Born in New York in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany first trained as a painter with the American landscape painters George Innes and Samuel Colman, at the National Academy of Design in New York and with the Parisian painter Léon Bailly. He was influenced by Bailly’s orientalist paintings and his travels through North Africa and Western Europe. In the 1870s his attention shifted to interior design and the decorative arts, and he launched a number of commercial ventures in these fields, which earned him commissions for interior design from the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, and several President’s rooms. The White House by Chester A. Arthur. However, his passion for painting continued throughout his life.
In the 1880s Tiffany’s interests, both artistic and commercial, turned to the design and production of decorative glass and he founded the Tiffany Glass Co. As his entrepreneurial role grew. ‘developed during the 1890s, with the desire to make his own glass, he established a glass furnace in Queens and eventually established a large workshop which employed craftsmen from almost all fields of the decorative arts – goldsmiths, jewelers, stone setters, cabinet makers, weavers, sculptors, embroiderers and glassmakers, all united by his vision.
In 1893, Tiffany created a brilliant exhibit for the Chicago World’s Fair in Chicago, featuring colorful mosaic glass surfaces, stained glass windows, and the imaginative use of electric lighting. The attendance of 1.4 million visitors and the presentation of 44 medals demonstrated its popularity and success as it gained international fame. Large orders followed, including from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library and the Marshall Field & Co. department store as well as numerous hotels, churches, cathedrals, office buildings and more.
Even Spokane had his Tiffany commission: stunning stained glass for the Patsy Clark mansion. In 1902, he changed the name of his company to Tiffany Studios. After his father’s death the same year, he also became the artistic director of Tiffany’s Tiffany & Co. from his father Charles Lewis, known for his luxury goods.
If you travel a few hours east, you can see it for yourself. The exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection” at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane features over 60 objects spanning more than 30 years of Tiffany’s prolific career. You can see for yourself the artistry and craftsmanship of Tiffany’s magnificent stained glass, floral vases, lamps and accessories from Chicago’s prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Collection, showcasing never-before-seen masterpieces. in a complete exhibition.
The exhibition will run until February 13.
• David Lynx is Executive Director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for SCENE. Learn more about www.larsongallery.org.