Thursday, February 18, 2010

Master of Glass

Magnet # 171: Maymont Stained-Glass Window

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

The incredibly talented artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany was born on this day in 1848. He was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Co. As such, during his youth he was exposed to the brilliant works of decorative arts his family sold and he gained an appreciation for art. By the time he was grown, he'd become a painter. He studied with masters and his oil and watercolor paintings were well-received within the art community. It seemed Tiffany would have a great deal of success as a traditional painter. However, in 1875, Tiffany changed the path of his career completely. He had become enthralled with the stained glass images he'd seen in his travels to England and would pursue it for the rest of his life. At first, it was difficult for him to obtain the glass he wanted for his works - until then, many artists had painted on clear glass to achieve the colors they wanted, but Tiffany wanted his glass to shine from the inside. He also realized that flawed glass produced better results, and resorted to using glass from jars and bottles because he couldn't find glass artisans that would leave impurities in their work. Finally, however, thanks in part to his father's considerable financial backing, Tiffany was able to start producing his own glass. This had color embedded in the glass, and he patented it under the name Favrile, and it was the first art glass to be Incorporated into stained-glass windows. It met with great success and Tiffany won prestigious awards and commissions. Some of the noteworthy places Tiffany created stained glass windows for during his career included Yale University, the Lightner Museum in Florida, countless churches around the country, the Maryland state capitol, and even the White House. Eventually, he began to produce other works of art with his stained-glass, like vases and lamps. With his head designer, Clara Driscoll, Tiffany was able to create some of the most beautiful lamps that had ever been seen. With his work, Tiffany became an important figure in the Art Nouveau style, which consisted of organic motifs and elegant, elaborate, flowing linework. When Tiffany finally passed away in 1933, he left behind almost 60 years of gorgeous stained-glass work.

For a time, Tiffany's work fell out of favor due to changing opinions in art criticism and the rise of modern art. But by the 1960's, retrospective shows were reminding collectors and museums of how truly remarkable Tiffany's works are. Soon, they were being restored, drawing in crowds, and getting considerable sums of money at auction.  In fact, some of his lamps have sold for around 2 million dollars!  If you'd like to see Tiffany's work in person and pay far less than that, there are many examples, but nearly all of them are here in North America. Florida's Charles Hosmer Morris Museum of American Art boasts the largest collection of his work, but there are many other options. I saw one of his beautiful stained-glass windows last year when I visited the Maymont House in Richmond, Virginia. A stylized version of it is featured on this magnet. When it was placed above their grand staircase, Richmond society was abuzz with curiosity over this masterpiece. After all, Tiffany had produced very few stained-glass windows for private homes, and everyone wanted to see what he had created for the Dooleys, who owned Maymont. Nowadays, every visitor to the home can see this work of art, along with a vase also designed by Tiffany and other products of his company.  Viewing his astonishing work in person, you can truly understand the genius of Tiffany and appreciate the lasting influences he left on the art world that enrich our everyday lives.

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