I’ve always been a lover of Tiffany, anything Tiffany, but particularly Tiffany Lamps. I found this wonderful article about the life and times of Charles Lewis Tiffany that I would like to share with you.
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Born in 1848, Tiffany was the eldest son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the luxury goods and jewelry store Tiffany & Co. While it was expected that he involve himself with the family business, Louis Comfort Tiffany preferred to study painting, the first of many careers. During his lifetime, Tiffany was also an interior decorator, landscape designer, architect, and designer of decorative arts in all media including glass, ceramic, metal, wood, fabric, and paper. Though not a craftsman, Tiffany was a perfectionist who hired the very best men and women artisans to work in his studios.
Tiffany learned marketing and entrepreneurship from his father. “We are going after the money there is in art, but the art is there, all the same,” said Tiffany to Candace Wheeler, one of his partners. His participation in the international exhibitions of the time — in cities like Philadelphia, Paris, Chicago, and Turin, Italy — made Tiffany and his work widely known in the United States and abroad.
In 1865, Tiffany took the first of many tours to Europe and North Africa; these experiences provided a foundation for the themes exemplified in this exhibition and that ran throughout his work: nature, the Near and Far East, antiques and archaeology, and abstraction. Tiffany’s innovative aesthetic bridged and transcended the avant-garde trends of the late 19th century-the Aesthetic Movement, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Art Nouveau. With the modern aesthetic of the post-World War I world, however, Tiffany’s designs were considered out-of-date, and by the time of his death in 1933 he was nearly forgotten.
Renewed interest in Tiffany’s work by collectors and scholars, such as Museum of Modern Art design curator Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., furniture designer Edward Wormley, and art historian Robert Koch, surfaced in the post-World War II years. Museums like The Museum of Modern Art added Tiffany to their collections and by the late 1960s; entertainers such as the Beatles, Paul Simon, and Barbra Streisand were acquiring Tiffany’s work. Today Tiffany’s reputation as a great master is beyond dispute.
Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages is divided into three themes:
Nature Is Always Beautiful
Tiffany was an avid naturalist who relied upon nature as a renewing source of inspiration. This section features objects representing Earth, Marine Life, Winged Creatures, and Flowers, including a necklace made of gold and nephrite that denotes grapes on a vine; Pushing Off the Boat, Seabright, New Jersey, 1887, a fishing scene; a stained glass lamp with dragonfly motif made between 1900-1910; and a Morning Glory Vase, c. 1905, made with a complex technique developed by Tiffany Studios where five kinds of glass were blended resulting in a radial pattern of colored whorls.
Light Comes from the East
“Orientalism,” was a fascination of Westerners in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Tiffany adopted the stylized ornament of Arab and Asian cultures in his work. Objects like a Favrile glass scent bottle, c. 1900, inlaid with gold and precious stones; a gourd-shaped vase, c. 1906; a “Spiderweb” wallpaper design from 1881; and an armchair made from the wood of a holly tree, 1879, all suggest the arts of the Near and Far East.
Time Is the Measure of All Things
During Tiffany’s lifetime, ancient history and archeology had enormous public appeal. In this period, Heinrich Schliemann set out to unearth Homer’s Troy, New York was installing its gift from Egypt, “Cleopatra’s Needle,” a c. 1500 BCE obelisk, and Howard Carter opened the tomb of Egyptian king Tutankhamun. Tiffany studied the antiquities that were unearthed, then borrowed their design and reproduced their iridescence. His “Cypriote” glass, for instance, imitated the pitted surface of long-buried glass, and his electroplated ceramic vase with scarabs adopted a popular motif from the ancient world.
While he delighted in the aesthetic of ancient cultures, Tiffany could also be viewed as a modernist, particularly with his glass objects. He appreciated the accidental and random effects that occurred during the production of a work of art-often departing from traditional glassmaking, and he manufactured interchangeable pieces that could be used in various ways using modern industrial methods. “This love of the controlled accident,” said Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. in 1955, “is one of Tiffany’s strong links to the modern design of our age.”
fig 1. Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Window Panel with Swimming Fish, c. 1890, Leaded glass, oak frame, 48 1/2 x 36 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches. The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, CT)
fig 2. Peacock lamp, Tiffany Studios, 1900–1910. Leaded and blown glass, bronze. H. 27 1/2″, Diam. 18″. Courtesy of Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Art; photography by Nicholas Cass-Hassol.
fig 3.Wisteria Table Lamp, ca. 1902 from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts