About the exhibition

The term iridescence derives from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and refers to a vibrant optical effect of rainbow-like colors that change in the light. Found on pearls and insect wings, iridescence draws from and celebrates the natural world’s multidimensional colors and organic forms. Since the Middle Ages, designers have experimented with ways to achieve an iridescent effect on the surface of glass and ceramics and incorporated naturally iridescent materials such as mother of pearl into their jewelry and metalwork. Featuring objects from the collection and installed in the museum’s magnificent Teak Room, this exhibition demonstrates how iridescence has maintained a lasting impact on design.

highlights

A selection of objects in the exhibition.

The Teak Room

One of Cooper Hewitt’s greatest treasures, the Teak Room represents the most complete existing de Forest architectural interior in America still situated in its original site, the Carnegie Mansion. Its style is notably different from the rest of the mansion except for the trim of Andrew Carnegie’s bedroom, now a gallery for the permanent collection. In the Teak Room, the Indian influence is evident in the patterned wall stenciling lacquered in yellow. It creates a golden light that is reminiscent of Indian latticed screens. Although the walls and ceilings were painted on canvas on site, the carved teak, including that of the built-in cabinet, came from de Forest’s studio in India, using primarily native designs that he adapted.

Lockwood de Forest

America’s leading Aesthetic Movement champion of Indian design, designer and painter Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932) created the Teak Room, which served as the Carnegie family library. The room displays de Forest’s passion for the exotic, and defines his role in creating an Indian style of interior decoration in late nineteenth-century America. During this time collectors and painters flocked to the Middle and Far East for examples of extraordinary craftsmanship, inspiration for interior decoration, and unusual settings to paint. Lockwood de Forest traveled with American painter Frederic Church in Greece and the Middle East before setting out in 1881 to India. There, de Forest remained over a year establishing a studio guided by the Jain merchant Muggunbhai Hutheesing in the city of Ahmedabad. In addition to overseeing de Forest’s studio, Hutheesing employed master craftsmen to create decorative teak wood and brass panels designed or approved by de Forest, which the designer then exported to the United States for his and Tiffany’s use in aesthetic interiors.

THe Iridescence Blog Series

Protecting the Iridescent
Have you ever noticed shimmering rainbows floating along puddles in the road? This bright iridescence is created by oil floating on the water, and is caused by the way light interacts with itself as it travels through the oil film to the water below. We often refer to this phenomenon as interference colors (good explanation...
Image features tall, slender, slightly cylindrical vase with globular shoulder, no neck, incurving rim; no foot. Design of tall flowers (stylized carnations) and curving leaves that rise up onto the shoulder. Beneath and between these are smaller flowers and leaves. A few random dots on top of shoulder. Decoration in metallic lustres on an iridescent ground, in shades of peacock blue, lavender, crimson, and green against a copper glaze ground. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Flowers Bloom amidst a Field of Iridescence
To celebrate the opening of Iridescence, on view through March 24, 2019, Object of the Day this week will feature iridescent objects in the collection. This vase with its shimmering colors and fluid lines was designed by Jacques Sicard for the Weller Pottery between 1902 and 1907. It was created using gray-white clay and is...
Image features glass vase of roughly ovoid from with mottled iridescent decoration in shades of gold, blues reds and greens. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Ancient Attraction
From the archives, an Object of the Day post on an example of iridescent design from the collection.
Image features muslin embroidered with a floral motif in gold threads and blue-green beetle wing "sequins." Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Wearing Wings
From the archives, an Object of the Day post on an example of iridescent design from the collection.
Image features fruit knife with shaped silver and silver-gilt blade decorated with image of a Japanese woman in a kimono flanked by foliage designs; white, ridged mother-of-pearl handle. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
The Exoticism of a Fruit Knife; Merging Japanese Aesthetic and French Craft
To celebrate the opening of Iridescence, on view through March 24, 2019, Object of the Day this week will feature iridescent objects in the collection. This stunningly crafted fruit knife combines exquisite artistry and strong Japanese influence to elevate the everyday dining experience into an art form. As part of a substantial dessert service of...
Image features textile of iridescent tan satin with blue highlights. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
A Blue Shimmering Light
From the archives, an Object of the Day post on an example of iridescent design from the collection.
Image features brooch of long organic shape, the irregular edges bordered in gold, surrounding abstract decoration of gold strips enclosing cloisonné enamel in tones of white, yellow-green, gold and black; baroque pearl and faceted square citrine at bottom. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
A Jeweler’s Magic; The Sorcerer’s Stone
To celebrate the opening of Iridescence, on view through March 24, 2019, Object of the Day this week will feature iridescent objects in the collection. William Harper’s hand-crafted jewelry includes brooches, pendants, and necklaces, each telling a story of their own. Harper specializes in cloisonné enameling, an ancient decorative technique that has remained virtually unchanged...
Image features pitcher of squat bulbous gourd form with a large leaf-shaped spout and handle in the form of a gathered root or vine; green and gold iridescent luster finish. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Eosin, from “Eos”- Greek Goddess of Dawn
To celebrate the opening of Iridescence, on view through March 24, 2019, Object of the Day this week will feature iridescent objects in the collection. This turn-of-the-twentieth-century leaf-form pitcher utilizes the innovative eosin reduction glazing technique developed and trademarked by the Hungarian porcelain firm Zsolnay only a few years earlier. Lusterware, which had been revived...