Sarah Eileen Hanley (1883-1958)
Louis Comfort Tiffany, Sarah Painting at Oyster Bay, ca. 1912

This research examines the life and career of Sarah Hanley, the protegee of American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Born in Baile Well near Easkey, County Sligo, Ireland, Hanley trained as a nurse and immigrated to New York City with a brother and sister about 1900. In 1910 she was dispatched to Laurelton Hall, the Oyster Bay, Long Island estate of Tiffany to nurse him back to health following a kidney infection; Tiffany took an immediate liking to Hanley and invited her to remain with him permanently. Hanley accepted the offer and became his muse, his comforter, and his constant companion for the next twenty-three years.

The relationship with Hanley sparked what one critic has called "the most active and creative" period in the history of the Tiffany Studio. Tiffany designed some of his best-known works in stained glass in the years immediately following his meeting with Hanley. Her role as muse is commemorated in a series of portraits by Tiffany; he designed jewelry for her and built her a house, Laurel Hollow, on the hillside opposite Laurelton Hall. More significantly, he taught her how to paint, and over the next four decades she turned this pastime into a career.

In 1918 Tiffany established the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation to award fellowships to gifted artists and craftspeople, enabling them to study under his direction at Laurelton Hall; Sarah Hanley became the first director of the foundation, and she oversaw the smooth functioning of the artistic community. The aging Tiffany grew increasingly out of touch with post-World War I cultural developments, and it was Hanley who became his primary link with the artistic mainstream.

Hanley began to exhibit her own work in the late 1920s; her paintings were primarily flower studies and landscapes. Many of these pieces were clearly derivative, but others show breaks from the genteel impressionistic tradition in which Tiffany had trained her. Her bold patterning and strong color schemes hark in many respects harken back to the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 1900s.

Tiffany died in January 1933, and his legacies to Sarah Hanley left her independently wealthy. She continued to exhibit her work in midtown New York galleries throughout the 1930s and 1940s; her style grew increasingly geometric and primitive, and her subject matter turned more and more to cityscapes and landscapes. A 1937 show at the Tricker Gallery marked the apex of her career: the New York Times noted that her canvases were "daringly designed" and Art Digest termed her "a decidedly individual talent."

In November 1949 the DeMotte Gallery staged a retrospective of Hanley's career, including her first showing of a number of religious paintings. The critical reception was extremely unfavorable, perhaps as much due to the subject matter as the style, and Hanley never exhibited her paintings again. She died at Laurel Hollow and left her estate to the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary's of the Springs. In 1985 the order sold the contents of Laurel Hollow, including some 800 paintings, vases, and objets d'art, in a major auction at the Phillips Gallery in New York. Hanley's papers are located in the archives of the Motherhouse of the Domincan Sisters of St. Mary's of the Springs in Columbus, Ohio.

Sarah E. Hanley, Louis Comfort Tiffany at Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York