer Boxmid-19th century, Japan

Moore had a high regard for beauty, too. The passion with which he embraced Japan art is proof of that. The many Japanese works of art he collected were examined for technical purposes or artistic details like the butterfly motif on this stunningly beautiful box, most likely used for tea ceremony utensils. The gold and silver butterflies were executed in a technique known as hiramaki-e, "flat sprinkled picture."

Moore and his Tiffany team only rarely copied directly from an artistic source to be found in his collection. Usually Moore's intensive study yielded ideas or craft methods which would be refined, like precious metal in a crucible, to create a unique, frequently unprecedented, work of art. The Conglomerate Vase, which wowed art critics and visitors to the 1878 Paris Exposition, is perhaps the best example of this process of selecting and synthesizing. 

There's no glossing over Moore's almost instinctive feel for finely-crafted objects which appeal to the eye, but even more so to the "mind's eye". This is the sacred space in which all great artists store visual sensations and ideas for later use.

Moore continued to explore the thoughts and images in his "mind's eye" for new Tiffany product ideas. He was intrigued with the process of enameling in combination with metal work. Over the course of the 1880's an elaborate series of experiments were conducted at the Prince Street Workshop.

Early in 1890, the Congress authorized a second world's fair to be held in the U.S. The fair was scheduled for 1893, to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the Americas. Chicago faced-off a challenge by New York City to host the World's Columbian Exposition.

Moore and his Tiffany team set to work on a masterpiece which would reflect the emphasis on American themes announced by the Exposition organizing committee. The Tiffany vase would use only silver, gold, precious stones and other materials from American sources. Tiffany's refined enameling process would be showcased. 

Another Tiffany masterpiece was on "the drawing board" by the summer of 1891. Then, on August 2, 1891, Edward C. Moore died at his summer home at Hastings-on-Hudson. 

Charles Calverley, Edward C. Moore, 1894

What could have - perhaps should have - been a disaster was redeemed by the decades long career of Edward C. Moore. He had built, planned. organized and led by example an organization that could - and did -outlive him.  

Following Moore's death, the staff at Prince Street closed ranks and kept working - on the trademark products for the fabled Tiffany catalog and on the vase planned for the Chicago Columbian Exposition. For two years, fifteen Tiffany craftsman worked on different facets of the vase, the delicate enameling being entrusted to an expert in that medium, a man named Godfrey Swaby.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) 
The Magnolia Vase, 1893. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co.

The masterpiece planned for the Chicago fair duly took shape. The Magnolia Vase is now one of the jewels of the Met, which received it as donation in 1899.

The Magnolia Vase, shaped like a Pueblo Indian vessel, celebrates America and the natural world with three bands of native flora: evergreen trees for north and east; magnolia flowers for south and west; cacti for the southwest. 

What sets the Magnolia Vase apart from the other Tiffany masterpieces in the Met exhibit is the duplication of the colors of nature achieved by the application of the Tiffany enameling process.

As Medill Higgins Harvey writes:

The Magnolia vase is a triumph of virtuosic enameling; its subtle tonal shifts, from violet to pink to white and from yellow to green, imbue the blossoms with natural color and texture.

Even more than the silver portrait bust made in his honor, Edward C. Moore received his truest testimonial with the Magnolia Vase. One may wonder how a man of such talent and so many achievements could have been so forgotten. But I don't think Moore would have been bothered.

Tiffany & Co. continues to prosper, in no small part because of the professional methodologies which Moore originated so long ago. And what artist and craftsman could be anything but pleased to hear that a work of art he helped to plan has been described as being imbued with the color and texture of nature.                       


Introductory illustration:                                                                                    Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Dish, (depicting the 1678 novel, La princess de Cleves), 1875-76. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Silver, copper, niello, and gold: 2 1/8 × 20 1/8 in. (5.4 × 51.1 cm). The Newark Museum of Art,

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Gallery view of the Metropolitan Museum exhibition, Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany Co.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Gallery view of Collecting Inspiration, showing curator Medill Higgins Harvey of the Metropolitan Museum

Portrait photo of Edward C. Moore from The Illustrated American, August 29, 1891

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Gallery view of Collecting Inspiration, showing 17th and 18th century European glassware. The spouted glass vessel at top is a drinking bottle from Spain called a Porrón.

