Knoxville Museum of Art

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The Lamps of Tiffany Opens at Knoxville Museum of Art

 

The Knoxville Museum of Art opens its summer feature exhibition, The Lamps of Tiffany: Highlights from the Egon and Hildegard Neustadt Collection, a collection of the Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Art, on May 7, 1999. The exhibit runs through September 5, 1999.

The Lamps of Tiffany features a selection of important works by the legendary American designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany who shaped the taste of American design during the twentieth century. The exhibition features forty-three lamps and two windows from one of the most significant private collections of Tiffany in existence, which includes more than 400 of the artist's creations. Left: Purple-Grape Table Lamp, c. 1900-10, leaded glass, patinated bronze, 27 1/2 x 18 inches, irregular upper and lower borders group, courtesy of the Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Art

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), the celebrated glass designer, was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the legendary founder of the silver and jewelry firm, Tiffany and Co. Louis chose to pursue his love of art instead of following in the family business, gaining acclaim for his oils and watercolors in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s, however, he turned his attention to interior design as "a way to provide good art for American homes." His remarkable career spanned 57 years. (see biography below)

As one of America' s most influential artists, designers and craftsmen of the century, Tiffany wanted to bring decorative arts to the same status as fine arts. The lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany signify this quest to bring beauty into the home. After collaborating to light the first movie theater, friend Thomas Edison suggested the idea of making electric fixtures. Tiffany soon began to create lamps as small versions of his exquisite stained-glass windows and developed the idea into a new art form. Tiffany's lamps were and still are recognized for their superior design and handcrafted details.

In addition to bringing beauty to the masses, Tiffany also made discoveries in the process for formulating glass. Tiffany developed a unique process that created bolder colors, opalescent sheens and a broader range of textures for artisans. He patented four types of glass over a period of two decades and worked with teams of craftsmen to manufacture stained-glass windows, lamps and lamp bases.

The motifs in Tiffany's elaborate lamps were inspired by his love of nature. Some patterns featured in The Lamps of Tiffany include: dragonflies, the tracery of spiderwebs, dogwoods, peacock feathers and peonies. Tiffany stated that his lamps allowed more people to enjoy the elements of nature, such as flowers in bloom, all year long in the beauty of his glass.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Tiffany lamps were considered too ornate by modern fashion standards and lost their popular appeal. By the late 1950s, Tiffany objects were rediscovered with great interest by collectors and museums. In 1998, two Tiffany lamps made the top ten list of United States auction prices for decorative arts bringing in nearly $2 million each.

 


Lamp Groupings

 

FAVRILE GROUP

Favrile, meaning handcrafted, is the term that defines the first and simplest shades made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. An early patent obtained by Tiffany under the name Favrile encompassed several types of glass used in the manufacture of stained-glass windows as well as leaded and blown shades. However, the term now is associated with blown forms such as shades and other types of hollow ware. Favrile pieces are generally inscribed L.C.T. or Favrile, while shades made from leaded glass are labeled with impressed metal signature tags.

 

GEOMETRIC GROUP

The term geometric is applied to the group of leaded-glass shades with the simplest designs, and includes standard geometric shapes such as squares, triangles, rectangles, ovals, ellipses, and rhomboids used on panel, cone, and globe-shaped shades. Unlike blown shades, the geometric and all ensuing groups were fabricated from pieces of poured glass cut in segments, edged with copper foil and leaded or soldered together to form a complete unit. A patinated bronze finish was then applied to the lead or solder lines. The geometric group is divided into two basic types: shades made from a large number of small glass pieces and those made from a limited number of large glass pieces, such as turtleback tiles and Favrile Fabrique panels.

 

TRANSITION TO FLOWERS GROUP

The transition to flowers group serves as a bridge between the geometric and floral shades. It includes globe-shaped shades of basic geometric design with added botanical motifs. The group is divided into two categories: geometric shades with borders or belts of flowers and vines, and shades with scattered floral or leaf patterns on geometric backgrounds.

