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Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

(b New York, 18 Feb 1848; d New York, 17 Jan 1933). American designer and painter. He was the son of Charles Louis Tiffany, from whom he inherited the business of Tiffany & Co. (see §1 above) in 1902. As a youth he showed an interest in art, and he received his early training (1866) in the studios of the landscape painter George Inness, from whom he gained an appreciation of nature that was to provide the subject-matter for many of his future designs. In 1868 he trained in Paris under Léon Bailly (b 1826) and then travelled extensively in North Africa and Spain. In the same year he met Samuel Colman, with whom he shared an interest in the forms, ornament and patterns of Islamic and Romanesque art. Tiffany returned to the USA in the early 1870s and began to paint travel scenes and landscapes in the fashionable Orientalist style (e.g. Harbour Scene in the Far East, 1872; Winter Park, FL, Morse Gal. A.), as well as experimenting with such novel subject-matter as New York slums. From the mid-1870s he began to form a collection of East Asian (particularly Japanese) and Islamic ceramics, glass, furniture and metalwork that reflected his taste for the exotic and mystical. As early as 1867 Tiffany had won recognition for his paintings from the National Academy of Design, but he later rebelled against the institution’s conservative attitudes. In 1877, together with John La Farge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and other American avant-garde figures, he formed the American Art Association (from 1878 the Society of American Artists), which advocated modern European painting styles. Although Tiffany’s interest in painting continued, by the late 1870s he had turned his attention primarily to the design and manufacture of the decorative arts.

From 1875 Tiffany experimented with stained-glass techniques, working first at the Thill Glasshouse in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1880 at the Heidt Glasshouse, also in Brooklyn. Disappointed by the poor quality of American glass, he set out to develop a technique to imitate and surpass the brilliant colour effects achieved by medieval stained-glass artists. At first he was influenced by La Farge, who was also experimenting with various glass techniques; when Tiffany became more commercially successful, however, their friendship ended. Tiffany’s earliest glass was made exclusively for windows, which were incorporated into interior-design schemes. In these windows, which were either geometric patterns or depictions of landscapes, Tiffany used metallic oxides to develop numerous colour gradations, while experimenting with various effects to create the appearance of wrinkled and folded surfaces; this was particularly effective to convey the rippled effect of water or clouds. In 1879 he established, in conjunction with Colman, Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932) and Candace Wheeler, the interior decorating firm of Louis C. Tiffany & Associated Artists. The company designed a number of interiors, such as the Veterans’ Room of the Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, and the house of Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) in Hartford, CT, and redecorated (1883) the White House in Washington, DC. The firm’s decorative schemes were eclectic and heavily influenced by the contemporary English Arts and Crafts Movement and the Aesthetic Movement; they were also noted for their daring combinations of Japanese-style gilt wallpaper, medieval-style stained glass, mosque-style hanging lamps and Islamic-style textiles.

Despite its great success, the firm was dissolved in 1883, and thereafter Tiffany operated alone under various names. In 1885 he established the Tiffany Glass Co. in Brooklyn, which continued to design interiors; its principal concern, however, was the production of windows, mosaics and blown, decorative glass. From 1889 Tiffany Studios (integrated into Tiffany & Co. in 1902) in New York produced such items of jewellery as the ‘Peacock’ necklace (c. 1902; Winter Park, FL, Morse Gal. A.), made of gold, amethysts, opals, sapphires and rubies. In 1892 Tiffany established the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co. in Corona, Long Island, NY. Although Tiffany was not responsible for all the designs made for the company and did not actually make the glass produced in his workshops and studios, he closely supervised production. It was his overall approach to design—using sensuous and organic forms from nature in the Art Nouveau style—that dominated production. His most important assistant was Arthur J. Nash (1849–1934), who had managed the White House Glassworks in Stourbridge, England, and was brought to the USA in 1892 to manage a separate division at Corona called Tiffany Furnaces. Nash’s technical skills, combined with Tiffany’s chemical discoveries, accounted for much of the company’s success. Nash played a very important role in the development of ‘Favrile’ glass, the company’s famous range of iridescent glass (registered trademark name, 1894); the production process involved treating the hot glass with metallic oxides that were absorbed into the glass to produce a luxurious, nacreous surface. ‘Favrile’ glass was used for a variety of objects, including vases (e.g. vase with peacock feather decoration, 1900; Manchester, C.A.G.) and hanging- and table-lamps in delicate shapes. Later developments of iridescent glass included ‘Lava’ glass, which has a roughened surface, and Nash’s ‘Cypriote’ glass, which is an opaque, pitted glass inspired by ancient Roman glass. Tiffany table-lamps made use of stained-glass techniques and were constructed on a simple production-line basis. The leaded shades incorporate small, multicoloured pieces of glass above a moulded, bronze base. The completed lamp often imitated natural or floral forms, as in the ‘Dragonfly’ electric lamp (c. 1900; Norfolk, VA, Chrysler Mus.), and the ‘Lily’ lamp (1902), with individual flower heads of gold iridescent glass suspended from bronze branches.

Tiffany gained an international reputation through such exhibitions as the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, for which he designed a Romanesque-style chapel with glass mosaics (destr.). His work was admired by the Parisian critic and dealer S. Bing, who exhibited it in his Paris shop L’Art Nouveau. In 1894–5 Bing commissioned Tiffany to make 11 glass windows (Paris, Mus. d’Orsay) for the shop, based on designs by such artists as Bonnard, Maurice Denis and Toulouse-Lautrec. Tiffany also designed a number of houses and apartments for himself and his family, including a studio (late 1880s) in New York with a chimney-piece that anticipated the work of Gaudí. Between 1902 and 1904 he designed his large country residence, Laurelton Hall (destr. 1957), Oyster Bay, NY. This was an expression of Tiffany’s eclectic interests: it combined various exotic styles in a colourful assemblage and incorporated some of his best windows, such as the Four Seasons (exh. 1892) and Wisteria (both Winter Park, FL, Morse Gal. A.). Other major accomplishments of the early 20th century include a glass curtain (1911; in situ) for the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City and the Dream Garden (1915; in situ), a large-scale mosaic after a design by Maxfield Parrish (b 1870) for the Curtis Publishing Co. Building in Philadelphia.

In later years Tiffany’s interest in the daily running of the glassworks decreased. Despite his alignment with the Art Nouveau style, he had little sympathy with such later modern movements as Cubism and found himself increasingly at odds with American modernism. In 1918 he established a foundation at Laurelton Hall to assist young artisans. The following year he turned his business over to Douglas Nash and Leslie Nash, the sons of Arthur J. Nash, while continuing to provide financial support. In 1928, however, he withdrew his support and the use of the name Tiffany Furnaces. The company closed three years later. The most important collections of Tiffany glass are in the Morse Gallery of Art, Winter Park, FL, and the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA.

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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