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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Saga of Andrew Carnegie's Tiffany Memorial Window (1913), or, Does an Art Nouveau Landscape Belong in a Medieval Scottish Abbey?




The Carnegie window, in the 1913 Tiffany catalog
Andrew Carnegie, the Scots immigrant to the United States who became an extremely wealthy and powerful industrialist during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a man who could certainly recognize and afford products of the best quality, made to his most exacting standards. Therefore, it is not surprising that when Mr. Carnegie decided to have a stained glass window created in memory of his family, to be installed in the abbey church in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland, he commissioned the renowned New York City firm of Tiffany Studios to do the job.

The memorial window, an exquisite landscape scene with trees, hills, and flowering rhododendrons depicted in the brilliantly iridescent, colored Favrile glass patented by Tiffany in 1880, was probably designed either by Agnes Northrup, the principal designer of landscape and floral windows for Tiffany Studios, or perhaps by the visionary founder of the firm himself, master craftsman Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Carnegie’s window, shaped for a long, narrow opening topped by a rounded arch, is featured in a printed catalog that was published in 1913 as an advertisement for Tiffany’s Ecclesiastical Department: Memorials in Glass and Stone: Tiffany Favrile Glass, Tiffany Windows, Tiffany Mosaics, Tiffany Monuments, Tiffany Granite. The landscape window, designed in the fashionable Art Nouveau style, was to be accompanied by a Tiffany Favrile glass mosaic panel, bearing the following inscription:

In loving memory of Father, Mother, Sister and Brother
born in Dunfermline
erected by the sole survivor
Andrew Carnegie
and his wife
1913

The family members whom Andrew Carnegie wished to honor included his mother Margaret (died 1886), his father Will (died 1855), his brother Thomas (died 1886), and his sister Anne, who died in early childhood before the rest of the family immigrated from Dunfermline to the United States in 1848. Andrew Carnegie, who postponed marrying until the age of 51 apparently out of deference to his late mother, took Louise Whitfield to be his wife in 1887.

It must have been quite a feat to create this large and exceedingly fragile stained glass window in New York, transport it by ship across the Atlantic to Dunfermline, and install it in the medieval Abbey, parts of which date back to the 11th century. A letter now in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s library, handwritten on Tiffany Studios stationery, dated April 11, 1913, from Harold Harrisson to Carnegie, notes, “Your window is progressing rapidly and we expect to have the same completed and set up in our show room about the middle of May. If you are in the city at that time, I trust I may have the pleasure of meeting you here, if you desire to inspect it before it is shipped.”

Page one of Harrisson's letter



Page two of Harrisson's letter

























Nevertheless, Carnegie’s plan to have the Tiffany memorial window installed at the Abbey was blocked by the Dean of Dumfermline Abbey and His Majesty’s Commission for Ancient Monuments, on the grounds that it was "unecclesiastical and too modern,” as described in the British newspaper, the Independent (volume 77, page 9, January 5, 1914). While Carnegie apparently believed that the beautiful landscape depicted in the window expressed the glories of God with a sense of religious emotion, the administrators of the Abbey complained that the window was “an anachronism and inharmonious with the rest of the edifice.”

Carnegie’s exquisite Favrile glass window became something of an embarrassment to the city of Dunfermline, where it was kept packed away in a cellar until 1937. In that year, it was installed in an auditorium in Dunfermline's newly built Carnegie Hall. However, a translucent window, even one as gorgeous as Carnegie’s, was considered a nuisance in the auditorium because most theatrical productions wanted to be able to manipulate artificial lighting for the stage, and the window was covered over in the 1970s and left to deteriorate.

Added title page for the 1913 Tiffany catalog
The residents and friends of Dunfermline developed a renewed appreciation for the window in the 1980s and raised funds to have it moved to a display case in a restaurant located within the Carnegie Hall. However, by that time, the window was judged to be in need of major restoration work costing tens of thousands of dollars. In September, 2007, the City of Dunfermline Area Committee of the Fife Council outlined three options for the future of the window, including returning it to a display in the Carnegie Hall, moving it into a new Dunfermline Museum at that time under construction, or transferring it to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust. Finally, after the restoration of the window was completed in 2008, it went on display at the headquarters of the Trust, where it can be viewed by the public upon request.

This copy of the 1913 Tiffany catalog featuring the Carnegie family memorial window, and the letter to Carnegie from Tiffany Studios employee Harold Harrisson, are now part of the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum library, located in a newly renovated townhouse adjacent to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (Andrew Carnegie's former home) at 2 East 91st Street, New York, New York. These items were formerly owned by the Museum of the City of New York and were transferred by deed of gift to the Cooper-Hewitt in 2011.

Tiffany Studios (New York, NY). Memorials in Glass and Stone. (New York: Tiffany Studios, 1913) NK5198.T5 A4 1913 CHMRB

Harold Harrisson letter to Andrew Carnegie, New York, N.Y., 1913 April 11. NK5198.T5 A4 1913b CHMRB

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

3 comments:

  1. There is an online version of the 1913 Tiffany catalog at:

    http://ia700701.us.archive.org/28/items/tiffanyfavrilegl00tiff/tiffanyfavrilegl00tiff.pdf

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  2. A leaflet published by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust says "this window was principally worked on by Ann Fairchild Northrop", but I don't know what evidence they have for this (and it should be Agnes, not Ann).

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  3. Thank you very much for the link to the online edition of the catalog and the note about the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust leaflet!

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