 

FLOWERED CONE GROUP

Botanical patterns, which were introduced in moderation on shades in the transition group, are employed en masse in the cone group. As described by Tiffany Studios in a 1906 catalogue, cone shades are straight-sided with circular rims. They are easier to manufacture than leaded shades with curved or rounded sides, hence the greater number of shades in this category. While cone-shaped shades are found in the geometric group, they are classified there by design rather than form. Another natural motif applied to cone-shaped shades is the dragonfly. This insect design is developed further in the flowered globe and irregular lower border groups.


FLOWERED GLOBE GROUP

The flowered globe group is more complex in construction than the preceding group of cone-shaped shades. In terms of decorative progression, their shape permits a more natural rendering of the botanical and insect motifs. Tiffany Studios referred to this type of "domed" in its 1906 catalogue. Globes range in size from twelve inches to twenty-eight inches in diameter.

 

IRREGULAR LOWER BORDER GROUP

The shades in this group take on a more naturalistic form, with flowing, serpentine rims. The uninterrupted metal edge and stylized band of the preceding groups have been replaced with a curvilinear lower border. Except for the panel shades used with the grape trellis motif, all the shades in this group are globular in shape. The natural termination of leaves, fruits, insect bodies, and flowers give shades in the irregular lower border group an Art Nouveau character often associated with Tiffany Studios.

 

IRREGULAR UPPER AND LOWER BORDERS GROUP

At the final phase of development are shades with both irregular upper and lower borders. In this group the artificial straight edge of the aperture is replaced by an openwork crown that simulates tree branches or shrubbery. Finials have been eliminated, and light and heat are diffused through the crown. The combination of the irregular upper and lower border is, according to Egon Neustadt, "the consummate Tiffany Studios Shade."



Biography of Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1838 - 1933

 

Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, began his career as a painter in the 1860s and 1870s. After studying under the American landscape painter George Inness, Tiffany combined the use of light, color and nature in his work. He received praise for his oils and watercolors, which included scenes from his travels in Europe and North Africa. By 1880, Tiffany had established himself as a artist and became the youngest member of the National Academy of Design.

Tiffany's travels not only influenced his career but also acquainted him with the designs of medieval and Roman glass. Glass would offer a new field of challenge for Tiffany and would lead him to his next endeavor in design and decorative arts as an interior designer. His commissions for Mark Twain, Cornelius Vanderbilt and the White House under President Arthur earned him an international reputation and great success. Stained-glass windows were a feature in these interiors.

Tiffany became an enthusiastic supporter of the European Art Nouveau movement, challenging the current Victorian ornate style. Art Nouveau used free-flowing designs based on nature that exemplified the characteristics prevalent in Tiffany's earlier creations as a landscape painter. The use of light, color and nature assumed greater significance in Tiffany's work as he developed his unique approach to Art Nouveau.

In an effort to reach the interiors of a greater population, Tiffany began to design lamps to allow more people to enjoy art and beauty in their own home. Colored glass, Tiffany's lasting love and challenge, found fresh scope and inspiration. While the windows served to transmit the light of day, the lamps represent a new source of illumination independent of daylight. Fabrication of the lamps began in 1885, with the majority of them being made between 1895 and 1920. It was not until 1899 that Tiffany publicly introduced the lamps for sale.

Tiffany is best known for his designs of glass vessels, lamps and windows, but he also created items in various other media including metalwork, furniture, jewelry and ceramics. His remarkable career spanned over five decades, including his tenure with L.C. Tiffany & Associated Artists, the Tiffany Glass Company, Tiffany Studios, Tiffany Furnaces and the L.C. Tiffany Furnaces.

By Tiffany' s death in 1933, the popularity of his elaborate lamps declined with the rise of Art Moderne and Expressionism. For two decades the designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany were forgotten. It was not until the first Tiffany retrospective show in 1958 that his objects were rediscovered by museums and collectors. Awareness of Tiffany's craftsmanship escalated with an Art Nouveau show in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art. Today the designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany are honored and treasured around the world, confirming Tiffany's legacy as a visionary of Art Nouveau design.

Ed.: For additional information please see the Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive coverage of Louis Comfort Tiffany

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 9/20/10


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