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The Art of the Interior Tiffany Favrile Lighting

The Art of the Interior Tiffany Favrile Lighting Macklowe Gallery’s exhibition “The Art of the Interior: Tiffany Favrile lighting” celebrates the artist’s quest for beauty in everyday domestic life. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s career spanned the 1870s through the 1920s and encompassed virtually every artistic and decorative medium including leaded glass windows, mosaics, lighting, art glass, pottery, metalwork, enamels, jewelry and interiors. Favrile glass lighting represents just one facet of his tremendous oeuvre and yet reveals the variety of influences and styles that informed Tiffany’s artistic output, whatever the medium. Favrile glass, a material the artist developed and patented, would become a vehicle for Tiffany to unite his passion for ancient glass with the modernity of Art Nouveau and the ascendance of electricity. Louis, son of Charles Tiffany the jeweler and founder of Tiffany & Co., began his career as a painter, under the guidance of George Inness. Motivated by Inness’ impassioned discourses on the birth of a new Realism and the true artistic impulse as stemming from divinity, Tiffany began a voyage of self-discovery that took him to Paris, Algiers and Venice, to Spain, Morocco, Palestine, Persia, Egypt and Italy. Although he traveled as a student of art, he had all the advantages of wealth and security provided by his father’s business connections. He documented his travels in his paintings, purchases and collections. During the 1870s and 1880s Tiffany began experimenting with glassmaking, creating a

stunning array of colors of leaded glass to be used in his windows and patenting his signature opalescent glass in 1881. In 1892, he formed the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company and in 1893, after years of tenacious experimentation, Tiffany succeeded in producing a glass typified by iridescence and metallic luster. He named it Favrile and trademarked the art glass in 1894. Tiffany’s inspiration for Favrile came from the ancient glass vessels of Rome and Syria. Widely exhibited in museums and collected at the turn of the twentieth century, these archeological artifacts had developed, through aging, a metallic sheen due to the gradual absorption of minerals from the soil in which they were buried. Using modern scientific methods, Tiffany’s craftsmen found they could simulate the aging process of these ancient objects by adding metallic salts or oxides to glass in its molten state. Soon they were able to produce Favrile glass in an endless palette of colors, expanding Tiffany’s creative tools. In Favrile glass, Tiffany found a wonderfully versatile material to express his artistry. For his “Moorish” chandeliers he used varieties of amber, gold and brilliant orange glass. Hanging fringes of twisted bronze and copper wire, elaborate beading, spiraling borders and ball-and-chain decoration were layered into Arabian Nights exoticism. Byzantine mosaics influenced the delicately set Favrile glass tiles that ornamented the sides of Tiffany’s “Lighthouse” candlesticks. The inspiration for his “Chainmail” sconces was Medieval armor with each green Favrile glass tile set as in a piece of jewelry. He named many of his Favrile glass shades to reflect the artistic styles and historic trends that converged in his work: “Murano,” “Etruscan” and “Damascene”.

Tireless experimentation with new materials was always in service of nature, his constant muse. An avid observer, he kept a huge library of horticulture books, painted flowers and took photographs of them. The much cited portrait by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, displayed prominently by Tiffany in his home, portrays the artist seated in the midst of his enormous flower garden, painting. “‘Nature,’ he said ‘is always right’–That is a saying we hear from the past; and here is another: ‘Nature is always beautiful.’” Tiffany saw iridescence everywhere: “Favrile glass is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors, usually iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the necks of pigeons and peacocks, the wing covers of various beetles.” In his keen observation of the iridescent details of these creatures, Tiffany also distills the symbolic imagery of Art Nouveau—the butterfly stands for metamorphosis, the peacock for purity (and the Aesthetic movement), and the scarab for Egyptian revivalism and Orientalism. Tiffany’s reverence for nature is pervasive in this exhibition. “Stalactite” chandeliers draw their inspiration from the natural rock formations of caves. The cherry blossom, the clinging vine, the spider’s web, fern leaves, feathers, rippling water and the ribs of a seashell all find expression in his Favrile shades. He created lampshades to look like tulip and lily blossoms, dipping them in acid to give them the satin sheen of flower petals or decorating them with abstract “feathered” designs. The technique of feathering was an old tradition, used in Roman times, that Tiffany transferred to glass with new meaning. Drawn as much to the allure of new technology as to the beauty of the past, Tiffany combined these two loves

in his art. A major leap forward was the introduction of the electric bulb in 1880, which created a sensation throughout the world. Tiffany first worked with electric light in 1885 in a collaboration with Thomas Edison on the decoration and electrification of the Lyceum Theater in New York. Along with other Art Nouveau artists, Tiffany embraced the intimate revolution that electric lighting brought to the home. By 1899, Tiffany had patented his “Nautilus,” his first lamp designed specifically for electric light. The shade is not made from glass, but rather is an actual nautilus shell. The shell modulated the light much as Favrile glass would in Tiffany’s future lamps. The artist’s vivid interpretations of nature are reflected in his exquisite variations on the Nautilus theme. With its continuously replicating proportional chambers, the nautilus shell is an effective metaphor for the continuity of art throughout history. Perhaps, Tiffany also used the nautilus shell—symbol of renewal—to signify a new awareness of modern decorative art and design, a rebirth of the decorative arts as Art Nouveau.

