Tiffany Lamps, the icons of American Art Nouveau

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Xavi

Tiffany lamps have become so familiar today that they no longer seem to belong to a particular time and place but they belong to Art Nouveau, a decorative art that owed as much to handicraft as it did to commercial industry. In the United States, these lamps and the firm of Louis Comfort Tiffany played a central role in American Art Nouveau.

They came up with the idea to amalgamate pieces of discarded glass from their high quality stained glass window production to form beautiful decorative lamps, which are recognised for their intricacy of design and superb quality of coloured glass.

After meeting Thomas Edison whilst installing Tiffany lamps in a movie theatre, Tiffany worked closely with him to develop Tiffany lamps with electric fixtures. The formation of Style Art Nouveau coincided with electrification of residential houses – electric lightings came into use. Light sources could be turned at different angles, which made it possible to create lightings of absolutely new original forms.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of America’s most applauded artists and a pioneer of the Art Nouveau style, was born in New York in 1848 to Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Co., the highly respected jewellery retailer. Louis Comfort Tiffany founded his own glassmaking firm in 1885, which by 1902 became known as Tiffany Studios. At its peak, the workshop employed more than 300 artists, many of whom were women.

Head of the Women’s Glass Cutting Department Clara Driscoll’s recently discovered correspondence, written during her employment at Tiffany Studios at the turn of the century, reveals that she was responsible for many of the firm’s most iconic lampshades, including the Wisteria, Dragonfly and Poppy, as well as numerous other objects made with glass, bronze and mosaic.

The very first Tiffany lamps were very geometric in design and are usually referred to as Favrile, deriving from the word fabrile meaning ‘handcrafted’. Favrile glass is an iridescent art glass that differs from most other iridescent glasses in that the colour is ingrained into the glass itself. It is under the name ‘Favrile’ which Tiffany patented the design in 1894.

Tiffany lamps were originally sold as expensive items but by in the  1920s and 1930s, they were considered fussy and old-fashioned, so some wealthy families would give them to their servants.

Now the original ones can be worth from $5,000 to several hundred thousand dollars or more at the high end. The most ever paid for an original was $2.8 million in 1997 at a Christie’s auction. We have to take into account that there are plenty of fake lamps in the market so expertise is required.

These are our 16 favourite Tiffany Lamps of all times - Our most favourite one is number 12, what about you?
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I suggest you to read the interesting article published this week by and written by Casey Lesser “Inside the World’s Largest Collection of Tiffany Glass Lamps”.

Tiffany Lamps are American Art Nouveau icons but Tiffany’s craftsmen (and craftswomen) designed and made extraordinary glass windows, mosaicsvases, and other glass art. Tiffany’s glass also had great success at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Another important figure in American Art Nouveau was the architect Louis Sullivan, best known as the architect of some of the first American iron-framed skyscrapers. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, most famous for the neoclassical architecture of its renowned White City, he designed a spectacular Art Nouveau entrance to the Transportation Building. The Columbian Exposition was also an important venue for Tiffany; a chapel he designed was shown at the Pavilion of Art and Industry. The Tiffany Chapel, along with one of the windows of Tiffany’s home in New York, are now on display at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.

Inspiration from nature was in full view in the Art Nouveau designs of the late 19th Century. Architect Victor Horta’s exuberant plant tendrils lacing through buildings in Belgium, the lush flowers that are Louis Comfort Tiffany lamps, and the explicitly biomorphic forms of Antonio Gaudí’s buildings all remain strong examples.

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