Louis Comfort Tiffany - Henry Poole Henry Poole

Louis Comfort Tiffany
  • July 29, 2016
  • Posted In: Artisan

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was born into the aristocracy of American fine jewellery. His father Charles Lewis Tiffany established Tiffany & Co in Manhattan in 1837 and opened his first shop in Paris in 1850 having acquired a cache of jewels following the abdication of France’s last king Louis-Philippe in 1848; the same year Louis Comfort Tiffany was born. When the French Republic sold the Crown Jeweis in 1887, Charles Lewis acquired a third of the collection.

In a formidable creative career that spanned the 1870s to the 1920s, Louis Comfort Tiffany excelled in every medium of the artisan’s craft and formed a bridge between the great design movements Art Nouveau and Art Deco. According to New York’s Metropolitan Museum biography, ‘Tiffany embraced virtually every artistic and decorative medium, designing and directing his studios to produce leaden-glass windows, mosaics, lighting, glass, pottery, metalwork, enamels, jewellery and interiors’.

A child of privilege, Tiffany first pursued painting. He toured Europe, North America and North Africa with his mentor Robert Swain Gifford. In the latter, he painted his masterpiece Snake Charmer at Tangier completed in 1872 that was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and now hangs in the Met. In the late 1870s, Tiffany directed his talents towards the decorative arts and interior design. From 1885 he lived and worked from a studio/apartment on top of his father’s Romanesque revival mansion on the Northwest corner of 72nd Street and Madison Avenue.

From a relatively young age, Tiffany set fashions in interior decoration in America. His Celtic-inspired Rembrandt Room for patrons Louisine and Henry Osborne Havemeyer were much celebrated as were his pioneering stained glass window in which he was said to ‘paint’ with opalescent molten glass which was a revolutionary technique compared to the flat colour palette used since the Medieval age. In 1881 Tiffany designed the interiors for the Mark Twain House in Connecticut and in 1882 President Chester Alan Arthur commissioned him to redecorate the White House. Everything, including a masterly floor to celing glass screen in the Entrance Hall was removed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.

In 1889 Tiffany was said to be ‘overwhelmed’ by the French Art Nouveau glassmaker Emile Galle whose work he saw at the Paris Exposition. He was also influenced by Alphonse Mucha and English Father of the Arts & Crafts Movement William Morris. In 1892, Tiffany built his glasshouse in Queens and developed the method of constructing mosaics of stained glass panelling surrounded by lead frames with master glassblower Arthur Nash. The technique was christened ‘Favrile’; an Old English word for hand-wrought.

Tiffany began experimenting with stained glass lampshades in 1898 and his most famous shape was the Water Lily lamp; a sinuous, languid Art Deco stand made of bronze composed of lily pads supporting the stained glass ‘flower’ inspired in part by mosaics in Byzantine churches such as the cathedral at Ravenna. In 1899, Tiffany introduced enamelwork at an exhibition in London. The Tiffany Studio, founded in 1902 in the same year he built his country home Larelton Hall on Long Island (destroyed by fire in the 1950s), employed over 300 artisans including the ‘Tiffany Girls’. Led by Clara Driscoll, the Tiffany Girls were all unmarried and connoisseurs can identify their individual hand in pieces of antique Tiffany glass and ceramics.

1902 was an important year for Tiffany. Following his father’s death, Louis Comfort was appointed Art Director of Tiffany & Company. The position has since been held by some of the greats of 20th century jewellery design such as Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti, John Loring and Paloma Picasso. Tiffany’s Art Nouveau jewellery is much prized on the secondary market and is exceptional for its use of naturalistic motifs, semi-precious stones and exquisite hand-crafted enamelling. His masterpiece in stained glass was a vast glass curtain commissioned for the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1911.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s personal life was uneventful. He married first Mary Woodbridge Goddard in 1872 with whom he had four children and, following her death, Louise Wakeman Knox in 1886 who bore him four more. Tiffany’s creative career ended with a whimper rather than a bang when he retired in the 1920s. The Tiffany Studios filed for bankruptcy in 1932 a year before his death. Writing his own epitaph, Tiffany said his life was ‘dedicated to the pursuit of beauty’.

In a macabre post script, former Christie’s New York consultant and world expert on Louis Comfort Tiffany Alastair Duncan was sent to jail for two years having been found guilty of procuring and selling Tiffany stained glass windows pilfered from mausolea in cemeteries in and around the island of Manhattan. In 1999 fellow antiques expert Katie Karrick told the International Herald Tribune that Tiffany stained glass had been stolen-to-order from New York State’s cemeteries since the 1960s. The grave-robbing that sent Duncan down was a nine-foot Tiffany stained glass window stolen from a cemetery in Brooklyn and offered to a buyer in Japan for $219,000.

