An Exemplary Tiffany Stained-Glass Window Is Coming to The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired a three-part Tiffany window by one of the company’s most influential designers, Agnes Northrop. Measuring more than 20 feet long, “Garden Landscape” (1912) depicts a lush outdoor scene brimming with blooming flowers and towering trees. It comprises thousands of pieces of Favrile glass, and like other stained glass works from the period, shares a common language with the era’s Impressionist paintings.

“She’s not a household name, although she should be,” The Met’s Curator of American Decorative Arts Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen told Hyperallergic. The museum has held a watercolor design pamphlet for the window’s central panel in its collection since 1967, an object that spurred the curator’s research into the designer.

Northrop was born in 1857 in Flushing, Queens, where she spent almost her entire life. She began working for Louis Comfort Tiffany shortly after he established his design firm in 1885. She became one of the company’s most important window creators and stayed at Tiffany for 50 years. Late in life, she wrote a memoir that offered a window into her prolific career.

“Her greatest passion was designing windows,” said Frelinghuysen. By the 1890s, Tiffany and Northrop had ushered in a new wave of window design that featured landscapes and gardens rather than the human subjects traditionally depicted in the medium. According to Frelinghuysen, Northrop made it clear that she never wanted to create figures.

The right panel, which features hollyhocks

The Met’s new artwork includes an array of intricately designed flora: Hollyhocks rendered in rich pinks and purples, foxglove blossoms featuring light-to-dark striations to create depth, and pine needles etched with acid to create a spiky effect. Flower buds near the central fountain include yellow centers made with the millefiori technique, which creates the slices of glass commonly seen in paperweights.

“This is unique in a stained-glass window and unique in a Tiffany window,” Frelinghuysen explained. “They were pulling out all of the stops.”

Frelinghuysen sees a dialogue between the window and the Impressionist paintings of the period, a topic the curator said has been on her mind for years. In 1993, she collaborated on an exhibition with Tiffany glass surrounded by Monets.

“Without having to say a word, you could make those connections,” Frelinghuysen noted. “It was about light; it was about color. The Impressionists were preoccupied with that, and Tiffany was preoccupied with that.” She pointed out how both art forms relied on multiple colors coming together to create one cohesive image and noted shared motifs, namely hollyhocks, poplars (as seen in many of Monet’s works), and gardens in general.

While many women designers worked for Tiffany in the company’s earlier years, the firm became increasingly male-dominated as time went on. (A few women continued to hold important positions, including lampshade designer Clara Driscoll.) Northrop had her own studio and at one point led the Tiffany Girls, who cut the glass to make the company’s famous mosaic patterns. Frelinghuysen said the hand of this group of women is evident in the newly acquired window.

In 1912, another prominent early-20th-century woman, Sarah Cochran, commissioned Northrop to create a glasswork for her newly constructed Tudor Revival mansion on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cochran, born the same year as Northrop, had married into a coal dynasty, and after her father-in-law and husband died, she ran the family business for decades, growing it to three times its original size and becoming one of the wealthiest women in the United States.

Cochran died in 1936, and her mansion was purchased by the Steel Workers of America, who restored the home. The house eventually went to a private buyer, who sold Northrop’s window. The Met ultimately acquired the work from a private buyer.

The museum will place Northrop’s window on public view in November 2024 in its Charles Engelhard Court, where it currently showcases other stained glass windows. Frelinghuysen hopes the display will be an “immersive, environmental experience.” Elizabeth McGoey, a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago who has worked with that institution’s recently acquired Northrop window, told Hyperallergic she was “thrilled” to see one of the designer’s works entering another public collection.

“It was one of those things where when you saw it, you got it,” the curator said of The Met staff’s reaction to the new acquisition. “You almost didn’t have to say anything.”

Poplars line the background of the central panel.

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