Domestic Treasures:
Tiffany Art Glass for the Public
February 8, 2005 - January 14, 2007
 

No name in American history is perhaps more imNo name in American history is perhaps more immediately associated with the medium of glass than that of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). In the latter half of the nineteenth century, in pre-income tax America, great wealth was concentrated with a small group of people.  This privileged group could afford whatever they wanted, and they desired the finest, most beautiful, and most splendid adornments for their homes and their lives.  Charles Tiffany, father of Louis C. Tiffany, served this grand world, providing sumptuous things through his fabulously successful New York shop, Tiffany & Co.

Like his father, Louis Tiffany also catered to the wants and whims of this privileged class.  Tiffany, however, provided not individual objects of adornment but whole integrated environments for those whose taste was sufficiently developed. Building on the Arts and Crafts concept of unity in design, Tiffany did not simply adorn what was already basically defined by an architect, he transformed the spaces in which he worked. By 1893, Louis C. Tiffany's masterpieces of environmental design in which his own leaded-glass windows played a major, though hardly exclusive role, had clearly established him internationally as a master designer - a position acknowledged at the time in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States.

Introduced to the general public in 1893, Tiffany art glass came to represent the highest achievement in taste and style. It was the emblem of the well-decorated American home. More than any other medium in which he worked, it was his art glass that carried Tiffany's crusade for beauty into the living rooms of the nation.

Jack-in-the-pulpit vase,
1899 Opalescent glass.
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company


Spring panel from The Four Seasons,
1892. Leaded glass window.
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

THE EXHIBITON

The current exhibition (February 8, 2005 - January 14, 2007) follows upon the Morse Museum's comprehensive presentation of Tiffany's lamps and art pottery.  It is devoted to what is arguably the master's highest achievement beyond his total interior designs and certain leaded-glass windows - Tiffany's art glass. The objects on view were chosen from the more than 500 examples of Tiffany blown glass assembled by the late Hugh and Jeannette McKean for the permanent collection at the Morse Museum.

Simultaneously with the rise of such captains of industry as J. P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts and, incidentally, the Museum's namesake, Charles Hosmer Morse, to the smaller, older, and more traditional upper class there came the development of another group. It comprised the managers, technicians, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and experts who helped the industrial-age visionaries realize their goals.  Though seldom if ever achieving the financial strength of their employers, this group of  special service providers outnumbered the industrial elite and was rewarded sufficiently well to pursue, to a lesser but still enviable extent, the same material comforts and domestic adornments.

Extending his horizon, Tiffany sought to provide this increasingly monied, educated, and socially aware audience with access to his production and to his vision of beauty.

First in this new initiative were the blown glass lampshades, leaded-glass shades of fabulous variety, and blown art glass - vases, tableware, and objets d'art. In his art glass, Tiffany demonstrated incredible ability to understand, control, and imaginatively combine a vast array of techniques, sources, and contemporary expectations.

In 1894, Tiffany registered the Favrile glass trademark for his company. The word was derived from an old Saxon word meaning handmade, and was meant to define all glass produced by Tiffany Studios. Eventually Tiffany applied this trademark to his line of pottery as well. Favrile glass was sold at Tiffany's shops in New York and London and was promoted by French art dealer Siegfried Bing at his Paris shop, L'Art Nouveau. Bing was also a pivotal figure in arranging the sale of Tiffany art glass to museums in Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo.  In the United States, Tiffany art glass was sold in exclusive department stores known for selling goods of the highest quality, most notably, Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Shreve Company in San Francisco, and Tiffany & Co. in New York. Though individual pieces of Tiffany art glass were certainly more affordable than whole interiors, even these objects were relatively expensive purchases for the day. At the turn of the 20th century, most people earned less than $1,000 a year.  In 1910, the price range for a Tiffany flower vase, depending on how it was made, was $5 to $250 each.

TECHNIQUE

In making his Favrile glass, Tiffany began with the same basic formulas used by glassmakers for thousands of years before him. In simplest terms, glass is made up of crushed white sand, crushed limestone, and sodium carbonate. To bring these minerals to a glassy state, all are heated for long periods of time at very high temperatures, roughly 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sodium carbonate or soda is added as a "flux" to reduce the amount of heat needed to melt the sand, and limestone adds durability. Other ingredients are added for various effects, color, or workability. Potash was a compound used by Tiffany to extend the amount of time a mixture would stay pliable. All of Tiffany's art glass is hand blown. That is, an artisan collects a "gather" of molten glass on the end of a metal blowpipe - usually about five feet long - and then proceeds to blow it, roll it, pull it, or otherwise manipulate it with various tools into the shape desired.