(c) James Sherwood

Photo © (c) Wiki Commons

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Conservation of a Louis Comfort Tiffany Stained Glass Window

Recently Diane Roberts Rousseau, a stained glass conservator from Western Massachusetts, came to treat our “Window with Hudson River Landscape” by Louis Comfort Tiffany (76.4.22). One of the panels had an old repair which had significantly yellowed over the years. I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about the treatment.

Astrid van Giffen: Why did the window need to be treated?

Diane Rousseau: The window depicts a summer landscape, and people were seeing a sunset–an oddly yellow, squared-off sunset–where none was meant to be. This was actually a heavy layer of adhesive. At some point during the preparation for the original Corning installation in 1977, a large blue piece of the sky area suffered an impact, which resulted in a large, multiple, V-shaped break. The Museum hired a restorer, Mr. Franz Meyer, to repair this glass and to strengthen the lead perimeters of the panels. He used the best materials and approach available to him at the time, but unfortunately the adhesive did not age well. Since he sealed the repair behind a new piece of clear glass, applied to the exterior of the window, there was no way to access and reverse it without taking the panel apart.

Van Giffen: Why could this treatment not done by the Museum’s conservators?

Rousseau: My treatment was actually a team effort with the chief conservator at CMOG, Steve Koob, who taught me many of the specialized techniques used for epoxy joining and casting at a seminar in 2001. My own specialty is conservation of stained glass, which involves quite a lot of joining and filling of broken glass, but also treatment of the matrix–the lead and copper channels that hold a window together. In this case, the matrix had to be partially disassembled to remove the damaged blue piece, so it made sense for Steve and I to work side by side. I opened the patient for surgery, and he took care of the cosmetic end of the treatment–the Hxtal repair.

Diane Roberts Rousseau and Steve Koob

Van Giffen: How was it repaired?

Rousseau: The window was removed from its display setting and brought over to the Conservation Lab area, where it was laid out on a specially padded bench. Tiffany windows are built in layers, so my first task was to support the stepped surfaces from below, so I could work on them without any danger of stress or deflection. I took a rubbing of the lead and copper-foiled lines, with black wax crayon on vellum – this is a centuries-old documentation technique which is still used, because it efficiently registers not only the placement of the lines but the texture of the glass surface. Digital photos were also taken of the damage before treatment, and as the work progressed.

I disassembled the window from the perimeter edges, in order to minimize intervention on Tiffany Studios’ original material. The perimeters had already been worked on by Mr. Meyer in 1976, and he had heavily reinforced them–by soldering steel bars directly to the outer lead lines, and then floating more solder into any gaps, and over the entire surface of the lead/steel combination. Solder is a robust material, and Mr. Meyer was very liberal with it. I chose specific points to separate the new perimeter from the Tiffany matrix, and desoldered these with rosin-infused copper braid. Once I had a single joint open, I could progressively work my way down the perimeters, until both sides of the panel were loose and flexible. I extracted the damaged piece, with its clear support plate attached, and turned it over to Steve for Hxtal joining. This took place overnight, and the next afternoon, I was able to begin reassembly.

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Van Giffen: What was the most difficult part of the treatment?

Rousseau: I’d have to say removing such a large, badly shattered piece—the whole width of the panel—without causing more damage to the broken edges, the surrounding glass, or the matrix itself. Tiffany’s copper-foil technique produces delicate, organic metal channels to hold the glass, but they are quite rigid. They’re fabricated by wrapping a pair of glass edges in copper foil, and floating molten solder over their surfaces to join them as one unit, often—as in this window—with a brass fin in the center for lateral support. Each line you see is fabricated in place, customized to that specific piece of glass. If they are mishandled during treatment, they can be distorted—almost too slightly to see, but the result is they won’t hold the glass properly any longer, and there are gaps in the panel: light leaks. Disassembly and reassembly took extreme concentration.

Van Giffen: Did you learn anything interesting about the window or the old repair during the treatment?

Rousseau: Steve and I had first looked at the old repair—a sheet of clear glass, over a heavy layer of yellowed adhesive—and assumed that there was no space between them.  It appeared that Mr. Meyer had laminated the whole unit together with the original piece, for maximum strength. We expected to begin treatment of the broken piece by breaking the chemical bonds of the adhesive, which can take days; separating it from the clear support plate, and then laboriously picking adhesive residue off the fragments. Imagine our surprise when I first had the piece free of the matrix, Steve touched the clear plate, and…. it moved! Mr. Meyer had saved us hours of work, by installing the clear plate as an independent element. The adhesive, now being analyzed, turned out to have very little chemical bond to the glass; it came up in contiguous sheets with only minor effort. For 1976, these treatment choices display remarkable attention to the need for reversibility. And in fact we achieved it; when the Hxtal join was complete, Steve and I independently decided the piece was strong enough to go back into the matrix without a support plate at all. What we see now, is all Tiffany glass.

