One of the most extraordinary pieces made in Tiffany’s jewelry workshop at the turn of the 20th century is a pink tourmaline iris brooch signed by George Paulding Farnham (1859-1927). Audrey Friedman, co – founder with her husband, Haim Manishevitz, of the Primavera Gallery, bought it at Christie’s in the early 1990s for their private collection. This summer I was lucky enough to meet with Audrey, examine the brooch and consider Paulding Farnham’s name in the jewelry world: from the peak of his career in 1900, to his sad oblivion, and later rediscovery as one of the greatest American Jewelry designers.

Audrey recounted the story of her acquisition of the iris: “I have always been a nature lover, and especially drawn to flowers.  I have many beautiful flower jewels in my collection, and when the Paulding Farnham iris brooch came up for sale at auction, I knew I had to have it. I had long been an admirer of Farnham’s jewelry and objects, and this was truly an iconic piece. For me, it was much more beautiful than the one in the Walters Collection, which I thought was rather stiff.

This iris is lyrical, with the gentle curves of the stem and brilliant green of the demantoid  garnet –  set leaves, and the graceful  fall of the iris petals, set with stones of shimmering pinks and purples. I went to the sale not knowing how much I was willing to pay for it, and I just kept bidding until it was mine, even out-bidding Tiffany for it.  While I have worn it on a number of occasions, I enjoy just handling and admiring it, and feeling fortunate indeed to have something so magical.”

The Iris shows Farnham’s craftsmanship at its finest: about 5 inches long, it is delicate in design but not fragile. A highly important piece of American jewelry, the brooch bears both Tiffany’s mark and Paulding Farnham’s full signature. There are only a handful jewels that we know of with Farnham’s signature. Tiffany’s emeritus director John Loring published in 2000 that Farnham had created this Iris for his wife, sculptor Sally Welles James, who had admired the blue sapphire Iris brooch he designed for the Paris Exposition.[i] Loring did not provide a source for such claim, but in a 1999 article for the Magazine Antiques, former Tiffany archivist Janet Zapata described the Iris, together with other three jewels inscribed with Farnham’s signature, and two of them were presents to Farnham’s wife.[ii]

The brooch is organic in both its naturalistic representation of a flower and its harmonious design. In the Victorian era, botanical and flower jewelry was very popular, and irises were an exotic import gaining popularity in American gardening circles. Faceted pink tourmalines of subtly varying shades cover the upright petals, as well as the three downward-facing sepals. The central sepal has a hinge so that the Iris moves with the wearer. Brilliant green demantoid garnets adorn the stem and leaf, which Farnham elegantly curved, giving liveliness to the jewel. The top of the leaf emerges in between two of the sepals, adding three-dimensionality to the brooch.  Diamonds set in platinum convey the natural sparkle of dewdrops at the centre of the petals. Golden topazes  are set at the start of each petal, recreating the “beard” found on the mid-line of the blossom.

Despite the differences in size, design and gemstones, this description closely matches the other Iris jewel that Farnham created in 1900: a near to life-size corsage brooch of 9.5 inches in height, decorated with 134 blue Montana sapphires, in keeping with Tiffany’s desire to use stones native to the United States, and inscribed with Tiffany’s mark.[iii] The railroad magnate Henry Walters purchased the piece at the Paris Exposition Universelle for $6,906, and it is now on display at the Walters’ Art Museum.[iv]

Biography

Paulding Farnham first began working for Tiffany & Co. around 1885, at the age of 24, upon the completion of his apprenticeship at Tiffany School.[v] His first job was to assist the company’s chief designer and renowned silversmith Edward C. Moore. Farnham’s first international recognition would arrive at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. He received the Gold Medal for his series of enameled orchids, modeled on specific varieties of real flowers.[vi]  It seems quite obvious that Rene Lalique, Etienne Gautrait and other French jewelers were inspired by these pieces.

The fine detail, careful selection of materials, and meticulous craftsmanship in Farnham’s orchids and irises derives from his fruitful collaboration with George Frederick Kunz (1856-1912), Tiffany’s renowned gem expert. Annamarie V. Sandecki, Tiffany’s corporate archivist, quotes Kunz to describe how the orchids were made: “the colors of the flowers were copied by the… artist who produced not only the elaborate… sketches, but reproduced the exact color of each petal by dissecting the flower.”[vii] Together, Farnham and Kunz promoted America’s vast mineral wealth and created designs featuring American materials

By 1900, Farnham was at the peak of his career, overseeing both the jewelry division and the silver department as creative director of Tiffany & Co. Despite the strong competition with European artistic jewelers, Farnham received two gold medals at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris—, where visitors also admired the spectacular displays of Lalique, George Fouquet and Russian court jeweler Carl Faberge, among others. One critic of the Exposition said of the Tiffany & Co. jewelry display: “In the matter of design they are produced wholly from original and novel ideas emanating from the alert American mind of Mr. Paulding Farnham, the art director of the house, who has for the past two or three years been planning this display […]”[viii]

Sadly, the end of Farnham’s illustrious career with Tiffany was imminent. His long time patron Charles Lewis Tiffany died in 1902, followed in 1907 by Charles T. Cook, president of Tiffany’s and Farnham’s uncle, who had initially introduced him to the company.[ix] By 1907 Louis Comfort Tiffany had taken control of the firm, and became chief jewelry designer as well. Although Farnham and Louis Comfort collaborated at first on a number of pieces, most notably favrile glass flacons with enamel and jewel encrusted tops, they had very different ideas. Louis Comfort thought Farnham’s Renaissance – inspired designs were outmoded, and wanted to introduce his own design ideas. Farnham resigned in June 1908, and would never design jewelry again.  He worked as a sculptor in New York until around 1910. He then abandoned  family for extended travels in Canada and California, where he ended his days painting historical marine series.