Specific colors were achieved by adding metallic oxides to the batch - cobalt and copper oxides for blues, for example, and cadmium sulfide and selenium oxides for orange. Luster glass was  created by adding other metallic oxides to the molten glass. When the flame was reduced, this brought the metallic coating to the surface by chemical reaction. Finally, chloride was sprayed on the object, which caused iridescence on the metallic surface.


Landscape with a peacock and peonies,
1900-1910.  Leaded glass window.
Tiffany Studios.

Chapel interior, 1893.
Columbian Exposition in Chicago
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

TIFFANY FAVRILE GLASS VOCABULARY

Despite efforts of several historians and many people writing for the public about Tiffany glass, no definitive classification system has emerged.  In fact, the vocabulary one encounters in this literature can be quite confusing.  Nonetheless, a few ideas seem more useful than distracting and can help one approach what is, after all, a daunting variety of examples.

Aquamarine -  Aquamarine glass is the most difficult to produce and the rarest of Tiffany's glass. Based on the paperweight glass concept of encasing or sandwiching decoration between layers of glass, aquamarine glass is very heavy, and the embedded decoration is most often aquatic - plants, fish, sea urchins. The color of the glass encasing this decoration is green like the seas. (fig. 1, 62-005)

Carved -  Many Tiffany vases and objects were hand carved or etched with a pattern. When an outer layer of one color of glass is cut away to reveal a lower layer of color (or lack of color) for decorative effect, this is called cameo glass. (fig. 2, 71-001))

Cypriote - Some Tiffany shapes and surface effects were based on antiquity. Cypriote glass is carefully, skillfully, and splendidly calculated to draw comparison with the pitted, abraded, and otherwise tortured ancient glass dug up after centuries by 18th - and 19th- century archeologists. Tiffany produced glass vessels suggestive in one way or another of those found in the classical Mediterranean world and Persia. (fig.3 56-024)

Laminated -   Tiffany laminated glass mimics striated stone and when cut is referred to as agate glass because of its suggestion of the veining of the mineral, agate. (fig. 4, 62-006 or 56-003)

Luster glass -  Luster glass, sometimes called iridescent glass, is probably the best known, most broadly appreciated, and most commonly imitated of Tiffany's glass.   Iridescence was the chief characteristic of all or large portions of the surfaces of luster glass, but Tiffany also added passages of iridescence to other general types of glass. (fig. 5, rosewater sprinkler, 66-013)

Lava -  Tiffany found inspiration in natural geological phenomena such as lava and rock.  His lava glass is developed from the thick, gooey, uneven but smooth flow of actual lava, using the path of the flowing lava to form the decoration for a vase. (fig. 6, 65-029)

Opalescent - Tiffany had made opalescent or "American glass" more than fifteen years before his presentation of art glass to the general public. His opalescent art glass was often formed into shapes based on flowers.  These floriform vases were popular in Art Nouveau iconography. (fig.7, jack in the pulpit  56-032)

Paperweight -  This glass is a sort of glass sandwich in which there are two layers of glass with decoration in between. Frequently, the space between the inner and outer casings is decorated with flowers, often numerous, small ones.  This millefiori decoration is common in paperweight glass.  (fig. 8, 66-047)

Reactive -  In reactive glass, the color of the glass is altered with a combination of chemistry and  the application of heat. (fig. 9, 57-004)

Reticulated - Reticulated glass was created by blowing molten glass through a wire framework. The glass then bulged through the openings of the frame. This technique was primarily used for lamp bases, candlesticks, and ink wells.

Tell el-Amarna-  This Egyptian-inspired glass was based on Tiffany's knowledge of the ancient vessels from the Pharaoh Akhenaten excavation in Tell el-Amarna.  These shapes were made in mostly matte-finish bodies with simple neck decoration. (fig. 10, 56-040 )


Morning Glory Vase, 1915.
Paperweight Glass.
Tiffany Studios.


Cobweb library lamp, c. 1900.
Leaded glass, mosaic, bronze.
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

Domestic Treasures will be on view through January 14, 2007. The museum’s exhibitions are drawn from the collection built by Jeannette McKean. (1909-1989), who founded the museum in 1942, and her husband Hugh McKean (1908-1995), director of the museum until his death. The couple assembled over a period of almost 50 years extensive holdings of Tiffany objects - what is today the world’s most extensive collection of the designer’s work.

Museum hours are 9:30a.m. to 8p.m Friday; 9:30a.m. to 4p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday; and 1p.m. to 4p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students, free for children under 12, and free to all visitors after 4 p.m. Friday.

The Morse Museum is owned and operated by the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation and receives additional support from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation. It receives no public funds.

The museum is located at 445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida, 32789; (407)645-5311.

www.morsemuseum.org


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