Louis Comfort Tiffany
The name Tiffany prompts thoughts of two things: splendid gifts in robin’s-egg blue boxes and exquisite stained glass. Charles Lewis Tiffany founded the former, and his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, is responsible for exemplars of the latter. Beyond glass, the younger Tiffany worked in mediums that ranged from furniture and enameling to ceramics and metalware. Louis Comfort Tiffany was undoubtedly the most influential and accomplished American decorative artist in the decades that spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
By the time Tiffany was born, the stationery and “fancy goods” emporium his father had established 11 years before had grown to become the most fashionable jewelry and luxury items store in New York. Tiffany fils declined to join the family business and pursued a career as an artist. He studied painting with several teachers, notably the scenic painter Samuel Colman, while spending long periods touring Europe and North Africa. Though he painted his entire career, visits to continental churches sparked a passionate interest in stained glass. Tiffany began experimenting with the material and in 1875 opened a glass factory-cum-laboratory in Corona, Queens — the core of what eventually became Tiffany Studios, a multimedia decorative-arts manufactory. Tiffany developed a method in which colors were blended together in the molten state. Recalling the Old English word fabrile, meaning “hand-wrought,” he named the blown glass Favrile, a term that signified handmade glass of unique quality. In his glass designs, Tiffany embraced the emerging Art Nouveau movement and its sinuous, naturalistic forms and motifs. The pieces won Tiffany international fame. (Siegfried Bing, the Paris entrepreneur whose design store, L’Art Nouveau, gave the stylistic movement its name, was the leading European importer of Tiffany pieces.)
By 1902, along with glass, Tiffany was designing stained-glass lamps and chandeliers as well as enameled metal vases, boxes and bowls, and items such as desk sets and candlesticks. Today such pieces epitomize the rich aesthetics of their era. Tiffany Studio table lamps are the most recognizable and the most prized. They range in price from $60,000 to upward of $2 million for intricate shade designs like the Dragonfly. Tiffany glass vases and bowls are generally priced from $1,000 to $30,000 depending on size, color, condition and form. Simpler accessories such as metal trays and small picture frames can fetch from $800 to $3,000. Tiffany design of any type is an emblem of taste and craftsmanship. As you will see on these pages, Louis Comfort Tiffany ensured that each piece he and his company produced, magnificent or modest, was a work of art.