Legacy

Although Paulding Farnham remained largely unrecognized for most part of the twentieth century, there was a resurgence of interest in his work beginning in the 1970’s, and pieces of his that came onto the market, especially at auction, commanded high prices. His contributions to Tiffany and the historical importance of his silver and jewelry designs are apparent today more than ever. Starting in 1991 and 1999, Janet Zapata, then archivist at Tiffany & Co., wrote two articles about him in the magazine Antiques. In 2000 John Loring wrote the first monograph on Tiffany’s Lost Genius. Two books from 2006 highlight Farnham’s jewelry, including the irises: Jeweled Garden by Suzanne Tennenbaum and Janet Zapata, as well as Clare Phillips’ Bejeweled by Tiffany. In 2008 the exhibition catalogue Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique features both the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and George Paulding Farnham at the turn of the century. In the catalogue’s chapter on Tiffany, independent curator Jeannine Falino details Farnham’s twenty-three years of work at the American leading maison, and his contributions to the World’s Fairs. Farnham’s signed iris was actually chosen for the catalogue’s cover (image) and Audrey and Haim  lent the brooch to be displayed in the exhibition, first at the Cleveland Museum of Art until January 2009, and then at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco until June 2009.

It is clear that Farnham’s pieces are highly valued and sought after today by collectors and museums. Besides the Walters’ iris, other works by Farnham have made their way to the collections of renowned museums. A Renaissance style necklace gifted by collector and an MFA trustee Susan B. Kaplan is at the The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In New York, the Brooklyn Museum has an Art Nouveau Silver Vase in the Luce Study Collection, the Cooper Hewitt has the lapel watch in the shape of a rose, and the Metropolitan Museum has some of his most outstanding works, including one of the famous enameled orchids for the Paris Exposition of 1889 and a the opulent Adams vase made in solid gold on view in the American wing.[i] Presently, curator Jeannine Falino has chosen to feature one of Farnham’s 1889 luxurious pendants in the exhibition New York Silver, Then and Now at the Museum of the City of NY.[ii] With all the research material available, and as his jewels continue to surface, I believe a single exhibition devoted to Farnham’s genius is in order: a testament to both his work for the highly regarded American firm and his contribution to the jewelry design world at large.

End notes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/over-the-top

A pendant bonbonnière of gold, platinum and sapphires designed by G. Paulding Farnham for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.

References

“The Tiffany display at Paris.” The Art Interchange 44, no. 5 (May 01, 1900): 112.

Busch, Jason T. and Catherine L. Futter. Inventing the modern world: decorative arts at the world’s fairs, 1851-1939. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; New York: Skira, 2012.

Craft, Meg and Glenn Gates. “The Tiffany Iris Analyzed.” Journal of the Walters Art Museum vol. 70-71 (2012-2013): pp 128-132

Gere, Charlotte. Victorian Jewellery Design. Chicago, 1972: pp. 216-277.

Harrison, Stephen, Emmanuel Ducamp, Jeannine Falino, et. al. Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique. San Francisco and the Cleveland Museum of Art, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, c2008.

Loring, John. “Tiffany’s forgotten star: Rediscovering the masterful designs of Paulding Farnham.” Architectural Digest 59, no. 3 (2002): 66-76.

Loring, John. Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s lost genius. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2000

Phillips, Clare. Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2006.

Tennenbaum, Suzanne and Janet Zapata. Jeweled gardens: a colorful history of gems, jewelry, and nature. New York, N.Y.: Vendome Press, 2006.

Zapata, Janet. “More about Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire.” The Magazine Antiques 155, no. 3 (03, 1999): 424-431.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire, Part I: Jewelry.” Antiques 139, no. 3 (1991): 556-567.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire: Part II – Silver.” Antiques 139, no. 4 (1991): 718-729.

Zapata, Janet. The jewelry and enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993.

The Iris brooch has also been exhibited in:

Tiffany & Co. A Retrospective

Mitsukoshi Museum of Art, Tokyo, 02.25-04.06.99

Daimaro Museum, Umeda-Osaka, 04.16-05.10.99

Mitsukoshi Gallery, Nagoya, 06.09-06.21.99

Mitsukoshi Gallery, Fukuoka, 08.10-08.29.99

The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut

Unearthing the Allure of Gems 03/01/03 – 09/26/03

End Notes:

[1] Loring 2000, p. 34.

