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Louis C. Tiffany: An American Icon

Inspired by the natural and the exotic, Louis Comfort Tiffany perfected groundbreaking techniques which would shape the future of glass making

Louis C. Tiffany (1848–1933), arguably the foremost American glass artist, melded Gilded Age aesthetic sensibilities with his own diverse travels and artistic training to create a unique style. During his nearly 50-year career as a stained-glass artist from the 1870s to the 1920s, he created windows for houses, libraries, department stores, churches, and theaters throughout North America. Prior to Tiffany, there had been little technological and creative advancement in glass production since medieval times. Through his innovative techniques, this American glass master was able to achieve a more rich and varied palette, featuring new motifs, colors, textures, and patterns. Though he is probably best known for his stained glass, he also created blown-glass vases, mosaics, enamelwork, metalwork, ceramics, and jewelry.

The son of the founder of Tiffany & Company, Louis C. Tiffany began his career as a painter following the Civil War. He presented his paintings in various prestigious national exhibitions, and was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design. In the 1870s, he expanded his scope of work to include multiple facets of home decor, even decorating for prominent American figures such as Mark Twain. During this period, Tiffany continued to experiment with various creative pursuits, incorporating his stained glass into the homes and public spaces he designed.

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Vase designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company ca. 1900

 

One of his first leaded-glass windows was created in 1870 for his home and studio here in New York City, and even then, Tiffany demonstrated an unconventional approach to the medium. His father soon commissioned him to create additional works. By 1880s, the Tiffany Glass Company was the largest producer of stained-glass windows in the nation.

An avid traveler, Louis C. Tiffany’s works were often inspired by the exotic and the historical, including the arts of China, Japan, ancient Greece, Egypt, Venice, India, and the Islamic world. Another famous element of Tiffany’s body of work is his illusionistic interpretation of nature, inspired by plants, insects, and birds; one well-known example is his Favrile glass vase from 1900 featuring an opalescent peacock feather design, now interpreted by The Met Store through such beloved pieces as our Favrile Notecards and Peacock Feather Shawl. This patented glass technique is known for the fusion of milky, opaque, and lustrous hues, which highlights the naturally occurring changes in tonality and pattern in the glass. The result is a material that seems to mimic brushstrokes and other painterly qualities. In some cases, the molten glass was manipulated to create surface texture accenting the colors and patterns within the glass itself.  

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Our Louis C. Tiffany Favrile Domed Paperweight and Louis C. Tiffany Dragonflies Correspondence Cards

 

Production of Louis C. Tiffany’s revered stained-glass windows began with one or more watercolor sketches. Later, these drawings were enlarged to full scale, with lines imitating the weight of leading in different areas, which could be used to create organic details like branches. The finalized designs were later copied and cut out to make templates for each piece of glass within the window. In some cases, the same pattern was used multiple times to meet increased demand.

Louis C. Tiffany burst into the height of his career following the blockbuster showcase of his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, attended by over one million people. By this point, his designs had become so popular that he commissioned a group of American artists to help paint his large-scale designs, and towards the end of the 1890s he hired a team to assist in designing them as well.

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Louis C. Tiffany Magnolias and Irises Neckerchief

 

The Met was one of the first collectors of his work, having received several Favrile glass vases as gifts of the Havemeyer family in 1896. Tiffany himself loaned the Museum some of his creations during his lifetime, and after the artist’s death in 1933, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation made gifts of the artist’s works.

Be a part of this artist’s ongoing legacy. Shop our range of products inspired by Louis C. Tiffany’s life’s work here.

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