The Charles Hosmer - Morse Museum of American Art

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Iridescence—A Celebration


Seashells and beetle shells, butterfly wings and peacock feathers, these natural phenomena are iridescent. They glow and change color when viewed from different angles. In this exhibition from its collection, the Morse celebrates iridescence as it was reproduced in the art glass, enamels, and pottery of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, this fascinating optical light effect could only be seen in nature. About that time, archeologists began unearthing antique glass that had become iridescent from the effects of minerals, metals, and salts in the soil in which it had been buried for centuries. The newly discovered iridized antique glass inspired the premier decorative art studios of the West, including Louis Comfort Tiffany’s firm in the United States and Glasfabrik Johann Loetz Witwe in Europe. Chemical techniques using the same elements found in soil made it possible for leading artists of the period to develop variations of this shimmering surface. Glass with an iridescent appearance is sometimes created by adding metallic materials to the primary ingredients of glass. Iridescence can also be achieved by spraying an object’s surface with stannous or lead chloride before heating it in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere. This installation is a showcase of diverse works, including not only lustrous art glass from Loetz (Bohemia) and Tiffany Studios (New York City), but ceramics and enamels from Rookwood Pottery (Cincinnati), S. A. Weller Pottery (Zanesville, Ohio), Robert Hanke (Bohemia), Camille Fauré (France), and others. These firms and designers successfully produced supremely elegant and riveting art with iridescent rainbow colors on par with nature. Although interest in iridescence waned after World War I, it has never died.


  • Vase
  • Vase, c. 1898
  • Candia Papillon décor
  • Blown glass, brass
  • Glasfabrik Johann Loetz Witwe, Klostermühle, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), 1836–1947
  • Gift of M. Elizabeth Brothers in memory of Hugh and Jeannette McKean
  • (2017-119)