Tiffany Inspired Design
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.
If you collected Louis Comfort Tiffany 65-years-ago you would be a multimillionaire today. By-and-large people didn't appreciate the swirling lines and patterns of art nouveau design and much of Tiffany's work was art nouveau.
Over the years his stained glass windows, lamps, and glass mosaics ended up in garbage dumps like last week's leftovers. It has been estimated that only 10 per cent of Tiffany's ware survive. Many of his unique pieces vanished totally.
With the iridescent glass he called Favrile, Tiffany created his own new kind of glass. Not an easy task. Glass technology often evolves by accident and craftsmen imitate the process not really understanding the process. That wasn't the case with Louis.
Tiffany came to glass design through jewelry-making. His father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, opened a shop in New York in 1837. He sold stationary and luxury goods. Charles used his income from selling high-end imports to set up workshops and trained local craftsmen. By 1848 he was making his own jewelry and by the 1860s it became the biggest business of its kind in America.
Louis, his son, was more artist than businessman. Landscape art was his first love. How to saturate his landscapes in light in a way never before seen plagued him. Windows, he said, like murals should inspire as well as educate. With glass and the see-through effects of light he could achieve the rich color he longed for in a way he could not pull off in mural painting.
That was the power of working with glass.
"Color is to the eye what music is to the ear," he said. And Louis rivaled the painters palette with glass. The spontaneous, unexpected effects of working with it was pure magic to him. He started out studying painting in the Paris studio of George Inness. He also appreciated seeing artists and craftsmen working together like William Morris set up in his workshop in the early era of the arts and crafts movement.
Louis founded his factory in Queens, N.Y., in 1878. Coming from money gave him an edge. His decorating projects included Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Conn., and the White House under president Chester Arthur. From interior design he moved into glassmaking and from windows Tiffany moved into luxury lamps.
Louis understood the glass technology process itself but he never actually blew glass himself or cast it. His craftsmen did.
Originally they used pieces of glass leftover from windows to make stained glass lamps. Then they realized people wanted the lamps and they could be a key part of the production line. Some lamp shades had as many as 1,000 separate pieces of glass in them. Consumers would pay as much as $500 for one of these fancy lamps.
Louis was always experimenting. And if his glass lamps and vases were beautifully crafted enough it would fulfill his ultimate goal of bringing beauty into the home through glass and light.
Tiffany liked pulling off impossible tasks and he did. On June 12 a selection of Tiffany lamps went on the block at Christie's, New York. Here are some current values.
Lily Table Lamp; 18-light; favrile; base stamped Tiffany Studios New York circa 1910; 21 1/2 inches high; $68,750.
Lotus Table Lamp; leaded glass; base stamped Tiffany Studios New York; circa 1910; 22 inches high; $68,750.
Pony Wisteria Table Lamp; leaded glass; base stamped Tiffany Studios New York; circa 1910; 17 inches high; $87,500.
Wisteria Table Lamp; leaded glass; base stamped Tiffany Studios New York; circa 1905; 27 inches high; $437,000.
Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller. For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column. Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a motherlode of information about art, antiques and collectibles. Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.