The Arlecchino Antique-ShopThe History of Tiffany Art Glass
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Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in 1848 the son of a prominent New York jeweler. He could have been a wealthy wastrel on the $35 million he inherited from his father, but he wanted to make his own mark in the world.

As a young man, Tiffany studied art in New York and later in Paris. While in France, he met Emile Galle who was producing art glass in Nancy. Tiffany was, to an extent, influenced by him, and by the whole Art Nouveau movement then awakening. At that time, however, he was not thinking exclusively of glass; he was also fascinated with Japanese prints, Middle Eastern art, and ancient Roman pottery.

Upon returning to America, Tiffany continued painting in oils, but he enlarged his artistic activity to the whole field of decorative arts. In 1875, he founded Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists, which soon employed over one hundred skilled craftsmen. His interior designs were in great demand, and after restyling a suite of rooms in the White House in 1883, he was the most fashionable decorator in New York City.

All of Tiffany's later work grew out of his early success in interior design. From the start the used glass extensively, with tiles, lamps, murals, and windows as an intrinsic part of the style. Other furnishings made use of textiles, jewels (sometimes inset in glass), and pottery. His rooms were sumptious and incorporated a wealth of careful detail in which Middle Eastern and oriental influences could be seen.

His windows were pictures in glass. Like those of great cathedrals (which also employed his services) Tiffany windows were intended to be looked at, rather than through. The glass was clear or opaque, vari-colored, sometimes convoluted, and designed to reflect light like a fine gemstone. Windows and murals contained small pieces of glass, cut to shape and leaded, creating a dazzling, unified pattern, Opaque glass tiles were also used to good effect as they adorned walls, mantlepieces, and screens.

Tiffany lamps quickly became popular at home and abroad. The tiny pieces of glass were set in a natural pattern, featuring flowers, butterflies, or dragonflies. The bronze base complemented the leaded shade. Later, some shades were made in folds from panels of pressed glass, creating the appearance of a tweedy fabric.

At first, Tiffany used glass used by outside firms, but this did not give him total satisfaction. As his fascination with glass grew, he experimented with lustering techniques, larely inspired by the natural iridescence of ancient Roman glass. He patented his first glass-lustering technique in 1881. Favrile glass, the trademark for Tiffany handmade glass, resulted froom these experiments and, with the exception of Tiffany lamps, it is the ware for which he is best known.

Tiffany set up his own glasshouse at Corona, Long Island and put a brilliant Englishman, Arthur J. Nash, in charge. His previous companies had all been concerned with interior decoration; this one, Tiffany Furnaces, concentrated on decorative blown glassware.

Tiffany, no craftsman himself, died considerably less wealthy than he began, because of his own fascination with the capabilities of glass in the furnace. He was not content to leave the experiments to his skilled workers, and he would not abandon his own ideas even when Nash was satisfied, after repeated efforts, that they would not work. Such interference was not cost effective, but it was symptomatic of what he was trying to do. He was a leader and Tiffany glass was never a shadow of other men's work.

Galle, Daum, Moser and the Muller Brothers, all working in Art Nouveau, created their effects mainly on the bench by cutting, etching, and enameling glass. Even though Tiffany's very smalloutput of cameo glass was carved, the overwhelming majority of his ware were produced entirely in the furnace, and no Tiffany glass was ever enameled.

The Tiffany School of glassware was smaller than that of Galle, but of those who followed his ideas, Loetz of Bohemia is the best known. This firm also relied on the furnace rather than the workbench for decorative effects. Although Loetz produced a vast quantity of free-blown iridescent glass that was priced for a broad market, the quality of their glass remained excellent. The Loetz company acknowledged that its wares were inspired by L.C. Tiffany.

Tiffany develped a whole range of unique glassware by trying out and perfecting new techniques in the furnace. The glass itself was of the best quality, its colors achieved by the addition of metallic oxides, variable by temperature within the furnace.

His lustering technique, with its iridescent effect, was the most important because it was his hallmark, used in many different wares. This involved dissolving salts of metallic oxides in the molten glass, so creating the chosen colors -- soft greens, blues, golds, etc. The metallic content was then brought to the surface by subjecting the glass to a reducing flame and spraying with another chloride. This treatment caused the surface to crackle into a profusionof tiny lines that refracted light.

The skill of the blower was paramount in this, because Tiffany glass was free blown. Speed was necessary to achieve the desired effect before the molten glass cooled. With intricate Tiffany specialties, like the peacock feather motif or a jack-in-the-Pulpit vase, this was no mean feat.

Specialty glasswares are rare and therefore expensive. Lava glass, with its glorious golden trails on rough-surfaced basalt, and Cypriote glass, rolled in fragmented crumbs of glass to give the impression of old Roman glass, are examples of iridized pieces of Tiffany ware. Damascened glass is another such specialty, developed c.1910, which incoporates striped of golden luster giving the appearance of damascened steel when blown into wavy stripes. Agate glass exhibits a marbled effect resulting from a misture of various colored glasses.

Many Tiffany specialties were developed from ancient forms and styles. For example, the technique for creating millefiori had been used 2000 years ago, but not by Tiffany's methods or with his luster finish. The closely packed "thousand flowers " of millefiori, most familiar in French paperweights, were formed by fusing tiny rods of colored glass. Tiffany did not place segments of these rods in close proximity as in paperweights. Rather, in the celebrated Tiffany floral vases, a patch of opalescent glass and the whole was reheated, allowing the well-separated flowers to be molded into the body before the piece received its iridescent finish.

Some items decorated in this manner were cased with a layer of clear glass. Such pieces are sometimes called Tiffany paperweight glass. Aquamarine glass, made in much the same way, was embedded with marine decoration, wavy fronds of green with fishes or pebbles, in heavy green glass intended to simulate the sea.

Tiffany glass comes in all sorts of colors and can give the impression of having been formed by pure chance. The vast majority of his lustered wares were vases, but a few dishes and bowls were also produced. Like all worthwhile products, Tiffany glass was often faked, so that great care must be taken when buying; prices are too high for mistakes.

Tiffany glassware was at its best from the late 1890s to 1918. Many of the glass forms were perfected after 1900 and were manufactured under several company names. Most of it was signed, either stamped or engraved around the pontil, with a model number and the initials "LCT," "Tiffany Studios N.Y." (responsible for most of the bronze wares), or "Louis C. Tiffany Favrile". Forged Tiffany marks are not always obvious, but fakes rarely measure up to Tiffany standards.

Tiffany retired in 1918, but he kept a watchful eye on the company. Nash carried on the business, but his later work, fighting a rearguard action against Art Deco, was not of the same quality. In 1928, L.C. Tiffany severed all connection with the firm, withdrawing permission to use his name.

By his vision and energy, L.C. Tiffany succeeded in blending classical motifs with bold new techniques in glassmaking to create a distinctive American art form. The demand for Tiffany glass among today's collectors attests to the lasting value of his work.


 

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