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Tiffany Show Reveals Helen Gould’s Role as Arts Patron

Tiffany Show Reveals Helen Gould’s Role as Arts Patron


The philanthropist Helen Gould’s reputation is re-emerging from the shadows of her railroad-rich family, thanks to her patronage of the influential designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. She spent part of her multimillion-dollar inheritance commissioning artworks and buildings from Tiffany and his peers, and her efforts have now inspired an exhibition, “Becoming Tiffany: From Hudson Valley Painter to Gilded Age Tastemaker.” The show, at Lyndhurst, her family’s country estate turned museum in Tarrytown, N.Y., runs through Sept. 24.

In the 1860s, Tiffany, a scion of the Manhattan family jewelry business, began training as an artist in New York and Paris. He quickly branched out into other art forms and set up workshops, in collaboration with woodcarvers, glassblowers, metalworkers and weavers. The Lyndhurst show contains stained-glass windows, paintings of New York-area scenery, iridescent lamps and vessels, teak furniture and metallic fabrics by Mr. Tiffany and his circle. The objects either belonged to Miss Gould, who knew the Tiffany family, or closely resemble pieces that she owned and admired. The exhibition also documents publicly accessible roomfuls of Tiffany windows and mosaics that Gould commissioned for the Gould Memorial Library at Bronx Community College as well as for church and library buildings in Roxbury and Irvington, N.Y.

In some of the Gould family photos on view, Helen appears surrounded by nieces, nephews, her adopted children and her doting husband, Finley Shepard. Her five siblings’ lives at times were chaotic, because of scandal and divorces, and she stepped in to help raise their families. Her father, the 19th-century railroad baron Jay Gould, was known for manipulating stock prices and bankrupting business partners. “She was the stable one,” Howard A. Zar, Lyndhurst’s executive director, said. (He organized the show with the art historian Roberta A. Mayer.)

Among Miss Gould’s charitable causes were Y.M.C.A.s nationwide as well as institutions that distributed Christian tracts and aided disabled children, homeless families and wounded soldiers. She died in 1938, at age 70, and one of her obituaries noted that at times she needed to sift through “243 requests for aid in one week.”

One of her four brothers, Frank Gould, married a chorus girl, Florence Lacaze, who is the subject of a new book by the historian Susan Ronald, “A Dangerous Woman — American Beauty, Noted Philanthropist, Nazi Collaborator: The Life of Florence Gould.” Ms. Ronald notes that Helen Gould was nicknamed “Sister Helen” in the family, “referring to her unswerving righteousness.” The book documents how Florence Gould traveled in unsavory circles while her husband and his brothers squabbled over their inheritances and their sister Anna married one French nobleman after another.

The Lyndhurst exhibition and its catalog include photos of Helen Gould’s most important Tiffany window, which measures about 11 feet tall and depicts a doe sipping from a mountain stream. The window, which was originally installed in the family’s Manhattan townhouse, now belongs to Allen Michaan, the owner of Michaan’s Auctions in Alameda, Calif. It is kept in storage, “awaiting acquisition” by a major museum or private collector, Mr. Michaan said.



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