By indexer
114 days ago

Tiffany glass

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Tiffany glass was the brainchild of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) who was the son of Charles Louis Tiffany, who had already established himself as a jeweller and silversmith with the foundation of the New York firm of Tiffany and Young in 1837.

Louis Tiffany

Although Louis Tiffany could simply have followed in his father’s footsteps and earned a substantial fortune by so doing, he preferred to study art, becoming a painter of landscapes. He visited Paris in 1868-69 and subsequently toured Spain and North Africa, where he became fascinated by Moorish and Islamic art. He was also influenced by Oriental art, to which he was introduced by Samuel Bing, a dealer in Paris, and Edward Moore, who was a designer for Tiffany and Young.

Tiffany realised that he did not have the skill to succeed as a painter, and Moore persuaded him to turn his attention to applied art and interior decoration. In 1879 he formed a partnership with two colleagues to form “Louis C Tiffany and Associated Artists”, and soon acquired a reputation as a pre-eminent decorator. He was chosen to re-decorate part of the White House in 1882-83 and, for this purpose, created a large screen in opalescent glass. Unfortunately this was destroyed in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Tiffany’s interest in glass

Tiffany became increasingly interested in the possibilities of glass and broke up the partnership in order to concentrate on this medium. He had collected a lot of glassware on his travels and was fascinated by the colouring and texture of ancient glass. The iridescence that he admired had largely been caused by the glass absorbing metallic oxides when buried in the ground, and the pitted surfaces resulted from natural decomposition. Tiffany wanted to find ways to reproduce these effects in new glass.

Tiffany was particularly keen to produce glass in which the colour and decoration were integral and not applied to the surface. He always wanted to produce shapes that were natural for glass and not imitations of objects in bronze or porcelain. He was not always interested in perfect symmetry, because he admired the irregularities found in ancient glass.

The items he produced proved to be highly popular, and the demand was such that he could not possibly have made them all himself, although he kept a close eye on everything that left his factory. There is therefore a division between the experimental pieces for which he was directly responsible and the more commercial items that were produced to satisfy the demands of the market. The modern collector needs to be aware of this fact and appreciate that Tiffany glass varies in quality, and therefore price, for this reason.

Variants of Tiffany glass

Tiffany used several methods to produce iridescent glass by adding a film of metallic oxide, the particular oxide determining the colour. For example, iron oxide gave a green colour, and manganese oxide produced glass that was violet. A very popular lustre was gold, sometimes formed by spraying a gold oxide on to the glass while it was soft on emerging from the furnace.

Decoration was added to iridescent glass by various methods. One involved the reheating of a small ball of glass many times (up to 20) with new pieces of glass being added each time. As the piece grew, so did the decoration added at the early stages. This method produced the characteristic “peacock feather” vases that are now highly prized.

Another technique was to decorate a vase while still soft, by adding coloured glass in flower patterns and rolling the new glass in until smooth, then encasing the whole in further glass, thus giving the finished piece an impression of depth. This technique was used for Tiffany’s “paperweight vases”.

“Cypriote” ware was glass with a crusted surface, intended to reproduce the corroded texture of ancient glass. The technique involved rolling the warm glass over a surface that was covered with pulverised glass crumbs. Cypriote ware was usually made from brown or blue opaque glass, and the pieces tended to be larger than other vase types.

Tiffany also produced “lava glass” with irregular decoration in gold lustre, agate ware (different colours run together then polished) and marbilized ware (colours blended to resemble marble).

Of particular interest are Tiffany’s lampshades, in the form of glass mosaics within a leaded framework. A very large number of these were produced, such that it would seem that nobody who could afford a Tiffany table lamp would dare to be seen without at least one in their house, preferably several. The quality varies considerably, but the best lampshades are beautifully constructed and incorporate subtle uses of colour.

Many Tiffany pieces are marked with the word “favrile”, and are sometimes referred to “Tiffany-Favrile”. The word is derived from the Old English word “fabrile” and simply means “hand made”.

Tiffany’s reputation

Louis Tiffany had pretensions to be an American William Morris, but whereas Morris sought to simplify and to make art and good design affordable, Tiffany was more interested in the luxurious and exotic. By seeking to reproduce forms found in Nature and the distant past he could be said to have been in tune with the principles of Art Nouveau, but he did not subscribe to any Art Nouveau dogma. He did, however, make a huge contribution to American craftsmanship and produced many pieces that, although only moderately functional, were highly decorative (this is art glass after all, not tableware!) and often exquisitely beautiful.

Good collections of Tiffany glass can be seen at the Bethnal Green Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Chrysler Art Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts, among others.

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Melsdename Beautiful!!!
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