Louis Comfort Tiffany, anineteenth-century artist, who was one of American’s most foremost designer. Hewas best known for his work in stained glass. As the son of Tiffany & Company’sfounder, he was never fully comfortable with his role.
Tiffany combined thefamily business and his hobby, his ambitions made him wants to make his familybusiness the best. Underthe stewardship ofhim, Tiffany studios became a consortium of industrial designersproducing a defined and highly personalized range of household goods marketedaggressively through press releases, advertisement,sales brochures, and domestic, international explosions (Duncan,1992).He designed a series of products, such as stained glass windows, lamps, glassmosaics, ceramic, and jewelry are very popular, also widely used inarchitecture and interior spaces since late 19th century tonowadays. This paper is dedicated to Louis Comfort Tiffany and mainly focus onthe life of Louis Comfort Tiffany along with his artistic career. In thefollowing content, I will illustrate about how the historical backgroundaffects Tiffany’s life; where his designs were used; what deep meanings thathis work contained; and some details of the designing process.
Rich in drama, color, and complexity, theyears of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s life perhaps best characterized by change(Johnson, 2005). Tiffany was born on February 18th, 1848, the middleyear of the nineteenth century which described by noted historian JacobBurckhardt as “the Age of Revolution”. At that time, the industry, economic,urban landscape, and agriculture were under enormous change. Theserevolutionary changes that challenged and transformed almost every aspect ofhuman life. Although Tiffany’s family had left him great property, he stilldeclined the security of university education and employment in the family firmfor an independent career in the arts (Duncan 1992).
This behavior also becamea basis for him as an industrial designer in the future. In fact, the issue ofhow to balance his two roles, that of the artist and that of industrialdesigner, become a dilemma to him. This dilemma confused him over fifty years.Tiffany starts his early career as a painter; he was influenced by severalartists such as George Inness and Samuel Colman (Obniski, 2007). Inness was the one inspired Tiffany the most;his painting always can evoke the viewer an emotional response. In 1866, afterTiffany finished his first trip to Europe, he announced to his family that heprefers to study art, rather than attend college. This intention against hisfather’s wish.
By the late 19th century, Tiffany gradually turnedhis attention to industrial design, starts with decorative art and the interiors.There were several impacts made him change his attention. The First impact uponthe life of Tiffany was economic. Due to the industrial revolution, the economyin late 19th century’s European reached its peak, especially duringthe Victorian Era. The precarious position of European caused Tiffany familyfirm to sell their jewels. This reaction helped Tiffany familytransform the firm into Tiffany & Co (Johnson, 2005).
The Second impact was mechanization, whichhad begun in European in the late 18th century. By the middle age of19th century taking command in the United States as well. The riseof industrial on Europe and the United States created new working glass.
Influencedby this reform, Tiffany had great progress on made glass crafts in the New Yorkarea, and his glass artifacts become more and more recognition. The European’stravel made a deep impression on Tiffany. He was so fascinated bythe coloration of medieval glass, such as Roman and Syrian glass, and believedthat the quality of contemporary glass would be better (Clough-Eaton,1997). So,he tried to create some vibrant new range of colors in the glass to supplementthe small and dreary selection available commercially to local artists(Duncan,1992). In the late 1870s, he had his first interior project for histop-floor home and studio at the Bella Apartments in New York City (Obniski,2007). It was a leaded-glass window which shows a unique use of glass.
He waspassionate about using rich colors on windows. These abstract designs suggestdesigner’s energy and passion towards art. However, making these colorfulglasses was not easy. In the very beginning, there was an explosion occurred asthe result of the invention of Tiffany glass (Steeg, 2000). In hisexperiments, he created a variety of colors and textures for windows.
One ofthe achievements was creating an opalescent variety of glass that could be usedas decorative trim. This glass againstflashed glass which can present more than one color. Floral Landscape Window was one of his window projects. It was madeoff leaded favrile glass.
