Louis Comfort Tiffany
(1848 - 1933)
Louis Comfort Tiffany is credited with the first transformation of the American glass industry into a medium for artistic expression. He was born in 1848 to a wealthy New York family. His father was a successful business owner, specializing in luxury goods, and encouraged his son to follow this same path. Tiffany had a lack of enthusiasm for the commercial side of his father’s retail business at an early age, and instead pursued an artistic career. During his youth and young adult years, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and Africa. He was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau and other Eastern-inspired design concepts during these travels. He originally wanted to be a painter and even studied under the New York-based landscape painter, George Inness.
Tiffany never achieved much success with his painting career, but was instead inspired by ancient, archaeological glass and the magnificent medieval stained glass of Europe. It was there that he found his passion for glass that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He began accepting commissions in America for interior design elements for the wealthy (furnishings, mosaics, stained glass windows) and for churches. He also began creating designs for custom-made glassware, with the dream of making it into a respected and viable art form in our country—to change the utilitarian glass industry into an aesthetic one. Tiffany became famous for his vases, lamps, windows, and especially his iridescent finishes that became associated with his Favrile glass of the late nineteenth century. This iridescent glaze became a major trend in American and European glassware associated with the style known as Art Nouveau.
With this success, Tiffany eventually transitioned from designing custom-made pieces to commercial manufacture of art glassware by the opening of Tiffany Studios in 1902. This business included the production of the leaded glass shades and bases to make the Tiffany lamps for which he is probably best known today. Tiffany oversaw this commercial business, while continuing to accept commissions for custom designs on the side. He built a large, multi-faceted glass business, accomplishing his goal of revolutionizing the American glass industry—to create beautiful and distinctive glass for the American public, rather than just for the wealthy. In 1919, Tiffany retired from Tiffany Studios but remained involved in art glass production until his death in 1933.