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Tiffany Studios New York "Peony" Table Lamp

Tiffany’s “Peony” table lamp is a work grounded in naturalism, but reaching for the divine. With a shade of resplendent blooms and a mosaic base evoking the hallowed ground of church floors, Tiffany’s peony lamp demonstrates his foundation in both Art Nouveau and ecclesiastical art. To achieve this multi-hued bouquet, Tiffany depicted two different cultivars, a Greek peony, and a Japanese peony. Tiffany used burgundy glass streaked with lapis to express the richness of the Greek Peony—a bloom favored by Neoclassical artists for their symmetry and simplicity. To represent the candy-striped Japanese peony Shima Nishiki, Tiffany used cream glass streaked with fuchsia. The shade elegantly depicts different stages of growth from the bud, first bloom, peak bloom, to wilting. When peony petals wilt, their veins darken, and their form puckers. Tiffany’s glass selectors chose a stone-textured glass called granite glass to express the wilting of the petals and their pronounced venation. The background and border of the shade is a golden amber, streaked with magenta and blue. 

The top-down perspective of the peony with a dirt background references a type of painting called “Rasenstück”, a detailed study of a piece of turf. Tiffany’s inclusion of brown glass in floral backgrounds highlights the dirt from which they grew, shifting the viewer’s perspective from the ideal to the real. The crux of the Rasenstück was the elevation of the humble. Popularized in the nineteenth century by the American Pre-Raphaelites, the movement believed in the idea of "truth to nature". The principle encouraged painters to capture the natural world as truthfully as possible, not romanticizing what they saw. In these nature studies, painters depicted flowers and trees in the soil from which they grew.

In Tiffany’s mosaic base, a frieze of turtleback tiles hypnotizes the viewers with its scarlet glow, evoking the red flash of a sunset, as seen through a field of cattails, rendered in bronze. Below it, the row of cat tails blends into a mosaic of red, yellow, and green glass. While Tiffany’s chief designer Clara Driscoll is most famous for her naturalistic lamp designs, the bread and butter of Tiffany Studios was its ecclesiastical department. Red, yellow, and green colorways were widely used in the depiction of Baroque angels, whose wings were modeled after birds of paradise. Most Europeans only saw birds of paradise in the form of millinery, and as hunters removed the birds’ legs upon sale, many believed they neither ate nor drank, and instead floated ethereally like angels.

While sublime on its own, the shade and base taken together paint a picture of Tiffany’s Japanese garden. Peonies imported from the far east bordered serene ponds. This shade and base combination was so loved by Barbara Streisand that she built an entire Art nouveau room around it in Carolwood. 

A lamp such as this epitomizes Tiffany’s understanding of his artistic vision in the context of the entire history of artistic expression. Since falling in love with glass at age 12 in the cathedrals of Chartres, light itself became a representation of divinity. A contemporary critic described Tiffany’s mosaics as follows:

“As one sits before it the magic light of heaven seems to come and go and one may see the dawn of day, the glow of morning, the splendor of high noon, the glory of the declining sun, and the pale beauty of the moonlight, succeeding one the other upon mountain, stream, and forest. Nothing, it seems to the beholder, was ever so resplendent.”

The more sublime nature became, the closer earth came to Eden. Tiffany’s genius was to capture this divinity in an artistic light.


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  • Product Details
  • Curator's Notes

Item #: L-20830
Artist: Tiffany Studios New York
Country: United States
Circa: 1900
Dimensions: 22" diameter x 32" height
Materials: Leaded Glass, Patinated Bronze
Shade Signed: Tiffany Studios New York 1505-15
Base Signed: Tiffany Studios New York 391
Provenance: John Agen, circa 1910 Thence by descent Estate of Jane B. Sylvester
Literature: Dr. Egon Neustadt, The Lamps of Tiffany, New York, 1970, pp. 147 (for the base) and 151-153 (for the shade) Alastair Duncan, Tiffany At Auction, New York, 1981, pp. 85, no. 227, 112, no. 301 and 124, no. 334 (for the shade) William Feldstein, Jr. and Alastair Duncan, The Lamps of Tiffany Studios, New York, 1983, p. 16 (for the shade) Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, London, 2007, p. 46 (for the shade) Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2019, pp. 175, nos. 706 and 708 and 238, no. 944 (for the shade); p. 92, no. 350 (for the base)

In Victorian times, peonies represented bashfulness, since mischievous nymphs were said to hide in their magnificent petals. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine how the Tiffany Studios New York designer responsible for such a fabulous interplay of color and glass was able to come up with such a playful and multifaceted design.