Walking through the Lyman Allyn Art Museum’s Chappell Gallery, which is dedicated to the artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, is like going back in time to experience the opulence and luxury of the Gilded Age. Its walls saturated with colors of deep eggplant and luxuriant midnight blue, the New London gallery is not only an artistic experience, but a historic tour through Tiffany’s life and ties to the coastal city.
The new, permanent exhibit, Tiffany in New London, features about 100 pieces of exceptional examples of the diversity and inventiveness of Tiffany’s style. Among the art, photos, furniture, jewelry and adornments, many of which were donated by the artist’s descendants, is the famed Dragonfly Lamp, created in 1906 by Tiffany Studios and designed by Clara Driscoll, as well as two stained-glass windows (River of Life and Saint Cecilia) from the Frank Loomis Palmer Mausoleum in New London’s Cedar Grove Cemetery. (Long believed to be a creation of Tiffany Studios, River of Life is now thought to have been made by J & R Lamb Studios.)
What some are calling the heart of the exhibit is Tiffany Studios’ colorful favrile glass window, Come Unto Me, which wasinstalled in 1924 at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New London before the museum purchased it several years ago when the church was sold. Created using Tiffany’s innovative glass-making method of infusing the color into the glass itself, this work of art is a permanent mainstay of the exhibit, not only for its artistic virtue, but also because it acts as a piece of the woven thread tying Tiffany to New London and the state.
“This exhibit is a big deal for us and we are excited to have it,” says Sam Quigley, the museum’s director. “Putting all modesty aside, this exhibit is beautiful, luscious and ethereal. The pieces are set off perfectly against the backdrop of the newly renovated space and the whole exhibit just seems to glitter and glow. It’s entrancing and a true example of the Gilded Age of art when money was no object.”
Hailing from Killingly, Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, who, in the 19th century, left Connecticut for New York City and started what eventually turned into the famed Tiffany & Co., specializing in jewelry and other prized luxury goods.
The younger Tiffany’s brother-in-law, Alfred Mitchell, was also from Connecticut. The Mitchells acquired a home in New London overlooking the Thames River (now home to Mitchell College). Tiffany and his family frequented the Mitchell home, the artist drawing inspiration from the serene surroundings.
Originally trained as a painter, Tiffany had a great affinity for the arts. He was an interior designer, among other pursuits, and designed the original interior of the Mark Twain House in Hartford. An innovator at heart, Tiffany is said to have fallen in love with the iridescent ancient glass he viewed during a visit to a museum in London. He worked with various mediums, but it is his creation of favrile glass that made him most famous. His pieces are peppered throughout the state, adorning church altars, libraries and universities. One such iconic piece is a stained-glass window known as Education that graces the wall of Yale University’s Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Considered one of Tiffany’s most important designs, it is an awe-inspiring, 30-foot-wide triptych, populated with more than 20 enlightening figures.
“Our Tiffany exhibit tells the interesting story of Louis Comfort’s life and his ties to Connecticut, specifically the New London area,” Quigley says. “This is a story few knew and the exhibit gives area residents a sense of pride in the fact that their hometown participated in such an important part of history.”
The Lyman Allyn Art Museum is located at 625 Williams St. in New London. Museum admission is $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students; children under 12 and New London residents are free.