A contemporary article used to talk about itsaid that the Floral Landscape Windowcomprised three kinds of flower – sweet peas, daisies, and carnations- that noartist had been able previously to define in the glass without using handpainting (Duncan, 1992). Accordingly, Tiffany registered a patent foropalescent window glass in 1881, he believed that “this new materialallowed more fidelity to the inherent nature of the medium because it enabledthe form to be defined by the glass itself rather than by painting onto theglass (Morse, 2018).” However, his competitor also declaration thattheir firm was the greatest contributor to stained glass. And they had equalaccess to the same facilities. Therefore, Tiffany at the time pretty much on anequal footing with his competitor. Most of Tiffany’s projects were inspired bynature. He was so convinced that nature should be the primary source of it. Landscape window with magnolia trees wasanother leaded favrile glass work made by Tiffany studio.
The theme of thiswindow was nature as well. A central stream flowing from the distant hills toforeground means one’s path from birth to death. This theme was incorporatedinto many mausoleum windows (Duncan,1998). Tiffany’stalent not only reflected in the glass manufacture, also shows on interiordesigning. According to Candace Wheeler one of his partners, Tiffany said, “Ihave been thinking a great deal about decorative art, and I am going into it asa profession. I believe that there is more to it than in painting pictures…Weare going after the money there is in art, but the art is there, all the same(John, 2005).” With the rapid economic growth in the late 19thcentury’ Gilded Age, an unprecedented domestic building boomcome through the United States. Meanwhile, the early Gilded age quite like themiddle portion of Victorian Era in Britain.
The wealthy people in Victorian Erawere so fascinated with mass-production items to decorate the interior space.In the Interior Design Since 1900written by Anne Massey, it said “the room used to receive visitors, and usuallyhad heavy curtains and thick lace at the windows, a patterned carpet,generously upholstered seating, ornate furniture and a huge range of ornaments,pictures, and surface decorations” (Massey,7). Similar to it,the newly rich middle-class in Gilded age demonstrated their wealth in thetraditional medium of grand architecture. These great houses usuallyrequire a lot of funding on the ornament (John,2005). People were more addictedto the matters of furnishing and embellishment. At the same time, people hadfound the freedom to design the interior that was independent of the generalstyle of building’s exterior. So, the interior decorator emerged during thelast quarter of the nineteenth century. Before that, the high style interiorswere mainly created by cabinetmakers and architects.
Unlike the otherdecorator, Tiffany’s decoration was dominated by his artistic style. Because ofhis role as a stained-glass maker, he would corporate stained glass intodomestic settings. The Red Room in the White House, Washington, D.
C., includedsome parts of his work, the woodwork, wall coverings, and lighting were allmade by him. Another work furnished by him was a library. This room is simplyfurnished with comfortable-looking chairs with the same material used fordraperies (John.2005).
The furniture in this room contains traditional andvaguely English style. A patterned rug covers the floor corporate with thesolid color wall. Everything looks quite suitable. The Tiffany studio aimed toprovide complete decorating service consist of furniture, lighting, upholstery,textiles, rugs, and woodwork. They made most of the pieces themselves. Lamps orlighting were another representative works from Tiffany; even he felt lesssatisfaction than the other success.
His first lampshades in the 1890s were ofblown glass which supported by a matching base applied with Edison’sincandescent filament bulb. The first lamp, rather than blown, had a domedshade adorned with spiraling bands of butterflies, each component was formed ofindividual pieces of flat glass held together by strips of soldered copper foil(Duncan, 1998). The overall complexity of design indicated that the process hadbeen under development for some time. LouisComfort Tiffany was a creative and outstanding designer, even he born with a”golden spoon in his mouth”, he still wants to have his achievement.Tiffany was always passionate and energetic towards his career, and never fullysatisfied with what he already had. His creation of stain glass made himrecognized by the public and his Tiffany studio praised and left a lotreputation until nowadays.