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Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages

October 15, 2006 - January 15, 2007


A comprehensive exhibition and examination of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art October 15, 2006 - January 15, 2007. Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages features more than 130 works of art in a wide range of media including stained glass windows, Favrile glass, mosaics, enamels, ceramics, paintings, photography, metalwork, furniture, and jewelry. Carnegie Museum of Art is the final stop on the national tour of this historic exhibition, which was organized by Exhibitions International and Marilynn A. Johnson, former curator of American decorative arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is the only venue on the tour to exhibit Tiffany's over-sized bi-fold door from the Mark Twain House, which has not been on view outside of the Hartford, CN, house since 1958.

Born in 1848, Tiffany was the eldest son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the luxury goods and jewelry store Tiffany & Co. While it was expected that he involve himself with the family business, Louis Comfort Tiffany preferred to study painting, the first of many careers. During his lifetime, Tiffany was also an interior decorator, landscape designer, architect, and designer of decorative arts in all media including glass, ceramic, metal, wood, fabric, and paper. Though not a craftsman, Tiffany was a perfectionist who hired the very best men and women artisans to work in his studios.

Tiffany learned marketing and entrepreneurship from his father. "We are going after the money there is in art, but the art is there, all the same," said Tiffany to Candace Wheeler, one of his partners.  His participation in the international exhibitions of the time -- in cities like Philadelphia, Paris, Chicago, and Turin, Italy -- made Tiffany and his work widely known in the United States and abroad.

In 1865, Tiffany took the first of many tours to Europe and North Africa; these experiences provided a foundation for the themes exemplified in this exhibition and that ran throughout his work: nature, the Near and Far East, antiques and archaeology, and abstraction. Tiffany's innovative aesthetic bridged and transcended the avant-garde trends of the late 19th century-the Aesthetic Movement, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Art Nouveau. With the modern aesthetic of the post World War I world, however, Tiffany's designs were considered out-of-date, and by the time of his death in 1933 he was nearly forgotten.

Renewed interest in Tiffany's work by collectors and scholars, such as Museum of Modern Art design curator Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., furniture designer Edward Wormley, and art historian Robert Koch, surfaced in the post World War II years. Museums like The Museum of Modern Art added Tiffany to their collections and by the late 1960s, entertainers such as the Beatles, Paul Simon, and Barbra Streisand were acquiring Tiffany's work. Today Tiffany's reputation as a great master is beyond dispute.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages is divided into three themes:

Nature Is Always Beautiful
Tiffany was an avid naturalist who relied upon nature as a renewing source of inspiration. This section features objects representing Earth, Marine Life, Winged Creatures, and Flowers, including a necklace made of gold and nephrite that denotes grapes on a vine; Pushing Off the Boat, Seabright, New Jersey, 1887, a fishing scene; a stained glass lamp with dragonfly motif made between 1900-1910; and a Morning Glory Vase, c. 1905, made with a complex technique developed by Tiffany Studios where five kinds of glass were blended resulting in a radial pattern of colored whorls.
Light Comes from the East
"Orientalism," was a fascination of Westerners in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Tiffany adopted the stylized ornament of Arab and Asian cultures in his work. Objects like a Favrile glass scent bottle, c. 1900, inlaid with gold and precious stones; a gourd-shaped vase, c. 1906; a "Spiderweb" wallpaper design from 1881; and an armchair made from the wood of a holly tree, 1879, all suggest the arts of the Near and Far East.
Time Is the Measure of All Things
During Tiffany's lifetime, ancient history and archeology had enormous public appeal. In this period, Heinrich Schliemann set out to unearth Homer's Troy, New York was installing its gift from Egypt, "Cleopatra's Needle," a c. 1500 BCE obelisk, and Howard Carter opened the tomb of Egyptian king Tutankhamun. Tiffany studied the antiquities that were unearthed, then borrowed their design and reproduced their iridescence. His "Cypriote" glass, for instance, imitated the pitted surface of long-buried glass, and his electroplated ceramic vase with scarabs adopted a popular motif from the ancient world.


