Louis Comfort Tiffany

dragonfly library lamp

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) was an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass in the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements.

Tiffany was affiliated with a prestigious collaborative of designers known as the Associated Artists, which included Lockwood de Forest, Candace Wheeler, and Samuel Colman. Tiffany designed stained glass windows and lamps, glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics, jewelry, enamels and metalwork.

Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany and Company; and Harriet Olivia Avery Young. He attended school at Pennsylvania Military Academy] in Chester, Pennsylvania, and Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. His first artistic training was as a painter, studying under George Inness and Samuel Colman in New York City and Léon Bailly in Paris. He started out as a painter, but became interested in glassmaking from about 1875 and worked at several glasshouses in Brooklyn between then and 1878. In 1879, he joined with Candace Wheeler, Samuel Colman and Lockwood de Forest to form Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists. Tiffany’s leadership and talent, as well as his father’s money and connections, led this business to thrive.

In 1881 Tiffany did the interior design of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, which still remains. The new firm’s most notable work came in 1882 when President Chester A. Arthur refused to move into the White House until it had been redecorated. He commissioned Tiffany, who had begun to make a name for himself in New York society for the firm’s interior design work, to redo the state rooms, which Arthur found charmless. Tiffany worked on the East Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, the State Dining Room and the Entrance Hall, refurnishing, repainting in decorative patterns, installing newly designed mantelpieces, changing to wallpaper with dense patterns and, of course, adding Tiffany glass to gaslight fixtures, windows and adding the opalescent floor to ceiling glass screen in the Entrance Hall.

A desire to concentrate on art in glass led to the breakup of the firm in 1885 when Tiffany chose to establish his own glassmaking firm that same year, Tiffany Studios.

In the beginning of his career, Tiffany used cheap jelly jars and bottles because they had the mineral impurities that finer glass lacked. When he was unable to convince fine glassmakers to leave the impurities in, he began making his own glass. Tiffany used opalescent glass in a variety of colors and textures to create a unique style of stained glass. This can be contrasted with the method of painting in enamels or glass paint on colorless glass that had been the dominant method of creating stained glass for hundred of years in Europe. The First Presbyterian Church building of 1905 in Pittsburgh is unique in that it uses Tiffany windows that partially make use of painted glass.

Use of the colored glass itself to create stained glass pictures was motivated by the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement and its leader William Morris in England. Fellow artists and glassmakers Oliver Kimberly and Frank Duffner, founders of the Duffner and Kimberly Company and John La Farge were Tiffany’s chief competitors in this new American style of stained glass. Tiffany, Duffner and Kimberly, along with La Farge, had learned their craft at the same glasshouses in Brooklyn in the late 1870s.

In 1893, Tiffany built a new factory called the Stourbridge Glass Company, later called Tiffany Glass Furnaces, which was located in Queens, New York. In 1893, his company also introduced the term Favrile in conjunction with his first production of blown glass at his new glass factory. Some early examples of his lamps were exhibited in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. He trademarked ‘Favrile’ (from the old French word for handmade),  and later applied it to all of his glass, enamel and pottery.

Tiffany’s first commercially produced lamps date from around 1895. Much of his company’s production was in making stained glass windows and Tiffany lamps, but his company designed a complete range of interior decorations. At its peak, his factory employed more than 300 artisans. Recent scholarship led by Rutgers professor Martin Eidelberg suggests that a team of talented single women designers led by Clara Driscoll played a big role in designing many of the floral patterns on the famous Tiffany lamp as well as for other creations. Tiffany interiors also made considerable use of mosaics. The mosaics workshop, largely staffed by women, was overseen until 1898 by the Swiss-born sculptor and designer Jacob Adolphus Holzer.

In 1902, Tiffany became the first Design Director for Tiffany & Co., the jewelry company founded by his father. Tiffany died in 1933, and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

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