Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933)

Louis Comfort Tiffany (February 18, 1848 – January 17, 1933) was an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass during the gilded age. He is the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements. He was affiliated with a prestigious collaborative of designers known as the Associated Artists, which included Lockwood de Forest, Candace Wheeler, and Samuel Colman. Tiffany designed stained glass windows and lamps, glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics, jewellery , enamels, and metalwork. He was the first design director at his family company, Tiffany & Co., founded by his father Charles Lewis Tiffany.

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Tiffany was born into a world of refined taste, with access to rare materials of high quality. Best known for his stained-glass work, Tiffany became a renowned craftsman across the United States and in Europe, producing major commissions and high-profile projects.

Despite his father’s wealth and profession, Tiffany chose to study the fine arts rather than join the family business. Tiffany studied painting under George Inness and Samuel Colman, and later at the National Academy of Design in New York. He began his career as a painter, but turned to stained glass in the mid 1870s. He opened his own glass factory which was quickly successful; he was commissioned to design the interior of the Mark Twain house in Connecticut in 1881. The following year, President Chester Alan Arthur commissioned Tiffany to design the Entrance Hall of the White House, in addition to the Red, Blue, East, and State Dining Rooms. He next completed the installation of a glass curtain for the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He experimented with stained glass technique, finding new methods to produce iridescent finishes, and inventing lava glass and Favrile glass. His patented Favrile was then applied to Tiffany lamps and glass finishes.

A Tiffany Favrile Trumpet vase in gold with pinks and purple iridescence.
A Tiffany Favrile vase in white, decorated with gold iridescent 'pulled feathers'.

Louis Comfort Tiffany won the first of many gold medals at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, and he went on to win gold medals at the Expositions of St. Petersburg, Buffalo, Dresden, Turin, Jamestown, Seattle, Panama, and Philadelphia. He was a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, and an honorary member of the National Society of Fine Arts in Paris and the Imperial Society of Fine Arts in Tokyo. In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum mounted a major exhibit of his work, as did the New York Historical Society in 2007. His vases, lamps, and mosaics can be found in major museums around the world including the largest collection of his works at the Haworth Art Gallery in England.

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Collection of Tiffany Lamps from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida houses the world's most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, including Tiffany jewellery, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and the Tiffany Chapel he designed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After the close of the exposition, a benefactor purchased the entire chapel for installation in the crypt of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York in New York City. As construction on the cathedral continued, the chapel fell into disuse, and in 1916, Tiffany removed the bulk of it to Laurelton Hall. After a 1957 fire, Hugh McKean (a former art student in 1930 at Laurelton Hall) and his wife Jeannette Genius McKean rescued the chapel, which now occupies an entire wing of the Morse Museum which they founded. Many glass panels from Laurelton Hall are also there; for many years some were on display in local restaurants and businesses in Central Florida. Some were replaced by full-scale colour transparencies after the museum opened.

A major exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art on Laurelton Hall opened in November 2006. An exhibit at the New-York Historical Society in 2007 featured new information about the women who worked for Tiffany and their contribution to designs credited to Tiffany; the Society holds and exhibits a major collection of Tiffany's work. In addition, since 1995 the Queens Museum of Art has featured a permanent collection of Tiffany objects, which continues Tiffany's presence in Corona, Queens where the company's studios were once located. Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Indiana has a collection of 62 Tiffany windows which are still their original placements, but the church is deteriorating and in jeopardy.

In 1906, Tiffany created stained glass windows for the Stanford White-designed Madison Square Presbyterian Church located on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. The church was Tiffany's place of worship, and was torn down in 1919 after the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company bought the land to build their new headquarters. Tiffany had inserted a clause in his contract stipulating that if the church were ever to be demolished then ownership of the windows would revert to him.

Tiffany enjoyed staying at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, and had become friends with the founder of the Mission Inn, Frank Augustus Miller, so, after meeting with Miller in New York, Tiffany shipped the windows to the Mission Inn; they arrived there in 1924, and were stored until the inn's St. Francis Chapel was completed in 1931. There are six rectangular windows and a 104” diameter window in the rear of the chapel, as well as another 104” diameter window is in the Galeria next to the chapel. A smaller window entitled “Monk At The Organ” featuring a Franciscan friar, is in St Cecelia's Chapel, a wedding chapel, and is engraved with Tiffany's signature. The St Francis Chapel was designed with the intent of prominently displaying Tiffany's windows.

The Arlington Street Church in Boston has 16 Tiffany windows of a set of 20, designed by Frederick Wilson (1858–1932), Tiffany's chief designer for ecclesiastical windows. They were gradually installed between 1889 and 1929. The church archives include designs for 4 additional windows, which were never commissioned due to financial constraints caused by the Great Depression. When funds again became available, Tiffany Studios had gone out of business and its stockpile of glass had been dispersed and lost, ending the prospect of completing the set. Also in the Back Bay district of Boston is Frederick Ayer Mansion, one of three surviving examples of Tiffany interiors, and the only surviving building also possessing exterior mosaics designed by Tiffany.

The Pine Street Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island was opened in 1917 at Lloyd and Wayland Street as Central Baptist and in 2003, became known as Community Church of Providence. Between 1917 and 2018 the church featured a large Tiffany stained glass memorial to Frederick W. Hartwell that was created by Agnes F. Northrop and entitled "Light in Heaven and Earth". The complex work, considered "one of the largest and finest landscape windows ever produced by Tiffany Studios", largely was overlooked in the community. In 2018, the church sold the window to the Art Institute of Chicago. After conservation and preparation it will be displayed prominently as the Hartwell Memorial Window.

Significant collections of Tiffany windows outside the United States are the 17 windows in the former Erskine and American United Church, now part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada, and the two windows in the American Church in Paris, on the Quai d'Orsay, which have been classified as National Monuments by the French government; these were commissioned by Rodman Wanamaker in 1901 for the original American Church building on the right bank of the Seine.

The Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington, England contains a collection of more than 140 examples of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, including vases, tiles, lamps, and mosaics. The collection, which claims to be the largest collection of publicly owned Tiffany glass outside of the United States, contains a fine example of an Aquamarine vase and the noted Sulphur Crested Cockatoos mosaic.