Van Giffen: Will the new treatment yellow too?

Rousseau: We hope not. All epoxies yellow to some degree, but Hxtal has consistently placed at the top of aging studies carried out over the last four decades. The projected time for significant yellowing—based on lab tests, done in an accelerated-aging chamber—is approximately a hundred years. It’s been in use in conservation labs since the mid-80’s, (including here at CMOG), and performs marvels if handled correctly. In this Tiffany repair, the join lines were very tight, so the cross-section of adhesive is on the order of microns thick. Even if the adhesive were to amber slightly, on opalescent glass it would be difficult to perceive. This is a vibrant, dynamic window in terms of color, and Hxtal has allowed us to return the sky to its true blue glory. Steve will keep an eye on the repair, but I would be surprised to see any change before either of us is ready to retire.

The full window after treatment.

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    • Rosemary Angarano
    • Reply
    • 28.05.14 @ 3:39 PM

    I love stained glass !

    • Christine Anderson Brazil
    • Reply
    • 28.05.14 @ 3:45 PM

    One of the most gorgeous pieces in the Museum — now even better!

    Louis Comfort Tiffany – Pumpkin Chipotle Tartelette with Beetroot Jam & Chevre

    by on 20:00 19 Comments

    Liz from the beautiful blog Zested was one of my first ‘regulars’ here on Feasting on Art and she replied to my open call for still life suggest. Cotán’s Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber was given the recipe treatment and lucky for me, Liz saved a doozy of a suggestion for our collaboration! I frequent her site for not only tantalizing flavour combinations – Frozen Citrus Cream with Candied Thyme & White Chocolate Grapes with Orange Curd – but diligently composed and lit photographs. My mouth waters every time I look at her caramelized tomato tart and I cannot even begin to wax poetic about her Mexican Hot Chocolate! Thank you for such an exciting collaboration Liz!

    Be sure to visit Liz’s blog for the recipe for Scarlet Poached Pears and Ginger Pumpkin Bread.

    Louis Comfort Tiffany, Pumpkin and Beets window, c.1899-1900
    leaded favrile glass, 114 x 142.9 cm, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

    Louis Comfort Tiffany was originally trained as a painter before pursuing the art of glassmaking in the late nineteenth century. He is linked with the Art Nouveau movement which embodies floral motifs with flowing and stylized curves (1). Tiffany preferred to work with glass that contained mineral impurities and often composed his decorative arts with a variety of colours and textures of opalescent glass. The natural jewel-like hues of pumpkin and beetroot are a fitting subject for an art work focused on saturated colour and light. Tiffany’s painterly background is evident with tonal variation used to denote the shape and the form of the organic shapes of the vegetables and the foliage.

    As a staple dessert at any Thanksgiving Day celebration, Pumpkin Pie is firmly rooted in autumnal tradition. The New York Times recounts the pie’s history,

    First introduced to Tudor England by the French, the flesh of the “pompion” was quickly accepted as a pie filler. However, while pumpkin pie sailed with the Pilgrims back to the birthplace of its main ingredient — where it survived in more or less its original form — it all but disappeared in its country of origin.(2)

    Traditionally spiced with ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, my addition of chipotle chili gives the pie a savory bend and an additional dimension of smoky heat. Although pumpkin pie is generally more palatable for Americans, all of the Australians I tested this recipe on gobbled it up in an instant (and yes I chose the verb gobble to reference the other Thanksgiving staple – turkey!)

    {Pumpkin Chipotle Tartelette with Beetroot Jam & Chevre}

    Paired with soft and sharp cheese, the tartlets are perfect with a crisp white wine as an appetizer.

    Yield: 4 servings

    2 pounds fresh pumpkin
    1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
    3 tablespoons maple syrup
    1 teaspoon brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon dried chipotle chili
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    pinch of salt
    frozen shortcrust pastry
    2 large eggs
    2 tablespoons buttermilk
    2 tablespoons beet jam
    2 tablespoons chevre

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. De-seed the pumpkin and remove the skin. Cut the pumpkin into cubes (about half the size of your thumb). Place on baking tray, greased with a 1/2 tablespoon of cold butter and drizzle with the maple syrup. Toss with your hands to evenly coat the pumpkin and bake in a oven for about 40 minutes until soft.

