NEW YORK, NY -- With the opening of Japanese trade by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854, America and Europe were suddenly fascinated by all things Japanese. Collectors, craftsmen and artists quickly learned to appreciate the simple beauty and elegance of Japanese art and design and sought ways to incorporate them into their everyday lives. At the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, Japan displayed works by Meiji craftsmen, further captivating the attendees, which included Edward C. Moore of New York’s Tiffany & Co.
Edward C. Moore was Tiffany’s head of silver from 1868 to his death in 1891, and the company’s creativity flourished under his direction. Clearly enchanted by what he encountered at the Paris Exposition, Moore assembled a notable collection of Asian art, paintings and books from which he drew inspirations for Tiffany’s Japanesque silver (pieces from Moore’s personal collection are included in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.).
Created in 1871, Tiffany’s Japanese silver pattern was the first American flatware pattern to incorporate Asian design. The race was close, however, with rival Gorham’s similar flatware pattern appearing only months later. Tiffany’s Japanese pattern depicts Asian birds drawn from scroll paintings. Moore thought the paintings were Japanese, but in fact most of the birds depicted are actually native to China. One of the most unusual characteristics of the pattern is that it was perhaps the first flatware pattern in the world to have multiple motifs in the same service. When diners sat down at the table, they marveled at the different birds on each of the forks, knives and spoons they would use over the course of the meal.
Japanese pattern was created at huge expense by Tiffany’s skilled craftsmen. It was offered in a vast array of place pieces with a dizzying assortment of serving pieces to compliment them. The decoration was taken to a new level of refinement with “one-of-a-kind” elements added to many of the knife blades, spoon bowls and serving pieces. Fantastical geometric patterns inspired by Asian art were sometimes gilded in various shades of yellow and rose gold. A variety of finishes were also applied, so that matte grounds contrast with frosted and shiny finishes to dazzle in candlelit dining rooms. Tiffany & Co.’s great artistic engravers incorporated monograms in pseudo Japanese characters to highlight the exoticism of the pattern. Japanese pattern pieces that retain their original decoration in crisp fresh condition are especially coveted by collectors today.
In 1904 Japanese pattern was dropped from Tiffany’s flatware line due to changing tastes. It was revived in 1956 and rechristened Audubon pattern after the great American naturalist John James Audubon, who in reality had nothing to do with the design of the pattern. Audubon pattern continues in production and is currently Tiffany’s most popular active pattern.
Today with a relaxation in the rules of formal dining, mixing and matching of flatware is a marvelous way to enliven a dining table. Beautiful Japanese or Audubon pattern serving pieces and flatware with their myriad designs have continued to delight even the most discerning diners for more than a century.
American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts
The online-only auction of American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts closing on April 21 offers numerous sets of silver flatware by Tiffany & Co., including a service in the Japanese/Audubon pattern. Read More