While he delighted in the aesthetic of ancient cultures, Tiffany could also be viewed as a modernist, particularly with his glass objects. He appreciated the accidental and random effects that occurred during the production of a work of art-often departing from traditional glassmaking, and he manufactured interchangeable pieces that could be used in various ways using modern industrial methods. "This love of the controlled accident," said Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. in 1955, "is one of Tiffany's strong links to the modern design of our age."



A 240-page, fully illustrated catalogue by curator Marilynn Johnson accompanies the exhibition and is available for purchase at the museum store or at www.cmoa.org <http://www.cmoa.org/>.



Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist  for the Ages opened at the Seattle Art Museum (October 13, 2005 - January 4, 2006), then traveled to the Toledo Museum of Art (February 2 - April 30, 2006) and the Dallas Museum of Art (May 30 - September 3, 2006), before concluding at Carnegie Museum of Art.


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, View of Cairo, c. 1872, oil on canvas. Private collection)


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Egyptian Pyramids Framed by Temple Columns, 1908, watercolor on paper. Private collection)


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Window Panel: Anniversary, 1891, Leaded glass, 26 1/2 x 21 3/4 inches. Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT)


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Window with Garden Landscape, 1902-1920, Leaded Glass, 37 x 65 1/2 x 4 inches. From the Richard H. Driehaus Collection, Illinois)


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Window Panel with Swimming Fish, c. 1890, Leaded glass, oak frame, 48 1/2 x 36 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches. The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, CT)


(above: Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, 1848-1933, Enamel Box Cover, c. 1900, Copper, enamel, glass, 7 7/8 x 5 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches. Courtesy of Lillian Nassau Ltd., New York)


