Sea of Mystery

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Feb 26, 2013 4:55PM

By Alison Charny

This design for a stained glass window of a mermaid beneath the sea was commissioned by Associated Artists (the decorating firm of Louis Comfort TiffanyCandace Wheeler, with (at times) Samuel Colman and Lockwood de Forest) for the Manhattan home of Wells Fargo President Ashbel H. Barney at 101 East Thirty-Eighth Street. This subject is a variation on the theme of the fisherman and the mermaid (a fantastic tale of a fisherman's encounter with mythical underwater creatures and his eventual union with them after he dies), about which Vedder executed many drawings and several paintings. 

Elihu Vedder was known for his depictions of the mysterious and unreal. In his biography, he wrote: "I am not a mystic or very learned in occult matters. I have read much in a desultory manner and have thought much, and so it comes that I…wade out into the sea of mystery around us." 

Tiffany and Company, who fabricated the window after Vedder’s design, also produced several other mermaid-themed stained glass windows. One extent example is the Field Museum’s untitled stained glass window which depicting a green, blue, and purple, bubbling and seaweed-filled underwater world from which a mermaid rises to greet a bright yellow fish. Cooper-Hewitt’s ornate and flowing composition of a seated underwater siren peering into a mirror and surrounded by swirling sea weed, shells, and fish, was typical of the art nouveau-styled stained glass decorations in many late-nineteenth-century New York mansions.

[Re-posted from Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum blog.]

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum