- Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus CollectionBy David A. Hanks
- The Art Glass of Louis Comfort TiffanyOur PickBy Paul Doros
- Louis Comfort Tiffany: At the Metropolitan Museum of ArtOur PickBy Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen
- The Lamps of Tiffany Studios: Nature IlluminatedBy Margaret K. Hofer. Contribution by Rebecca Klassen
- Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist's Country EstateOur PickBy Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen
Progression of Art
Snake Charmer at Tangier, Africa
Inspired by his travels in North Africa with fellow artist R. Swain Gifford, Snake Charmer at Tangier, Africa exemplifies Tiffany's style and the influences that shaped him as a painter, an artistic practice he would engage with privately for the rest of his life. Set in Morocco, the scene takes place in an open plaza in the late afternoon. The time of day is conveyed by the golds and reds of the composition and the long shadows which fill the bottom half of the canvas, casting the faces of many of the figures into semi-darkness. Onlookers gather around and watch as a snake charmer performs, displaying a snake at eye level.
The dark, rich colors that dominate the canvas can be seen as a reflection of the works of George Inness, who used similar colors in his landscapes and the subject-matter was probably influenced by Léon-Auguste-Adolphe Belly, who was a well-established Orientalist painter by this point. In fact, the painting displays many of the tropes of Orientalism from the portrayal of an 'exotic' subject to the palette used and the incorporation of extensive decorative elements. This latter detail, particularly the depiction of the columns and roofline, also demonstrates Tiffany's burgeoning interest in the decorative arts. As noted by Monica Obniski, curator of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, architectural details of the style shown in the work reappeared throughout Tiffany's career in the buildings he helped to design, including in his own home, Laurelton Hall. The painting was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Four Seasons
Exhibited as a single stained-glass window at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, The Four Seasons serves as a lasting example of Tiffany's favrile technique. Beginning with spring on the upper left (shown here) and ending with winter on the lower right, each pane represented a different season and together, they symbolized the process and structure of life and death. This subject matter places Tiffany firmly with the Art Nouveau canon and reflects a more general interest in nature within the movement.
In terms of style, the impact of Alphonse Mucha is clear in the work, particularly his four part series, The Seasons (1896-7). The rendering of the piece, however, is much more complex, creating an intricate composition using a non-print medium. The piece was lauded for its unique and masterful treatment of materials, winning a gold medal at the exposition. Most notable was that Tiffany did not use any paint to add embellishments, but rather used the mixture of colors and textures of favrile to create the subtle shifts of colors throughout the compositions. The work was disassembled into four separate pieces for installation at Tiffany's Laurelton Hall home when he returned from Paris.
Leaded glass - The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Between 1898 and 1907, Tiffany designed a number of enamelware objects. Each work is completely unique due to the chemical reactions that occurred during the firing process, the copper base of the piece reacting unpredictably with the enamel covering to create a wide range of rich colors as well as a reflective surface. The enamel was composed of glass and glass silicates with the addition of metal oxides to provide color, linking the production of enamelware to Tiffany's interests in glassmaking.
Tiffany's enamel department operated for nine years, but only produced a limited number of pieces, predominantly small decorative items such as vases and bowls. In this design, the roundness of the body of the bowl mimics the shape of the many plums that cover its surface, making it both functional and unusual. The bowl not only demonstrates Tiffany's experimentation with enamelware techniques, but also his conviction that nature should inform the shape of an object.
Enamel on copper - Metropolitan Museum of Art
This necklace is one of Tiffany's earliest known jewelry designs after taking over Tiffany and Co., his father's business in 1902. It was designed, along with 26 other pieces, most in the Arts and Crafts style, for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The central pendant is a large cluster of opals which represent grapes surrounded by leaves made of enamel and gold. It is flanked by three smaller groups of grapes on both sides, although these, along with the double chain were added later, probably under Tiffany's supervision. The subject matter is, however, slightly ambiguous and it has been compared to other natural forms including a jellyfish, showing Tiffany's simplification of shape and design.
Whilst other jewelry at the time valued symmetry and paler colors were fashionable, here, Tiffany utilizes bright stones and the central design is left intentionally asymmetrical, a nod to his preference for the natural. It is believed that he gifted this to his nurse, Sarah Hanley, in the 1910s. The work, therefore, stands not only as a fascinating example of Tiffany's jewelry design, but as archival evidence of the last major relationship of his life.
Opals, gold, enamel - Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pond Lily Library Lamp
The Pond Lily Lamp takes its name from the fact that the base is modelled in the shape of intertwined lily leaves and stems. There is a strong link between base and shade as the lily stems reach upwards to meet the downwards-facing flowers on the shade which stand out strongly against rich watery blues. It is thought that the artist took inspiration for the piece from the lily pond at his country house on Long Island, The Briars. The piece is often considered a progression from his Lily Lamp of 1902, which was successfully exhibited at the Turin Exposition of the same year. This version is, however, made with favrile glass as opposed to the blown glass of the previous incarnation.
As with most of Tiffany's lamp designs, this piece draws its inspiration from nature, a key feature of Art Nouveau and the influence of the movement can also be seen in the sinuous lines of the flowers and lily pads and the Oriental styling of the geometric stems on the shade. Tiffany was one of the first designers to see the potential of electric lighting and he utilized electricity in his lamp designs from 1898. This allowed him to dispense with the large fuel containers needed for more traditional lamps and instead to create narrow bases and lamp stems, as in this design. In combining new technology and decorative art, Tiffany was not only innovating but subscribing to another tenet of Art Nouveau which advocated for the incorporation of new materials and technologies into the decorative arts, a trend that, later, had a significant impact on Art Deco.
Tiffany Studios created hundreds of different lamp designs and a 1906 price list includes 200 electric lamps, 300 fuel lamps, and 200 designs of hanging lamp shade. This design was only produced between 1902 and 1906, making it one of the rarer styles in Tiffany's oeuvre. It is one of only five examples available in public collections, with nine others in private hands. Additionally, despite recent scholarship suggesting that Clara Driscoll had a hand in designing many of the lamps credited to Tiffany, the Pond Lily Lamp has withstood scrutiny and is still firmly credited to Tiffany himself. This, together with the rarity of this design, has made the Pond Lily lamp particularly desirable among collectors.
Leaded glass and bronze - Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Holy City
The Holy City is one of a series of 11 stained-glass windows Tiffany designed for the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1905. It is thought to be the largest window he ever produced and is composed of 58 panels. Tiffany Studios were responsible for producing hundreds of stained-glass windows for churches, as well as some synagogues, throughout America, particularly after the creation of his ecclesiastical division in 1899. The windows they produced drew on a wide range of historical styles and biblical stories. This example depicts St. John in exile on the island of Patmos. The ground around him is dark, but the sun can just be seen rising over the water and hills behind him - a new dawn of hope. The glass gets progressively lighter towards the top of the window where a city is depicted in the clouds, a representation of John's vision of new Jerusalem and this is flanked by four angels, showing the divine nature of the prophecy.
In order to create the desired interplay between light and color to depict the narrative, Tiffany used various techniques to manipulate the glass. In the reds, oranges, and yellows, he etched the glass to give the impression of the scattering rays of the sunrise. Meanwhile, he used textured glass in the blues to depict moving water. The work not only exemplifies Tiffany's dramatic compositional skill, but also his astute ability to manipulate glass to further the narrative of a piece.
Leaded glass - Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a cultural space in Mexico City. It is built in a number of styles, predominantly Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The fittings and interiors of the building were designed by artists from all over the world, including Hungarian Géza Maróti and Catalan artist Agustí Querol Subirats. Tiffany was commissioned to produce this curtain due to his reputation as an outstanding glassmaker and it is the only glass theater curtain in the world. It depicts a landscape dominated by the snow-capped volcanoes Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, both visible from many parts of Mexico City. Rendered in an Art Nouveau style, the design of the curtain also reflects the movement's interest in nature, technology and the use of new materials. It is still used today and after third call, the theater lights dim and stage lights are used to create the illusion of the sun rising and setting through the translucent surface.
The scale and construction process of the work make it one of Tiffany's most impressive installations. Weighing 27 tons, the curtain is made out of 200 panels of glass (each around 3 square feet), and it incorporates almost one million separate pieces of favrile glass. These pieces have each been inlaid into a concrete structure that protects the work from heat and moisture. Despite its weight and the fragility of the glass, the curtain takes just seven seconds to raise, a feat accomplished by a hydraulic-powered system. From start to finish, the construction took 20 workers under direct supervision by Tiffany himself a year and a half to complete.
Although transported to Mexico from Tiffany's studio in 1911, the work's installation was stalled due to civil unrest in Mexico which left the Palacio in a half-constructed state. The building itself was only completed in 1934, when this work was finally placed in the theater. It remains a highlight of the many works in the Palacio, and is in the company of major murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and other Mexican artists.
Leaded glass, concrete - Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Influences and Connections
- John La Farge
- Clara Driscoll
- Rodman Gilder Miller
- H. O. Havemeyer
- Jeanette and Hugh McKean