The delicate poppies on this rare enameled box, made under the supervision of Louis Comfort Tiffany ca. 1900, are almost distractingly beautiful - but underneath the lid you’ll find a fascinating provenance that rivals even these glass flowers.
This piece was originally owned by Joseph Heil, a legendary collector who was among the earliest wave of Tiffany’s modern devotees - a group that included Walter Chrysler Jr., Edgar Kaufman Jr. (a major figure in the Design department MoMA) and other frequent mid-century visitors to Lillian Nassau's gallery.
Heil’s collection included everything from “fancy goods” like this box to paintings by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Favrile Glass vases of every type - he even collected the Roman vases that inspired Tiffany.
When Heil began collecting, following Tiffany's death in 1933, interest in these objects had waned due to changing tastes. While we have documentation of the large architectural works that are no longer extant, we still do not know how many smaller Tiffany glass pieces were lost or destroyed.
Thanks to the efforts of these dedicated early collectors, everything changed in 1958 when the first major retrospective on Tiffany was held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts - the exhibition drew extensively from the collections of Heil, Chrysler, Kaufman Jr., Robert Koch and other prominent Tiffany figures - including Lillian Nassau. The show was a hit, and the fever for Tiffany lamps and glass quickly took hold.
This box was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1960, when Heil donated over 150 examples of Tiffany’s work to the museum (the box retains its original painted accession number on both the lid and base).
While MoMA still holds many of the original works from this donation, the museum de-accessioned a select group in a sale at Christie’s in 2003.
All proceeds from the sale have been used for the purchase of turn of the century design objects that, like the Tiffany Glass pieces, bridge two movements in design: Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau.