Louis C. Tiffany, Angel of Resurrection (1899; 90 x 37 inches) photo: Diane Rousseau / Worcester Art Museum
Worcester Art Museum (WAM), in Massachusetts, has on view an exhibition of stained glass works created by Louis C. Tiffany and John La Farge that have not been on view for more than 40 years. Originally commissioned for Boston’s Mount Vernon Congregational Church in the late 1890’s, the large stained glass works were donated to WAM in 1975 when the church vacated its building. On view to summer 2019, Radiance Rediscovered: Stained Glass by Tiffany and La Farge opened with the windows by Tiffany installed in the Contemporary Gallery. The panels by La Farge, which require additional restoration, go on view in the same space as the Tiffany windows in late September 2018. This exhibition is the first of three pre-contemporary American art projects supported by major funding from the Henry Luce Foundation.
"The Pool At Bethesda: The Angel Troubling The Water," John La Farge, 1898, watercolor with graphite on cream Japanese vellum paper, 13 5/8 x 5 1/4", Worcester Art Museum. Wikimedia Commons
The Tiffany windows, titled Angel of Resurrection (1899; 90 x 37 inches), show an angelic figure among a field of lilies. The La Farge panels, titled The Pool at Bethesda(1898; 133 3/8 x 31 7/8 inches), depict a scene from the New Testament, in which an angel of God stirs the healing waters of the pool at Bethesda. The windows are remnants of the American Gilded Age, an era that saw rapid economic growth and development—and a boom in church construction that also brought along a resurgence of interest in stained glass for its beauty and power in conveying narrative. Both sets of panels are undergoing extensive conservation work, to clean the glass and ensure the stability of their mountings, so that new audiences can experience the intricacies and vibrancy of their designs.
As part of the exhibition, the museum also features other works that highlight the artists’ creative visions and techniques, as well as their aesthetic influences, from paintings and works on paper to Favrile glass. Among these works is La Farge’s experimental Peacock Window (1892–1908)—another work in WAM’s collections—which simulates the vibrant coloration of the magnificent, exotic bird, and is the last example of La Farge working with the challenging process of cloisonné glass.
“The Museum’s American art collection is one of its strengths, and this is particularly so because many of these works connect directly to the history of New England,” said Matthias Waschek, C. Jean and Myles McDonough Director of the Worcester Art Museum. “In this case, it is a great pleasure to be able to present such fine examples of stained glass by its two American master artists, Tiffany and La Farge, and to explore new ways of sharing them with the public. We are tremendously grateful to the Luce Foundation for their support for this important project, and to guest curator Amanda Lett.”
The windows came to the Museum from what had been Mount Vernon Congregational Church in Boston. A thriving congregation in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, the Church bought its building in 1891 and quickly sought out to create new stained glass windows that would create a beautiful atmosphere for worshippers, and also speak to the spiritual and material strength of the community. Both Tiffany Glass and Decoration Company and John La Farge’s studio—the two leading stained glass artists of the age— were commissioned to create windows for the building.
As attendance at the Church began to dwindle in the 1970s, the congregation merged with another nearby church, leaving behind its building. Recognizing their importance, the congregation donated the Tiffany and La Farge windows to the Worcester Art Museum in 1975—saving them from subsequent ruin caused by a fire that destroyed all but the façade of the Mount Vernon Congregational Church building in 1978.
At the time they were acquired, the panels were covered in decades of dirt and grime; there also appeared to be damage from the harsh Boston winters, as well as from prior attempts at repair in the 1960s. When the Museum began conservation work in 2017, conservators saw that the Tiffany windows were in excellent structural shape, requiring primarily cleaning and targeted restoration work to ensure their ongoing stability. However, it became clear that the La Farge windows required more significant restoration, including fixing pieces of glass that had begun to slip out of the structural grid. That work—which is ongoing—is expected to be completed in September 2018, at which point the La Farge panels will join the Tiffany pieces in the gallery.
Radiance Rediscovered: Stained Glass by Tiffany and La Farge is curated by T. Amanda Lett, a Ph.D. candidate in History of Art & Architecture at Boston University.
For more information, visit worcesterart.org.
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