[1] One example of signed jewelry for his wife is a 1900 colored sapphires ring, now in the collection of Sheila Tinsley, Farnham’s granddaughter. Zapata 1999, p. 427.

[1] The Walters’ iris has The Tiffany & Co. mark for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle: the initials TCO over a peacock feather.

[1] The Walters Art Museum, http://art.thewalters.org/detail/30663/iris-corsage-ornament/

[1] Zapata 1991, p. 558.

[1] To read more on Tiffany’s orchids, See Phillips 2006, p. 202-09.

[1] Inventing the modern world, p. 150

[1] The Art Interchange 1900, p. 112.

[1] Farnham’s mother sister, Eleanor M. Paulding, was married to Charles Thomas Cook, the right-hand man to Charles Lewis Tiffany.

[1] The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/over-the-top

[1] A pendant bonbonnière of gold, platinum and sapphires designed by G. Paulding Farnham for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.

References

The Tiffany display at Paris.” The Art Interchange 44, no. 5 (May 01, 1900): 112.

Busch, Jason T. and Catherine L. Futter. Inventing the modern world: decorative arts at the world’s fairs, 1851-1939. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; New York: Skira, 2012.

Craft, Meg and Glenn Gates. “The Tiffany Iris Analyzed.” Journal of the Walters Art Museum vol. 70-71 (2012-2013): pp 128-132

Gere, Charlotte. Victorian Jewellery Design. Chicago, 1972: pp. 216-277.

Harrison, Stephen, Emmanuel Ducamp, Jeannine Falino, et. al. Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique. San Francisco and the Cleveland Museum of Art, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, c2008.

Loring, John. “Tiffany’s forgotten star: Rediscovering the masterful designs of Paulding Farnham.” Architectural Digest 59, no. 3 (2002): 66-76.

Loring, John. Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s lost genius. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2000

Phillips, Clare. Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2006.

Tennenbaum, Suzanne and Janet Zapata. Jeweled gardens: a colorful history of gems, jewelry, and nature. New York, N.Y.: Vendome Press, 2006.

Zapata, Janet. “More about Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire.” The Magazine Antiques 155, no. 3 (03, 1999): 424-431.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire, Part I: Jewelry.” Antiques 139, no. 3 (1991): 556-567.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire: Part II – Silver.” Antiques 139, no. 4 (1991): 718-729.

Zapata, Janet. The jewelry and enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993.

End notes

[i] Loring 2000, p. 34.

[ii] One example of signed jewelry for his wife is a 1900 colored sapphires ring, now in the collection of Sheila Tinsley, Farnham’s granddaughter. Zapata 1999, p. 427.

[iii] The Walters’ iris has The Tiffany & Co. mark for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle: the initials TCO over a peacock feather.

[iv] The Walters Art Museum, http://art.thewalters.org/detail/30663/iris-corsage-ornament/

[v] Zapata 1991, p. 558.

[vi] To read more on Tiffany’s orchids, See Phillips 2006, p. 202-09.

[vii] Inventing the modern world, p. 150

[viii] The Art Interchange 1900, p. 112.

[ix] Farnham’s mother sister, Eleanor M. Paulding, was married to Charles Thomas Cook, the right-hand man to Charles Lewis Tiffany.

[x] The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/over-the-top

[xi] A pendant bonbonnière of gold, platinum and sapphires designed by G. Paulding Farnham for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.

References

“The Tiffany display at Paris.” The Art Interchange 44, no. 5 (May 01, 1900): 112.

Busch, Jason T. and Catherine L. Futter. Inventing the modern world: decorative arts at the world’s fairs, 1851-1939. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; New York: Skira, 2012.

Craft, Meg and Glenn Gates. “The Tiffany Iris Analyzed.” Journal of the Walters Art Museum vol. 70-71 (2012-2013): pp 128-132

Gere, Charlotte. Victorian Jewellery Design. Chicago, 1972: pp. 216-277.

Harrison, Stephen, Emmanuel Ducamp, Jeannine Falino, et. al. Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique. San Francisco and the Cleveland Museum of Art, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, c2008.

Loring, John. “Tiffany’s forgotten star: Rediscovering the masterful designs of Paulding Farnham.” Architectural Digest 59, no. 3 (2002): 66-76.

Loring, John. Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s lost genius. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2000

Phillips, Clare. Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2006.

Tennenbaum, Suzanne and Janet Zapata. Jeweled gardens: a colorful history of gems, jewelry, and nature. New York, N.Y.: Vendome Press, 2006.

Zapata, Janet. “More about Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire.” The Magazine Antiques 155, no. 3 (03, 1999): 424-431.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire, Part I: Jewelry.” Antiques 139, no. 3 (1991): 556-567.

Zapata, Janet. “The Rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s Designer Extraordinaire: Part II – Silver.” Antiques 139, no. 4 (1991): 718-729.

Zapata, Janet. The jewelry and enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993.

By Ana Estrades and Audrey Friedman

The above material is copyright protected. No part may be used without written permission of Audrey Friedman.