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Copy of a 1894 photo of the Edward C. Moore collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Edward C. Moore (American, 1827–1891) Baby Presentation Cup, 1853.Made in New York City.  Silver and silver-gilt: 3 3/4 x 3 1/4 x 4 3/4 in. (9.5 x 8.3 x 12.1 cm); 6 oz. 14 dwt. (208.2 g) Metropolitan Museum of Art. # 2005.70

Tiffany & Co. trademark, from the base of the Magnolia Vase , 1893. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see the citation below).

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Swan Centerpiece, 1874. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Silver and silver gilt: 14 1/2 × 13 1/2 × 24 in. (36.8 × 34.3 × 61 cm). Rough Point Collection, Newport Restoration Foundation, Newport, Rhode Island

The Bryant Vase, 1876. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Designed by James Horton Whitehouse (1833–1902); chased by Eugene J. Soligny (1832–1901); medallions by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907. Made in New York City. Silver and gold: 33 1/2 x 14 x 11 5/16 in. (85.1 x 35.6 x 28.7 cm); Diam. 11 5/16 in. (28.7cm); 452 oz. 16 dwt. (14084.2 g) Metropolitan Museum of Art. #77.9a, b

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Goelet Cup, Schooner Prize, 1884. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Designed by Eugene J. Soligny (1832–1901), James Horton Whitehouse (1833–1902) and Charles Osborne (1847–1920). Made in New York City. Silver and silver gilt: 18 5/8 × 10 1/4 × 22 in. (47.3 × 26 × 55.9 cm). Lent by the New York Yacht Club

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) Gallery view of Collecting Inspiration, showing display of glass bottles and flasks from the Roman Empire era and a glass cinerary urn with lid, 1st to 4th centuries.

Plate with Vegetal Decoration in a Seven-pointed Star, 1655-80. Made in Iran. Stonepaste, polychrome-painted under transparent glaze: H. 2 ½ in. (6.4 cm) Diam. 18 ¼ in. (46.4 cm) Edward C. Moore Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art 91.1.129

Footed Bowl with Eagle Emblem, mid-13th century. Attributed probably Syria. Glass, dip-molded, blown, enameled, and gilded: H. 7 3/16 in. (18.3 cm); Max. Diam. 8 in. (20.3 cm); Diam. of Base: 5 in. (12.7 cm). Edward C. Moore Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art # 91,1.1538

Terracotta calyx-krater (mixing bowl), ca. 350–300 BCE. From the Greek colonies, southern Italy. Terracotta; applied color:14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm) Diameter: 8 7/8 in. × 3 9/16 in. (22.5 × 9 cm) Mouth: 36.3 cm (14 5/16 in.) Height: 3 5/8 in. (9.3 cm). Edward C. Moore Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art # 91.1.464

Meiji Era Lacquer Box, mid-19th century, Japan. Lacquered wood with gold and silver hiramaki-e, mother-of-pearl inlay on black lacquer ground; leather strap with metal fittings: H. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm); W. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm); D. 7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm). Edward C. Moore Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art # 91.1.629

Charles Calverley (American, 1833–1914) Edward C. Moore, 1894. Bronze: 17 3/4 x 16 x 6 3/4 in. (45.1 x 40.6 x 17.1 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of C. T. Cook and friends, 1894. #94.28

Ed Voves, Photo (2024) The Magnolia Vase, 1893. Manufactured by Tiffany & Co. Silver, enamel, gold, and opals: Overall: 30 7/8 x 19 1/2 in. (78.4 x 49.5 cm); 838 oz. 11 dwt. (26081.6 g) Foot: Diam. 13 1/2 in.(34.1 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art # 99.2

No comments:

Post a Comment