Louis Comfort Tiffany


At the turn of the century, Louis Comfort Tiffany, with great virtuosity in design and technology, created a rich range of art objects that the world had not seen since the Quattrocento. The son of the eminent and wealthy New York silversmith Charles L. Tiffany, Tiffany was as blessed with financial means as he was with brilliant talents, diverse ambitions and unlimited energy.

This artist always saw light as a problem of artistic design, never just as a scientific phenomenon. That’s why he rejected the poor quality of the glass available at the time. He had bought first from Louis Heidt, then from other glassworks in Brooklyn. He now began his own experiments to conjure up iridescent, marbled and luminous effects on the glass. During this time he developed Cypriot glass, crackled glass and lava glass, but he was mainly known for the Favrile glass he created.

Tiffany lamps can generally be divided into those with a floral and those with a geometric design. The motifs in the first category, for example, represent peonies, glycines, daffodils, poppies and lotus flowers, while the geometrically designed lamps are often decorated with so-called >turtle-back< glasses and with semi-precious glass. These decorative elements stand in effective contrast to the flat Favrile glass. The individual glass pieces in their copper frame appear like cloisonné enamel when the light is reflected or like plique-à-jour when the lamp is lit. Tiffany designed his floral motifs according to completely different principles than, for example, Gallé or Daum. While these reproduced a floral motif as a decorative vignette – the lamp was decorated similar to a Japanese painting – Tiffany designed his lamps as an organic unit, with the shade taking on the function of the inflorescence and the bronze base embodying the style or root.

Although Tiffany had a large customer base in America, including wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, Havemeyers, Mellows and even the White House under President Chester Arthur, it was not yet internationally recognized at the time. As late as 1901, his work was dismissed as “Yankee art” in the magazine L’Art Décoratif.

It is only today that his achievements are being properly recognized in the art trade around the world.

Prices for Tiffany lamps have been rising astronomically lately.

Source: Alastair Duncan, Lampen Lüster Leuchter, Jugendstil Art Déco, Prestel-Verlag, München 1979, p.47-48

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