Tiffany Treasures: Design Drawings by Alice Gouvy and Lillian Palmié
The restoration of eight watercolor sketches from the enamel department of the Tiffany Furnaces provides the impetus for an important exhibit at the Rakow Research Library. Executed by Alice Gouvy and Lillian Palmié around 1902, seven of the drawings bear their signatures, now made more clearly discernible thanks to the conservation work completed by Michelle Phillips at Westlake Conservators (Skaneateles, N.Y.). The eighth drawing, which is unsigned, was most likely by either Gouvy or Palmié.
The drawings served as a reference for the design and production of luxury household objects increasingly in demand by a wealthy American consumer society. Louis Tiffany’s entrepreneurial skill was matched only by his unifying artistic vision, steeped in the Art Nouveau movement popular at the turn of the 20th century, and inspired by forms found in the natural world. The Gouvy and Palmié drawings depict flowers and plants in their natural state. The details, an insect alighting on a petal, for example, reflect a spontaneous hand that suggests a sketching party held in a garden on a summer’s day. The vivid colors of the original drawings, also revived by conservation, are mostly blue, green, and purple hues gently punctuated with dashes of yellow. The one exception is “Peonies,” where red predominates.
Tiffany employees worked in anonymity and for the most part remained unacknowledged. Female staff, who held their own with their male counterparts, nevertheless tended to have even less visibility, both in Tiffany’s enterprises and in the world of decorative arts overall. In recent decades, however, they have received long overdue attention. The 1993 publication by Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany, refers to the work of both Alice Gouvy and Lillian Palmié in Tiffany’s enamel design and production. And in 2007, the New-York Historical Society mounted a comprehensive exhibition with an accompanying book titled A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. It contains additional information drawn primarily from the letters of Driscoll who supervised both Gouvy and Palmié, among many other talented women.