Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the most creative and prolific
designers of the late 19th-century, declared that his life-long
goal was "the pursuit of beauty." With its comprehensive
assemblage of Tiffany's work, the Morse Museum's
collection uniquely documents that quest. Although his father,
Charles Lewis, had founded the most prestigious silver and
jewelry company in America, Louis chose another
professional direction Louis C Tiffany 1848-1933
Originally trained as a painter, he began studying the
chemistry and techniques of glassmaking when he was
24. He developed this interest as a partner in the firm
of Louis C. Tiffany and Company, Associated Artists,
(1881–85) provided innovative interior decoration for
clients ranging from Mark Twain in Hartford,
Connecticut to President Chester Arthur at the White
House.

A New Method of Glassmaking
In 1885, Tiffany established his own firm and while he
continued to undertake decorating commissions, his
focus was on new methods of glass manufacture.
Four years earlier he had registered a patent for
opalescent window glass, a radical new treatment
whereby several colors were combined and
manipulated to create an unprecedented range of hues
and three-dimensional effects. Tiffany believed that
this new material allowed more fidelity to the inherent
nature of the medium, because it enabled form to be
defined by the glass itself rather than by painting onto
the glass. Opalescent glass, however, was firmly
rejected by the other important school of the stained
glass revival, which advocated the Gothic tradition of
painting with enamel on clear, uniformly colored
"antique" glass.

The passionate moral dimension of late 19th-century
taste is clearly seen in Boston glassmaker Charles
Connick's declaration that his firm's greatest
contribution to stained glass was "rescuing it from the
abysmal depth of opalescent picture windows."
Those, like Connick, who followed the medieval
precedent of painting on clear glass, were in bitter
opposition to
Tiffany and to John La Farge, the artist
who had developed opalescent glass about the same
time as Tiffany, and was his chief competitor.

Both schools thought that they alone were being
"truthful," an ideal central to the philosophy of the Arts
and Crafts movement. Equally important was the goal
of design unity. First manifested in his efforts to create
complete interiors, Tiffany's commitment to unity was
extended to the design and manufacture of stained
glass. The leading necessary to hold the pieces of
glass together became a fully integrated design
element, simulating, for example, the stems of plants.
And Tiffany was convinced that the actual production
of a stained-glass window required the artist's
involvement at every stage, even in a factory setting—
from creating the first sketches to overseeing how the
glass was selected, cut, and assembled
Inspired By Nature
Tiffany's aesthetic was based on his
conviction that nature should be the primary
source of design inspiration. Intoxicated by
color, he translated into glass the lush palette
found in flowers and plants. This fascination
with nature and with extending the
capabilities of the medium led to the
exploration of another technique—in 1893
Tiffany introduced his first blown-glass vases
and bowls, called "Favrile," whose name, he
declared, was taken from an old English
word for hand made. Favrile glass quickly
gained international renown for its surface
iridescence and brilliant colors.


International Acclaim
Tiffany was among the first American
designers to be acclaimed abroad. Favrile
glass, together with stained-glass windows
such as the "Four Seasons," was shown at
world's fairs and sold in galleries like
Siegfried Bing's L'Art Nouveau, which
served as a conduit for the most innovative
design at the turn of the century.

In the United States,
Tiffany continued to
execute special commissions for stained glass
and glass mosaics. Much of this work was
for churches, whose patronage
Tiffany often
put at risk because of his strong preference
for landscapes instead of traditional religious
figural scenes. He also expanded his more
commercial activities and established a
metalwork department, producing lamps,
desk sets, and chandeliers that were sold in
the thousands through his own New York
showroom, company catalogues and
department stores. More personalized
expressions continued as well: In 1898
Tiffany began experimenting with enamels, in
1900, with a line of pottery and by 1904,
with designs for jewelry.

While glass is the most significant medium in
which Tiffany worked, he designed,
fabricated, or sold everything that made up
an interior, including furniture, textiles, and
wall coverings. A desire to create a unified
artistic expression culminated in the last
house he designed in its entirety—his own.
Laurelton Hall, in Cold Spring Harbor, Long
Island, was completed in 1904. The Morse
Museum is the greatest repository of Tiffany
furniture, stained glass, mosaic work, and
architectural elements from this masterpiece.
Dumbfounding Versatility
Tiffany's work reflects the efforts to resolve
the conflicting ideals of the Arts and Crafts
movement. William Morris, its English
protagonist, had demanded: "What
business have we with art at all unless all
can share it?" Yet most companies could
not produce affordable art for the home
while retaining high standards and individual
expression. Tiffany, however, successfully
created an art industry. He triumphed
where others had failed because his
personal fortune allowed him to sacrifice
company profits in the interests of artistic
achievement. In addition, he provided an
extraordinary range of products, so that
consumers at almost every economic level
had access to his religion of beauty. The
visitor to the Morse Museum is invited to
examine what a critic in 1900 called
Tiffany's "dumbfounding versatility": from
the lamps that were made in the thousands
to the unique windows executed for special
commissions or for the artist's own use
Louis Comfort Tiffany
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