What is Tiffany?
In order to answer this question it is best to consider who Tiffany was, and his legacy.
|Portrait of Louis C. Tiffany at middle age.|
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was born in New York as the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany. He was the founder and owner of Tiffany & Company, and became a very rich man as a jeweler and skillful businessman.
From early on Louis Tiffany was exposed to art. In his early years he was strongly influenced by Edward C. Moore, a leading silversmith of the period, designer and art connoisseur who greatly inspired Louis. Moore had a large collection of exquisite Oriental glass and recommended to Louis to concentrate on islamic and Persian art. He started his career as a painter, and was strongly influenced by the American painter Georges Innes, whose work was in the style of the School of Barbizon; the latter was a group of artists (particularly Millet, Théodore, Rousseau and Diaz) whose objective was to paint the landscape in a naturalistic style. He had a passion for beautiful objects and collected these both for enjoyment and to study the craftsmanship and the technique with which these 'objects d'art' had been made. He similarly had a passion for practicing his knowledge and ideas and therefore soon started to design and make decorative pieces of art, in particular in the area of interior design. He cooperated with Candace Wheeler (textile and wallpaper design), Samuel Colman (painter and interior decorator) and Lockwood de Forest (furniture).
|One of Tiffany's windows.|
However, while traveling in Europe he was quite impressed with the beautiful stained glass windows that let through such a brilliant licht, as well as the perfect craftmanship evidenced by the beautiful tiles in Turkish and other mosques and palaces. Arising from his early fascination with glass he started experimenting. In fact, he founded his own glassworks (1878) and made decorative glass tiles to decorate walls.
Stained glass windows are created by applying a solution of metal oxides to glass and subsequently firing it. Stained glass windows comprise pieces of glass thus stained and connected by lead strips. These strips form an essential part of the design. This was later replaced by painting the glass, a technique that Tiffany detested. He not only wanted to incorporate the colour into the glass, but also tonal variations and texture, as well as use tonal variations to suggest depth. Thus he became a designer of stained glass windows. The pieces of glass he used were not evenly coloured but were pieces of opalescent window glass made by combining and manipulating several colours to create an unprecedented range of hues and three-dimensional effects. That made his windows look like paintings, which were therefore in great demand. He even accepted the challenge to depict a painting made by Toulouse de Lautrec in a glass mosaic.
|Vase blown of transparent glass with iridescent blue and gold.|
A new page was turned when Tiffany hired Arthur Nash as a general manager and chief designer. This Englishman previously co-owned the Whitehouse Glass Works in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, and had emigrated to the United States in 1882. He was a master glassmaker with extensive technical knowledge of modern English glass manufacture and of the traditional craft. This cooperation led to Nash developing 'favrile' glass, a brand name patented in 1894, but Nash never shared the secret of the manufacturing process with Tiffany. The name 'favrile' derives from the 17th century English word fabrile, described in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as meaning 'of or belonging to a crafstman or his craft'. Nowadays it is often called opalescent or colorescent glass. The colours in this glass are confluent, and it has a unique satin-like luster and feel. Vases were blow with this glass material, often requiring 20 firings in which glass of varying structure and colour were added topically so as to add structure and design to it (such as a peacock feather, ipomoea, leaves, etc.). Hence the vase was entirely the product of the glass blower and did not need any further processing. In this respect it is quite different from the work of Gallé, which required a lot of etching, or the work of others who applied enamel to the glass. Tiffany was pre-eminently an artist in the context of Art Nouveau, a term coined by his friend Siegfried Bing when he opened his new shop in Paris, La Maison de l'Art Nouveau, introducing Tiffany's glass work to Europe.
Tiffany also produced iridescent glass, mimicking the patina of Roman glass. Or lava glass, with golden trails on rough-surfaced basalt. Very subtle design comprise fishes, leaves, etc. in semi-translucent glass, but there are more variations on the theme.
|One of the popular Tiffany-lamps, the Wisteria, designed by "Emarel" Freshel.|
His lamps are a third aspect of Tiffany as an industrial artist. Initially they were blown in one piece. At a later stage they were made of pieces of glass that were left over in the production of stained glass windows. However, unlike the lead strips used in stained glass windows, the circumference of each piece of glass was covered with adhesive copper foil, and the pieces joined by soldering. The interplay of lines always forms an integral part of the design. Although others had made similar lamps from homogeneously coloured pieces of glass, Tiffany's lamps acquired great fame due to the warm colours, the very practical and often adjustable bases, as well as the great care with which the bronze bases were designed. On that account this type of lamp is now synonymous with Tiffany-lamp.
Tiffany created even more pieces of art. However, his name is mainly associated with his vases, the windows and the lamps he made using his delicate variation of the lead strip technique.