Although American, Tiffany participated fully in the French Art Nouveau movement. He exhibited at the World’s Fairs in Paris and Turin, where his “Lily” lamp won widespread acclaim. Praised for its elegance, the “Lily” has been called the “Aristocrat of the Garden.” Tiffany presented this popular lamp in many styles. The central component was a lily blossom shade, articulated in clusters ranging from three to eighteen lilies. The Favrile glass shades, blown thin to have the silken touch of flower petals, are each suspended above a bed of lily pads and buds sculpted in bronze and finished in a dark or gilt patina.

The light cast by a Tiffany lamp is soft and diffuse, like the warm glow of gaslight or candlelight, which were still the dominant sources of domestic illumination. Even into the twentieth century, the transition from old forms of light to new was slow. In 1900, only nine percent of the American population had electric light in their homes, a fact not lost on those promoting change. “Tiffany lamps and electroliers have a distinction which is characteristic of every product of the Tiffany Studios,” boasted a 1904 advertisement. “They are designed for the use of oil, gas or electric lighting and range from simple to elaborate to suit the conditions of environment or the purse.” Tiffany’s Favrile lighting reached a wide audience. Through Siegfried Bing’s emporium in Paris and the Grafton Galleries in London, Tiffany designs were sold to the European market. In America, his interiors could be found in varied places including the home of Gilded Age tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt III, President Chester Alan Arthur’s rooms at the White House, the home of Mark Twain, the Veteran’s room at the Seventh Regiment Armory (now the Park Avenue Armory) and Tiffany’s own home and masterpiece, Laurelton Hall. Tiffany’s lamps, art glass and furnishings were made available to the growing consumer class in his New York store and in Tiffany Studios catalogues. He fashioned lamps in a wide range of colors and formats and presented designers and consumers with numerous means to distribute light sources within an interior. His sconces, table lamps and chandeliers permitted light to enter a room at a variety of angles. Prisms caused light to be magnified, while iridescent gold shades warmed and refracted light. Tiffany’s trompe-l’oeil “Favrilefabrique,” or “Linenfold,” reading lamps simulated

silk or linen shades in glass, while offering a range of mood lighting. For added ambience, an elaborate series of bases were designed especially for the “Linenfold” shade, including one that emulated the genie’s oil lamp in the Aladdin tale. With an architect’s perspective, Tiffany created many of his desk lamps to swivel, tilt or to be raised or lowered to accommodate the task at hand, be it writing, sewing or reading. Such balancing of aesthetics and practicality would dominate modern design throughout the twentieth century. Artist-designers believed that people of all social classes had the right to a beautiful and functional home and were quick to respond to the growing ideology that the introduction of beauty into household objects fostered spiritual upliftment. Because of their utilitarian nature, articles of daily use like lamps, flower vases and desk sets could reach a large public and greatly influence how people lived. Merging refined artistry with usefulness, Tiffany pioneered the art of the everyday and revolutionized domestic life. - Jessica Goldring

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911. Oil on canvas, 59¼ x 88¼”. Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York, Gift of Mrs. Francis M. Weld, 1950.

Aladdin’s Floor Lamp with Linenfold Shade (L-15209)

12-Light Lily Floor Lamp (L-12838)

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Pair 3-Arm Feathered Tulip Sconces (L-15265)

Pair Chain Mail Sconces (L-15624)

Set of Four Prism Sconces (L-15266)

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Mermaid Nautilus Lamp Designed by Louis Gudebrod for Tiffany (L-15416)

Nautilus Lamp with Abalone Cabochons (L-14723)

Mermaid Nautilus Lamp (L-15402)

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Mosaic Glass Lighthouse Candlesticks with Feathered Shades (T-15530)

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Moorish Chandelier with 12 Lily Shades and Central Stalactite (L-10280)

Balance-Weight Lamp with Striated and Dotted Decorated Shade


Pair 4-Arm Lighted Candelabra with Feathered Shades (L-11230)

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A Tiffany Studios New York decorated Favrile glass “Stalactite” shade, made circa 1900. The shade features a band of yellow and white applied water flowers with delicately carved pistils and stamens. The flowers are surrounded by a lily pad and vine motif against an iridescent gold ground. The shade hangs elegantly from a patinated bronze pole and chain suspension fixture. Tiffany decorated the Fountain Court in his Laurelton Hall home with a series of “Stalactite” shades with similar water flower decoration.

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Water Lily Stalactite (L-15292)

The Art Of The Interior  

Macklowe Gallery: The Art Of The Interior - Tiffany Favrile Lighting