Lrg 12" Grueby Faience Pottery 1902 Jungle Tile Bronx Zoo Lion Tiger LaFarge
Super rare and important Grueby tile commissioned by the New York Zoological Society ( Bronx Zoo) in 1902 for their new Lion House. Measures 12" tall x 12 1/4" wide and 2 1/4" thick. Unsigned. Typical white Grueby clay. Chips around the edges, one corner colored in. Some adhesive on the back from when this was used as a table top.
When the Bronx Zoo was created by Teddy Roosevelt and others the architectural firm of Heins and LaFarge, George Lewis Heins (1860–1907) and Christopher Grant LaFarge (1862–1938) was hired to design and build the Beaux Arts style buildings surrounding a central court and fountain reflecting the aesthetic of the City Beautiful Movement. CG LaFarge was the eldest son of the famous John LaFarge of Tiffany Studios. At the same time Heins and LaFarge were also building the first subway system in Manhattan where they utilized common construction methods, products and contractors in both projects. The concept of this Lion House was new to America and was one of the first naturalistic exhibits in the country. Cage bars were replaced by a wire mesh to give an impression of invisibility. The walls were lined with green glass tiles, topped by the decorative Grueby tile frieze. Above the frieze the plaster walls were painted in a fresco of blue and white like the sky. The animals were given indoor and outdoor access. There was even a special artist's studio incorporated so that a cat could be shifted into an off exhibit room to give the artist and animal privacy.
Included in the sale are copies of the correspondence between the architects and zoo officials discussing the construction of the building, including the zoo's desire for a less conventional design for a frieze, the president of Grueby offering to produce a special design which would be both naturalistic and distinctive. After viewing these tiles, known as the Desert Frieze, the zoo was so pleased they asked for an additional special design, principally green in color, depicting a jungle for the tiger cages. There is another letter from the architects complaining to the zoo's chairman that the zoo's director came in as the tiles were being set and changed their locations. Also included is a copy of an article from the Jan 1903 Zoological Society Bulletin describing the newly opened Lion House.
The last photos show how the tile would look framed (frame not included) and pictures of the Lion House. Sadly the interior no longer survives.
This particular tile was never installed. At one time it was in the collection of Norman Karlson and was photographed for his seminal books on American Art Tile. Any questions please call 201.791.3521