    Puree the baked pumpkin in a large bowl with a hand blender until smooth. Add the butter, brown sugar, chipotle, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. Meanwhile use the remaining 1/2 tablespoon cold butter to grease the tartlet
    trays (or muffin tins). Use a small cup to cut the shortcrust pastry into circles. Carefully press each circle into the tartlet trays or muffin tins.

    Once the pumpkin puree has cooled add the two eggs and buttermilk and mix well. Fill the pastry bases and slide into the 350 degree F oven for about 40 minutes. Carefully watch the tartlets to keep them from burning.

    To serve top the tartlets with a small spoon of beet jam and chevre, dividing the cheese and jam among the tarts evenly.

    {Beetroot Jam}

    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 red onion, finely sliced
    2 beets, grated
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 dried chili
    1 tablespoon brown sugar
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

    Heat the butter and the oil in a large pot and cook the red onion for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Once the onion is soft, add the beet, thyme, and dried chili and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. With 20 minutes remaining in the cooking time, add the brown sugar and vinegar and continue to stir to keep the jam from burning. If the jam becomes too thick then add a bit of water to loosen it. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 2 to 3 weeks.

    This is the second recipe in a four part series for a smoky & spicy Thanksgiving. If you enjoyed this recipe please vote for it at the Bon Appetit Blog Envy Bake-Off (it is on the 4th page of entries in the pie category.)

    Previous postJulian Opie - Green Beans with Red Onion & Mustard Vinaigrette Next postVincent van Gogh – Chipotle Sweet Potato Mash with Fresh Lime


    1. Rosa's Yummy Yums says:

      Nov 12, 2009

      I love Art Nouveau. This stained glass is beautiful.br /br /What scrumptious tartlets! Nice combo!br /br /Cheers,br /br /Rosa

    2. Lauren says:

      Nov 12, 2009

      Oh my Megan! They are so adorable! And the glass is beautiful – I love the colours!

    3. Julie says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      I have always loved stained glass, and this one is especially pleasing with its fall colors. Your tarts look adorable.

    4. Belle@Ooh, Look says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      Tiffany stained glass is lovely, isn#39;t it? I#39;ve been meaning to bake more tarts, so I will have to try the pumpkin and beetroot combo.

    5. liz {zested} says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      Awesome – great post and seriously creative recipes! The little tarts definitely must have been tasty if you got Aussies to eat pumpkin. I#39;m very impressed that you made the pumpkin mixture from scratch.br /br /Thanks so much for the awesome collaboration!

    6. Heavenly Housewife says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      I love this window of stained glass. I did stained glass for a while in school and really loved it. Oh, and of course the little tartelettes are just darling :D.

    7. shaz says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      Ha ha – the beetroot look like they#39;ve been racing and left scorched tyre marks on the plate. Love the idea of adding chilli to the tart, sounds awesome.

    8. Jaime says:

      Nov 13, 2009

      Tartlettes look delish! :)

    9. Y says:

      Nov 14, 2009

      What a gorgeous little bite sized treat! Love the idea of beetroot jam.

    10. Hungry Dog says:

      Nov 14, 2009

      Beautiful.And what an interesting idea for a little tartelette–I love the surprise of the chipotle.

    11. dessert girl says:

      Nov 14, 2009

      Wow! Love the whole thing! The painting, the smeared beets, the pumpkin with chipotle chili…good stuff!

    12. Forager says:

      Nov 16, 2009

      I like your photo of the beet smears – so simple but pretty! The tarts look excellent too :)

    13. Julia @Mélanger says:

      Nov 16, 2009

      Just beautiful photographs!

    14. Jill says:

      Nov 18, 2009

      I love visiting your blog to see what fantastic pictures you will choose next–this one is beautiful and I love the recipe! :)

    15. Brad says:

      Nov 18, 2009

      I want to bake this as a pie, rather than tarts. suggestions? will it need a crust topper to get to the right flavor ratio, do you think?

    16. Megan@Feasting on Art says:

      Nov 19, 2009

      @Brad – I also made this recipe as a full pie and it turned out just fine. I didn#39;t put a topper, just baked it a bit longer and tested to make sure the middle was cooked through.

    17. 3 hungry tummies says:

      Nov 19, 2009

      now thats a delicious looking tartlet!

    18. Kitchen Butterfly says:

      Nov 22, 2009

      I love the paintings and the meal pairings

    19. Yummm…. « DR. LILL says:

      Nov 23, 2010

      […] ♥ […]

    What do you think?

    nart.com/2009/05'> May 2009

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