Previously On View: July 28, 2018 through October 27, 2019

See exhibitions currently on view.

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.


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

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.