Secrets of Spring and Autumn

As spring approaches, the Delaware Art Museum welcomes visitors to the gorgeous exhibition Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. With its delicate floral-form vases and atmospheric landscape windows, the show is a fitting tribute to the coming season. Nearly all the work hails from the esteemed Chicago collection of Richard H. Driehaus—a vast and extraordinary collection of Tiffany. However, we couldn’t resist making one addition to the show: the windows from the home of Samuel Bancroft, who assembled the Museum’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite treasures. Adding Bancroft’s windows to the exhibition inspired me to dive into the research files and deepen my knowledge of these works known as Spring and Autumn, and I have a few secrets to share with you.

Exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair

A tantalizing note in our file suggests that Bancroft’s windows may have been exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and I wanted to confirm it, because this world’s fair was a very big deal (and the subject of my undergraduate thesis). At their height from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries, world’s fairs were opportunities for the display of art and industry from around the globe. Like the Olympic Games today, world’s fairs were massive events requiring the construction of villages, generally within major cities. They lasted for several months and attracted national and international tourism. The organizers of the Chicago World’s Fair were particularly keen to display the artistic accomplishments of the nation, as American artistry had been derided at earlier fairs. A team of top architects and designers created a temporary “White City” of neoclassical buildings, water features, and sculptures in Jackson Park, and American artists and designers were encouraged to send their very best work to the show.

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company created a chapel at the center of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building. Inside the chapel, light streamed in through several stained-glass windows and emanated from elaborate electrical fixtures, illuminating lavishly decorated elements, including a jewel-encrusted metal altar cross. A photograph of the Tiffany pavilion in the archives at the Morse Museum shows DelArt’s Spring. I located a copy of an original brochure from the exhibition and was delighted to find a “domestic window” illustrated and attributed to Lydia Field Emmet within.

Designed by Successful Painter

Lydia Field Emmet was born in New Rochelle, NY, Jan 23, 1866, the seventh of ten children. Her mother, Julia Colt Pierson, was an illustrator. Emmet studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and spent time at Giverny among other American artists. At the Art Students League of New York, she became a student of William Merritt Chase, who painted a striking portrait of her. Emmet established herself as a designer and illustrator, as well as a successful portrait painter. In 1893, the windows she designed for Tiffany were only one example of her work at the Chicago World’s Fair. She painted a mural panel for the Woman’s Building, which also featured murals by her sister Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low, and other prominent female painters.

Most mentions of Emmet related to the Fair reference her prominent mural. The Tiffany window is identified as her work on page 8 of the exhibition brochure, and it’s titled Autumn. Although similar format and style to the Bancroft windows at DelArt, this Autumn is definitely a different window. So, what’s the deal?

Autumn or Summer?

Logically, Emmet would have designed windows representing all four seasons. Representing the seasons allegorically as female figures was very popular in the 19th century. Correspondence between Bancroft and Tiffany representative J. C. Platt sheds light on the situation. Repeated mentions of windows coming from Chicago and from “the big show” assured me that both of our seasonal windows were on display. The letters, in the collection of the Delaware Historical Society, reveal some confusion about the identities of “the glass girls” coming to Wilmington. Bancroft and Platt go back and forth about whether Spring was being joined in Delaware by Summer or Autumn. We only have one side of the conversation, and Bancroft seems to have called her Summer in early letters and later Autumn, but I suspect the panel on the right was produced to represent summer. The lush greenery framing the woman seems more summery than autumnal, and Autumn was clearly identified in the brochure. Now, the real mystery, at least for me, is what Winter looks like and where I can see it!

Other Versions

The fact that these windows were produced for display at the World’s Fair may explain their elaboration. The Bancroft windows combine Tiffany’s innovative glass techniques. Folded drapery glass makes up the clothing, while the foliage combines confetti and streamer techniques. Chunks of faceted jewel glass form Spring’s collar, and both faces are extremely well painted. These were showpieces meant to display the technical brilliance of the company for an international audience. The designs were so successful that other versions of Spring and Autumn were produced. An alternate version of Spring, in an oval format, is in the Driehaus Collection and featured on the Wikipedia page for Louis Comfort Tiffany!

Briar Rose Border

Bancroft’s windows are framed by a border of interlaced flowers which wasn’t present in the World’s Fair display. After a conversation with his architect Frank Miles Day, Bancroft suggested the “Briar Rose” border to Platt, who sketched a design and recommended that Philadelphia artisan George McLean produce it. The inspiration was a painting in Bancroft’s collection: Edward Burne-Jones’s The Council Chamber. The picture represents the second scene in the Briar Rose series, a project that occupied Burne-Jones for more than 30 years. The series was based on the story of “Sleeping Beauty,” retold during the Victorian period by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) in his poem “The Day-Dream.” Indeed, Bancroft’s growing art collection was part of the impetus for the renovation and redecoration of his home. Like many wealthy Americans in the Gilded Age, Bancroft hired Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company for the job. The result was a sumptuous and harmonious space that incorporated his paintings, and the arrival of a stunning set of Tiffany windows in Delaware.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

Image: Spring and Autumn, c. 1892. Designed by Lydia Field Emmet (1866-1952). Tiffany Studios (1878-1933). Leaded glass, 37 x 51 ½ inches. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.