Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on September 3, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of the Nassau County Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Nassau County Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Beauty

Catalogue Introduction by Constance Schwartz


Louis Comfort Tiffany represented an elegance, a suavity, and an ease that personified America at its regal best in the nation's Gilded Age, a period of art and decoration dating roughly from the 1880s through the first decade of the 1900s. Tiffany's impact evolved in a lush period in America that he helped to cultivate, an all-encompassing opulence and splendor in taste resulting in a totally different setting for the legendary wealthy new barons of America. His was a far reaching vision of an original American decorative art that cast off the darkness of Victorian styles and embraced a wide array of influences from Art Nouveau to the arts of the Far East.

Renowned as a magical designer and incredible creator of beauty in glass, mosaic, ceramics and jewelry, Tiffany explored a correlation of forms from nature and combined them with fantasy, narrative and myth in a resonance and orgy of color. In the objects comprising the exhibition, Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Beauty, originating from the famed Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Glass and uniquely conceived for NCMA by Lindsy Parrot, its collections manager. Tiffany intensified the beauty of his stained glass lamps through the most influential technology of his time, electricity. He subsumed technology into art. Approximately forty lamps are on view -- each one endowed with precious jewel-like attributes .

An accompanying exhibition, Tiffany and the Gilded Age, explores the pivotal role Tiffany played as a tastemaker for his time. He created an aesthetic in interior design that conjured up La Belle Epoque in France with its opulence and splendor. Tiffany was the dominant figure in creating a new golden age of private life, one characterized by a fervor for opulent furnishings and decorative arts and a variety of art styles that bore no single defining format.

Tiffany, an American original and Long Island resident, was at the forefront of the American avant-garde in the decorative arts. He exemplified that in the larger cultural context, something American made could simultaneously take art to the highest levels of sophistication yet not be imitative of European models. Thus, this exhibition follows in the footsteps of past exhibitions at NCMA which portrayed his role in the international expressions of Art Nouveau and as part of his Long Island association at Laurelton Hall, his magnificence residence.

With the exhibitions Louis Comfort Tiffany: The Laurelton Hall Years (1986), La Belle Epoque (1995), Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White and their Circle (1999) and Reflections of Opulence (2001), NCMA has previously celebrated the role played by Tiffany in changing the tastes of the wealthy of his era. Beautiful objects and furniture came to be acknowledged as cultural art objects whose function further reflected the character and aspirations of the newly affluent upper classes.

Throughout this time, the museum has benefited enormously from associations with precursors in this field beginning with Hugh McKean, the prominent scholar/collector involved in preserving Laurelton Hall's treasures after the tragic 1957 fire. We are also indebted to Dr. Robert Koch for his helpful loans and advice. The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass has been extremely generous with loans of portions of its collections to our varied exhibitions as has been Tiffany & Company. The New York galleries, Macklowe and Historic Design, as well as the Calderwood Gallery of Philadelphia have been unstinting in their support of the present exhibition as well as those in the past.

Also in the past, the fabulous collections of Jack and Ruth Wexler, Muriel and Howard Weingrow and Ann and Robert Fromer have provided remarkable additions for the museum's Tiffany exhibitions -- from the periods of Art Nouveau through Art Deco. These collectors have generously enabled NCMA to share their treasures with museum visitors, enabling a new generation to assess and enjoy the ambitious achievement and expressive vitality of the cultural titan who was Louis Comfort Tiffany.

About the author:

Constance Schwartz is the Nassau County Museum of Art's Executive Director.


Editor's note:

This essay was authored in conjunction with the exhibition Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art which opens on September 21, 2008 through January 4, 2009 at the Nassau County Museum of Art.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Ms. Doris Meadows, Nassau County Museum of Art, for assistance concerning the republishing of the above essay.

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