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THE HOUSE OF TIFFANY

Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in 1848, the eldest son of the wealthy Charles Lewis Tiffany, a patron of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the founders of The New York Society of Fine Arts. Charles Tiffany who came from a family of cotton manufacturers set up a small stationery and gift shop in New York in 1837 at 259 Broadway. A few years later the shop had expanded, selling selling Bohemian glass, Chinese and French porcelain, objects d’art and accessories. In November 1839 he married Harriet Young with whom he had 6 children - 3 girls and 3 boys of which the eldest was Louis Comfort, In 1850 Tiffany acquired the firm of John Moore and co, a silver manufacturing firm selling high quality silverware to New York’s premier jewellers and dealers. Before John Moore retired in 1851 he entered into an exclusive agreement with Tiffany. His son Edward took over the reins of the family business - he had foresight and a brilliant design sense and his silver was the face of Tiffany and Co although the designs were never attributed to him. (own stamp) In 1867 Tiffany purchased Moore’s entire operation. Charles Tiffany was a very shrewd man who was aware that the wealthy could be slow at paying their bills, he never extended credit and insisted on cash sales only, a policy that kept the firm afloat through the various recessions in the 19th century American economy.
Tiffany’s mail order catalogue - the first in the US - The Blue Book was published in 1845 and significantly increased sales. The jewellery marketed through the book was trademarked as Tiffany Blue. (various firms supplying designs) Prestige was enhanced by two gold medals at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, a year later Tiffany became incorporated and the successes continued; A Paris store was opened in 1868 on the Place de l”Opera and a London branch the same year, finally the jewellery store moved to Fifth Avenue. (The Tiffany yellow diamond was purchased in 1879 128.54 carats Kimberly Mines. Cut by George Frederick Kunz who had just joined the firm) By the second half of the 19th century the company was America’s premier jewellers, their gemologists set the standard carat grading for diamonds and grades for gold, silver and platinum. With a keen eye for coming trends Charles Lewis commissioned the English designer Christopher Dresser to acquire Japanese objects to be used for source material by his designers. in 1877 the firm struck the first insignia for New York City (later adopted by the NY Yankees) and redesigned the Great Seal of the US in 1885. (Family Mansion on Madison and 72nd St begun by McKim Meade and White this year) