★ American artist and designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was born on this day 169 years ago. In honour of the occasion, I thought it would be nice to have a look back at his life and career, his influences, and just a few pieces of his utterly beautiful stained glass work. The man himself is pictured here (left) in a portrait by Pach Bros. from c.1908, he’s also seen on the far left in this Tiffany family portrait (right) which dates from 1888.
Born in New York City in 1848, Louis was the son of Tiffany & Co. jewellery company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, and Harriet Olivia Avery Young. Having attended school at the Pennsylvania Military Academy in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Tiffany’s first artistic training was as a painter studying under artists George Inness and Samuel Colman. Progressing to the National Academy of Design in 1866-67, Tiffany then began working under the direction of French landscape painter Leon Adolphe Auguste Belly in 1868. The lasting influence of this artistic training is apparent in the painterly quality of much of Tiffany’s work, including the window ‘A Wooded Landscape in Three Panels’, c.1905 (below).
Developing an interest in glassmaking in 1875, Tiffany worked for several glassmakers located in and around Brooklyn, before joining forces with former mentor Samuel Colman in 1879, to form the company Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists. Making designs for wallpaper, furniture and textiles, Tiffany was commissioned to design the interior of Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1881, and to redecorate the White House at the behest of incoming-President Chester A. Arthur, in 1882. Despite these important commissions the business proved to be short-lived, with the company being dissolved after only four years.
In 1885, Tiffany established his own firm, the Tiffany Glass Company, to concentrate on designing high-quality, contemporary art glass. Heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau aesthetic – in particular the work of French glass artisan Émile Gallé, and the artist Alphonse Mucha – Tiffany used opalescent glass in a variety of colours and textures to create designs focused on the sinuous, delicate forms of nature. Together with these stylistic factors, Tiffany’s innovative ‘copper foil’ technique of stained glass (which enabled a previously unknown level of detail) allowed him to develop a truly unique style which spawned many imitators.
With the business thriving, 1893 saw Tiffany build a large new factory in Corona, Queens, called the Stourbridge Glass Company. Employing over 300 artisans at its peak, this factory produced a whole range of interior decorations, including the famed Tiffany lamps, glassware, enamel work, pottery, and mosaics. Stained glass windows remained, however, Tiffany’s speciality, with his design ‘The Four Seasons’ winning a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. (The ‘Spring’ panel is pictured below.)
After taking on the additional role of Design Director for his father’s jewellery company, Tiffany & Co. in 1902, Tiffany embarked on the personal project of designing his own house. Completed in 1905, the 84-room Laurelton Hall estate, on Long Island, New York, showcased all of his design talents in an Art Nouveau confection that acted as both a gallery for many notable Tiffany pieces, and as a work of art in itself. Widely seen as a masterpiece, the Hall was tragically destroyed by fire in 1957, although many architectural elements and windows were later salvaged (including the ‘Spring’ panel, above, which is visible in the top left of this 1924 photo of Laurelton Hall’s living room).
Tiffany’s talent saw his glass company (known as Tiffany Studios since 1902) continue to flourish over the following years, with his work winning gold medals at various expositions throughout the 1900s and 1910s, including at the famous 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri (as featured in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland). Due to his advancing years, Tiffany retired from the family business in 1919, choosing to focus instead on his interests in activism and philanthropy. Although the family jewellery business, Tiffany & Co. survived his departure, the Tiffany Studios glassworks filed for bankruptcy in 1932.
Louis Comfort Tiffany died in New York City on 17th January 1933, aged 84. As one of the most talented, successful and influential glassmakers and designers of the ‘gilded age’, his genius lives on not only to this day, but assuredly for many decades to come.
PS. If you’d like to see more of Tiffany’s fabulous stained glass, you can check out my Pinterest board, here.