Tiffany Studios began its first forays into the production of Art Pottery shortly after Louis Comfort Tiffany returned from the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, inspired by the innovative glazes and naturally derived forms of the French Art Nouveau ceramicists. After several years experimentation with formulas, glazes and forms, Tiffany Studios unveiled their Favrile Pottery at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The company produced Favrile Pottery until around 1915.
Though Louis Comfort Tiffany was officially named as the artistic genius behind the work, recent scholarship has revealed that Favrile Pottery was mostly designed by a select group of “Tiffany Girls" who were largely isolated in a specialized studio housed at Tiffany’s large complex in Corona, Queens. Though these young women were never credited with their work, surviving sketches and records identify Alice Gouvy, Lillian Palmié, and Edith Lautrup as three of the influential artists in the department.
Clara Driscoll enviously referred to the pottery and enamel department as “Little Arcadia." As Manager of the Women's Glass Cutting Department, located in Tiffany Studios' more commercially minded Manhattan building, Driscoll was frequently forced to set aside her artistic desires in the name of the financial interests of the company. Unlike Driscoll, the women of "Little Arcadia" were known to exercise great artistic freedom under Tiffany’s direction. The walls of their workspace were were plastered with delicate watercolor studies of the seed pods, flowers, and dried leaves that would go on to adorn vases or rare enamels.
"There they sit with snow-covered trees out of the windows and beautiful studies on the walls, and vases of seed pods and dried leaves and everything both in nature and art."
- Clara Driscoll, 1902 letter describing the working environment of Tiffany's pottery and enamel department
Like many of Tiffany Studios most successful Favrile Pottery designs, this sculptural vase takes the form of a living plant. The irregular leaves of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a common North American wetland plant and an early herald of spring, have been translated into gleaming Favrile Pottery.
Sprouting from the ground in shades of variegated green-brown with nearly black lowlights, the heavily veined, overlapping leaves taper to narrow points, leaving vertical strips of negative space as they stretch upward.
In 2020, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art acquired a series of studies by Alice Gouvy in watercolor and pencil which portray the skunk cabbage. These rare sketches depict the plant from several angles, a choice which would have aided in translating two dimensional sketches into a three dimensional vase, and feature a variety of production notes in addition to Gouvy's signature. A number of elements from the vase can be traced directly to this design drawing.
Gouvy's Skunk Cabbage sketch was unveiled in 2021 in the Morse Museum's ongoing exhibition Watercolors from Louis Comfort Tiffany’s ‘Little Arcadia'.
The body of this low bowl is formed by whirling waves of water. A series of fish in high relief stand out amidst the swirls, with the irregular rim of the bowl formed by the cresting waves. The vase features an allover irregular speckled yellow glaze with occasional drips of a darker variegated glaze which accentuate the scene.
An example of this form in Tiffany's "bronze pottery" (accession no. 55-009) is in the permanent collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida. The museum also holds two other examples of the form, including one in the unfinished bisque glaze (accession no. 66-018) and a rare example in glazed blue and white (accession no. 74-027) which bears the signature of Edith Lautrup, one of the few Tiffany Girls to whom specific designs can be attributed. Lautrup, a Danish-born artist who was employed at Bing & Grøndahl before emigrating to the United States around 1900, was the first head of the Favrile Pottery department at Tiffany Studios.
Martin Eidelberg, Tiffany Favrile Pottery and the Quest of Beauty, fig. 18, p. 19.