Wall text from the exhibition


Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) is the first American artist to achieve iconic status through the creation of decorative arts objects. Although trained as a painter, Tiffany focused his genius on the applied arts; and his signature style, instantly recognizable in his stained glass windows, lampshades, and iridescent glass vases, synthesized and transcended the European avant-garde movements of the late 19th century.
Tiffany was able to distill and meld aspects from the major currents shaping the art of Europe. He combined the Aesthetic Movement's pursuit of pure beauty, the Gothic Revival's dedication to medieval art, the Arts and Crafts Movement's reverence for the handmade object, Art Nouveau's embrace of nature, and the popular fascination with all things Japanese inspired by newly established trade relationships with Japan. He was a major force in bridging the traditional divide between art and craft.
Well educated and well traveled, with the advantage of connections to Tiffany & Co., his father's important silver and jewelry company, Louis Comfort Tiffany witnessed a resurgent interest in decorative arts while still a young man. By 1879 he was decorating the homes of the rich and famous; and glass-windows, mosaics, and lighting fixtures-was a prominent element in his sumptuous interiors.
From the 1880s to the 1920s, Tiffany's various companies produced a wide range of offerings, from furniture to textiles, enamels, metalwork, art pottery, and jewelry. Objects of his design are remarkable in their diversity, impressive in their originality, often radical in technique, but most of all surpassingly beautiful in their jewel-like colors and shimmering light. On view here are more than 135 artworks arranged according to several important themes in Tiffany's work (nature, Eastern cultures, antiquity, and abstraction).
Although Tiffany's fame usually is associated with stained-glass windows and lampshades, and to a lesser degree iridescent glass vessels, these masterworks are best understood and appreciated when viewed along with his work in other media. Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages explores the full range of Tiffany's production, revealing his unified vision and lifelong pursuit of a utopian world of beauty.
Nature Is Always Beautiful
Tiffany adopted as his motto the simple adage, "Nature is always beautiful." He confronted the natural world directly, in all its aspects. This was a lesson learned by countless European and American artists fascinated by the Japanese prints, porcelains, lacquerware, and metalwork flooding the European market in the 1860s and 1870s, as a result of newly opened trade between Japan and the West.
As an avid naturalist, Tiffany delighted in the discoveries of marine biology. He was entranced by botany, too; flowers and plants, both common and exotic, abound in his work, as do the ripe fruits that symbolize abundance. When he turned his attention to the animal kingdom, he was drawn to winged creatures -- birds and insects -- that occupy the zone between earth and sky. The tantalizing iridescence of their wings and feathers was a quality that he emulated in his glass. Finally, Tiffany's fascination with the art of ancient cultures and geological events inspired stunning objects whose surfaces imitate the luster of semiprecious stones and volcanic magma.
Light Comes from the East
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Europeans and Americans were fascinated with the exoticism and opulence of Eastern cultures (a phenomenon known as Orientalism). Tiffany was no exception. Never a slavish imitator, Tiffany used Asian motifs as a starting point for the formation of a personal design vocabulary.
His interest in Japanese art influenced his approach to nature as well as his choice of ornament. He borrowed and reinterpreted shapes, patterns, and techniques from Chinese ceramics. He adopted the art of glass mosaic that he had seen in Byzantine churches. He used the forms of Arab ornament in his early interiors and absorbed the richness of pattern and color harmonies that he had discovered in his travels in North Africa. Tiffany traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, and he asked his friend and associate Lockwood de Forest to bring back examples of intricately wrought jewelry, furniture, and decorative woodwork from his travels to India in 1881.
Time is the Measure of All Things: From the Past
History was the dominant fascination of the 19th century. The romance of archaeology, which brought to light evidence of the ancient past in all its immediacy and complexity, captivated the public and especially Tiffany. The antiquities of Egypt proved endlessly fascinating and inspired many adaptations in his work.
Excavations unearthed examples of ancient glass from Egypt (particularly Tel El Amarna) and from the Roman world. Tiffany studied these surviving vessels and admired the traces left by time on their surfaces. Their exquisite iridescence was the random result of contact with minerals in the soil, an effect Tiffany reproduced through his own innovations. His iridescent glass caused a sensation in the art world and was widely imitated.
Time Is the Measure of All Things: Toward the Future
Despite his delight in exoticism, penchant for ornament, and disdain of much in modern art, Tiffany was himself in some ways a modernist. Tiffany's work seems to reflect aesthetic precedents of modern trends in two ways. First, his delight in accidental and random effects, such as pinched forms, vibrant stripes, random dots, and vivid splashes of color in glass, were radical departures from traditional glassmaking. These effects were part of Tiffany's effort to explore the full potential of his medium.
Second, he embraced functionalism in several forward-looking designs. Functionalism and mass production are characteristic of a rational strain of modernism. Despite the choice of the term "Favrile," which implied that his glass was handcrafted, Tiffany was neither nostalgic for the past nor averse to using the means of modern industry. His companies manufactured versatile pieces that could be assembled in various ways-he recognized the economy of using interchangeable components.
Tiffany's Legacy
Unprepared to abandon the aesthetic principles of a lifetime, Tiffany, who despised modernist art that openly challenged academic tradition, found himself out of step with the post World War I world. Iridescent vases and flowery glass lamp shades were by then considered remnants of a fussy prewar world that was recalled with contempt and seemed eons away from the streamlined modernity that beckoned. By the time of his death in 1933, Louis Comfort Tiffany was nearly forgotten.
Paradoxically, it would be two pioneers of modernism who, after World War II, would look with fresh eyes at the work of Tiffany and recognize in his achievement something that resonated with their own concerns -- Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., a scholar and a founder of The Museum of Modern Art, and decorator Edward Wormly. The general public soon responded as well, making the name of Tiffany as renowned as the names of such well-loved artists as Renoir or Monet. Tiffany's work began to be collected by The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the 21st century, his greatness is again beyond dispute.


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