Louis Comfort Tiffany, artist, innovator, and pioneer of form and color, was born in New York City in 1848.
The son of celebrated jeweler and founder of Tiffany & Co., Charles Tiffany, Louis C. Tiffany began his career as a painter in the late 1860s studying under a series of masters including George Inness and Samuel Colman. In the mid-1870s, he turned his attention away from painting and toward the family business of decorative arts and interior design. He built a strong reputation with his exemplary work, even taking part in the 1882 redecoration of the White House.
Despite being highly regarded for his interior design work, Tiffany found he was increasingly drawn to the production of art glass, working for several glass manufacturers from 1875-1878 and honing his skills in the medium that would ultimately bring him the greatest recognition. In 1881, he filed his first patent in glass production, pioneering a new method in glass-tiled mosaic design. Tiffany continued to develop his craft and, in 1885, opened an affiliated interior design company, Tiffany Glass Company, which later changed its name to Tiffany Studios. This new company specialized in the design of private interiors and public spaces, working with numerous clients including Louisine and Henry Osborne Havemeyer and the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1892, Tiffany received a patent for a new technique in glass production that would establish his place in art glass history: Favrile blown glass. Favrile glass is created by treating molten glass with metallic oxides in order to create a colored glass. Before the invention of Favrile glass, iridescent art glass was created by simply applying color, in the form of paint or enamel, over a piece of colorless glass. Tiffany displayed his Favrile glass at the 1900 Paris Exhibition where it won the Grand Prize.
In 1898, Tiffany Studios began manufacturing lighting fixtures and lamps. A year later, Tiffany added enamelwork to his firm’s repertoire, and later, ceramics. He continued to advance the use of Favrile glass, designing glass mosaics for use in interior settings, innovating as he did with new techniques of modeling, shading, and cutting. Upon his father's death in 1902, Tiffany assumed the roles of Vice-president and Art Director of Tiffany & Co. He watched the company’s bottom line fastidiously, ending production of any item that went unsold for one year.
No amount of careful accounting could safeguard Tiffany Studios against the shift in public taste during the 1920s. The scrolls and natural curves so integral to Tiffany’s designs gave way to the right angles of Modernism. Tiffany Studios declared bankruptcy in 1932. Louis C. Tiffany died a year later, personally bankrupt and in relative obscurity. That obscurity was not to last; scholars rediscovered Tiffany’s work in the 1950s, followed by the art market a decade later.
Today, works by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios are highly sought after in the modern art market, with collectors valuing them for their high production quality, intricate and nature-inspired designs, and stunning use of colored glass.
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