Louis Comfort Tiffany is practically synonymous with New York City, but few people today know he and his company contributed much to Chicago’s design aesthetic. Much has also been written about his lamps, but few books have dared to fully explore his art glass.
Two recently published hardcover books have changed all that. The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany by Paul E. Doros (The Vendome Press, $75) presents a comprehensive look at Tiffany’s Favrile glassworks, while Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection by David A. Hanks (The Monacelli Press, $45) surveys Richard H. Driehaus’s collection and highlights major commissions Tiffany executed in Chicago.
In his book, David A. Hanks takes the reader through a virtual journey of Tiffany works in the collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago, located mere steps from the city’s Magnificent Mile. The museum was founded by philanthropist Driehaus in 2003 and completed an extensive conservation and renovation of the Nineteenth Century mansion that was the Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson.
The Driehaus collection focuses on the time in England and America when the quest for beauty in decorative arts informed buyers’ tastes. The Nickerson home was profiled in the landmark publication Artistic Houses, 1883–84, but if one cannot get to Chicago firsthand to see these works in this architectural setting, then this book is the next best thing.
The book — and exhibition — show the stunning diversity of Tiffany’s creations, from lamps and floral vases to vase forms, decorative objects, furniture and interiors and stained glass windows. It also shares the important story of Tiffany’s accomplishments in Chicago, which has not been as widely known, as the company is more closely associated with New York City.
Tiffany opened a Chicago office in the 1880s, likely seeing huge growth potential as the city undertook a yearslong rebuilding after the devastating Great Fire in 1871. Tiffany is known for his marvelous and elaborate mosaic murals in Chicago and likely his early years included much decorator work for church interiors and private homes, though his commissions here are not well documented.
By 1893, Tiffany made a leap into the public eye in a big way with its impressive display at the World’s Columbian Exposition that commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. Tiffany’s exhibition at the fair featured Byzantine mosaics and a dramatic “Romanesque Revival” chapel (now located at the Morse Museum of American Art), which itself was centered with a massive electrified chandelier weighing half a ton. The chandelier won an award for creative use of electricity.
In all, Tiffany saw some 1.4 million visitors come through its exhibition and it won 44 awards in total. Better still, the firm won several important commissions in Chicago, including a gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago for its new museum building that became the Field Memorial Gallery, 1893–94, and another commission, also from the Art Institute, for the Fullerton Hall dome. The favorable response to the mosaics in Tiffany’s Exposition display resulted in three installations of Tiffany glass mosaics in Chicago that still exist today. One is in the Marquette Building at 140 South Dearborn Street, while its most famous mosaic commission was for the Chicago Public Library. While the Marquette mosaics are romantic in nature, the library’s piece is more neo-Renaissance, embracing an academic theme.
In keeping with the ideals of the Aesthetic Movement, Tiffany began working in interiors in the late 1870s. An early Twentieth Century fire screen in the book is a rare surviving example in the collection. Made of molded and blown glass with bronze and wrought iron, this screen is a simpler version of the one that Tiffany designed for the H.O. Havemeyer House entry hall, 1891–92. Deceptively simple yet bold, this ingenious design is reminiscent of an embroidery, with 77 large squares “woven” with nine Favrile glass squares inside each that allows firelight to pass through the glass as well as the spaces between the glass.
Another ambitious work is the “Angel of Truth” memorial window. Tiffany and his Chicago glassmaker competitors routinely made stained-glass memorial windows. “Of Tiffany windows for Chicago mausoleums, the ‘Angel of Truth’ triptych for John G. Shedd is the most glorious, notable for its vibrant coloration and striking image,” Hanks writes.
Highlighting the decorative objects category is a set of three candlesticks that were likely sold as singles. Tiffany’s candlesticks were traditionally finished in earthy tones like green and brown or silver and gold, and sometimes accented with iridescent glass jewels. A circa 1910 Saxifrage candlestick — named for the saxifrage, a flowering herb — is made of patinated bronze and stands 17¾ inches tall. It is shown with a Pineapple variation made before 1902 of bronze and blown glass, 25¾ inches tall, and a Wild Carrot example, circa 1898–1902, of patinated bronze and blown glass, 18 inches tall.
After a period where his works went out of favor as Modernism swept America, Tiffany is again appreciated and Hanks’ book pays homage to Tiffany’s contributions to glass. John Faier’s photographs accentuate the subtle details and shadings in each piece shown.
Tiffany’s Art Glass
Widely inventive and elegant, Tiffany Studios’ art glass has long been a favorite with collectors. Tiffany is said to have thought his Favrile works to be the epitome of his artistic oeuvre and each piece was executed to his high standards, meticulously blown and decorated by hand. Favrile glass was produced between the 1890s and 1920s and Paul E. Doros’s book offers up a comprehensive — and definitive — look at these works.
Formerly a curator of glass at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., Doros has long admired Tiffany glass and writes with authority, surveying the vast range of styles that Tiffany produced, ranging from the earliest of the brown-glass objects debuted in a small exhibition at the Brooklyn Institute in April 1894, which were noted for emulating the vividly hued tones of Venetian glass and Roman art, to the striking “Lava” vases and the iridescent and striking paperweight vases.
“The collections discussed and sumptuously photographed on these pages, many pieces of which are published here for the first time, …serve to inspire future connoisseurs and provide pleasure to all who peruse this volume,” writes Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the curator of American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the foreword to the book.
Dramatically photographed, the art glass examples practically pop off the pages and the book’s attractive presentation owes much to David Schlegel’s photographs that were commissioned for the book. “I was unbelievably lucky with David — the book is a marriage of text and photographs,” Doros said.
An avid gardener, Louis Comfort Tiffany loved nature and found a bountiful and steady source of inspiration for his artistic designs. In his paperweight designs, which used a millefiori technique seen in true paperweights, he found the perfect vehicle to express his love of flowers and nature. His glass gaffers were up to the challenge and created wonderful paperweight vases that were among the company’s most artistic and popular categories.
The Lava forms of Favrile glass detailed here are instantly recognizable for their transparent amber body and have a vivid gold iridescence on the interior and a thin, deep blue overlay, on which thick drippings of amber glass with more gold iridescence is applied. The effect mimics lava running down the sides of a volcano.
Perhaps due to their challenging production (the multiple layers of glass and thick and irregular gold drippings causes much internal stress on the piece) and customer response to these bold designs, production was very limited to two short spans, circa 1907 and 1916.
Tiffany had a fondness for ancient art and, like nature, found design inspiration here, as evinced in his Byzantine and Cypriote works, for example. In a 1909 exhibition at Tiffany’s Madison Avenue showroom, several Byzantine works were shown and Tiffany debuted the results of several years of working to replicate the challenging shade of turquoise blue that had long stymied glassmakers.
In his Cypriote works, Tiffany recreates the look of ancient Cyprian glass, noted for their iridescent and pitted appearance. A sizable collection of ancient Cyprian glass was donated to the Metropolitan Museum by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, with which Tiffany was undoubtedly familiar. Doros’s book offers fascinating insights into glassmaking techniques, noting that marvering broken bits of glass onto the gather while making Tiffany’s Cypriote glass would not be enough to achieve this look. An additional step of using a nitrate solution was likely employed, which would decompose at a high temperature, creating the desired pitted texture on the surface.
A labor love, this book was in Doros’s thoughts for about 25 years, inspired by his parents' interest in Tiffany glass and exhaustively researched from many primary and secondary sources. While not a collector himself, Doros said, “I like collecting knowledge and part of the joy is sharing with other people. Doing research for hours … I love the thrill of the hunt — to find the one little bit that no one knows.”