Trained as a painter, Louis C. Tiffany, son of Charles Tiffany and founder of Tiffany & Co., was attracted to glass as an artistic medium for its unique ability to capture and convey color, light, and texture. I met with Cincinnati Art Museum Curator of Decorative Arts Amy Dehan to learn more about the history behind this colorful new exhibition.
Fascinated by the rich and varied tones and expressions in medieval 12th-and-13th-century leaded windows that relied solely on colored glass, and not the addition of stain or paint to create images, Louis C. Tiffany sought to create his own modern “paintings” with glass. In doing so, he resurrected and revolutionized the art of leaded glass windows and later, with the introduction of the incandescent lightbulb, created magnificent lampshades—small, portable versions of his windows for the domestic interior.
Tiffany’s achievements in the creation of leaded glass windows and lampshades were the combined result of his development and fabrication of an amazing variety of new types of glass and the careful selection and use of that glass to “paint” or convey an idea and image.
Beginning in the mid-1870s, Tiffany initiated pioneering examples in glassmaking. Sheets of thick, milky, opalescent glass with folds, wrinkles and ripples were developed for the articulation of drapery and angel wings. Flat glass speckled with thin pieces of broken glass called “fract,” aptly called confetti or foliage glass, was created to portray trees or brush in the distance of a composition. Luster glass, a highly reflective, iridescent flat glass, was used to depict metallic surfaces, such as a knight’s armor.
Often, multiple pieces of glass in different textures and colors were laid, or plated, over one another to create just the right effect. These new glass types and techniques were developed to avoid the use of paint and brush on glass, which, in Tiffany’s view, “produces an effect both dull and artificial.” Artists at Tiffany’s studio resorted to painting on the glass only when absolutely necessary—usually when depicting faces, hands and feet. The work’s primary composition and expressions relied solely on the material itself.
It is important to note that Tiffany’s accomplishments were realized through the innovation, work and talent of many men and women working under his direction. Glass chemist Arthur Nash worked tirelessly, developing original formulas and processes to create the vast palette of colors and artistic effects in sheet glass that Tiffany desired. Agnes Northrop, lead female artist at Tiffany Studios, designed almost all the firm’s floral and landscape windows, earning international recognition through her work. And Clara Driscoll, a native of Tallmadge, Ohio, led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, supervising a team of women charged with the key responsibility of selecting and cutting the glass for Tiffany’s windows, mosaics and lampshades. Driscoll, too, received national attention for her designs.
Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light is drawn from the Neustadt Collection, formed by visionary collectors Dr. Egon and Mrs. Hildegard Neustadt. Austrian immigrants, the Neustadts bought their first Tiffany lamp in the 1930s at an antique shop for $12.50. Deemed out of fashion at the time, the lamp fascinated the Neustadts and ignited their lifelong passion for the art of Louis C. Tiffany and Tiffany Studios.
The Neustadts amassed an incredible collection of leaded glass windows, lampshades and bronze desk sets. In 1967, they acquired the vast inventory of opalescent sheet glass and glass “jewels” that remained at the Tiffany Studios when it closed in the late 1930s. This collection has played a critical role in scholarship surrounding the revolutionary materials, methods and techniques employed by Tiffany and his team.
Visit Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light April 1-August 13, 2017 in G214, G216 and G224 at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Admission is free. http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/tiffanyglass