Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in 1848 into the family which owned the fanmous jewelry firm, Tiffany and Company. His artistic inclinations became apparent when he was still a child who roamed alone through forests and along beaches, evidencing a strong interest in landscapes, trees, flowers, and rocks. He disappointed his father when he decided against college and eventual entry into tht family's jewelry firm, and chose instead to study art.
When he was twenty, Tiffany started the first period of his artistic career. One that was devoted to painting and lasted for about a decade. Although he continued to paint in his later years, painting was then only an avocation and Tiffany expressed himself more fully in other art forms.
His years as a painter served as stepping-stones to his next endeavors. In the area of interior decorating and architecture. The firm of Louis C. TIffany & Associated Artists, started in 1881, was the first of several agencies and partnerships Tiffany formed and on whose behalf he engaged a number of outstanding artists.
In the years that followed, he designed and decorated theatres, churches, and elaborate houses and apartments, among them Madison Square Theatre, the Church of the Divine Paternty, his own llukurious apartment on Madison Avenue, the houses of Mark Twain, the Vanderblits, Hamilton Fish, the Havemeyers and the White House under President Arthur.
The interplay of light and dark, and the artistic possibilities inherent in reflected rays had always fascinated Tiffany. For unusual refractive effects, he made use of mirrors, glass mosaics, tiles, shiny discs and metallic wallpapers. For direct illumination, he employed a variety of chandeliers, sconces, skylights and colored windows. As time went on, he grew increasingly impatient with the available glawss. The drive to acquire finer glass consumed more and more of Tiffany's time and gradually led to his complete preoccupation with the production of colored glass.
At the beginning of his search for better glass, he first attempted to prduce an iridescent type such as he had seen when he visited Europe. Ancient Roman vases, buried in the soil for centuries, had acquired a strange but pleasing luster. After innumerable experiments, Tiffany finally achieved the correct chemical interaction, and, in 1881, acuired the patent on an iridescent glass.
Subsequently, he organized the Tiffany Glass Co., which in 1892 was absorbed by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. The latter continued until 1900 when the Tiffany Studios emerged.
Tiffany's repeatedly expressed desire to bring beauty into the average home, was probably responsible for the emphasis on lamps, vases and other small articles. In this area, his one great and lasting love, colored glass, found fresh scope and inspiration.
The list of decorative objects offered by the studios included: metal craft, which encompassed brass lamp bases, stands for vases, trays, candlesticks, jewel boxes, clocks, desk sets and similar objects.
Tiffany died in 1933, at the age of 85, leaving to America a heritage of many beautiful art objects.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series by Shiela Zwirn on Art Glass.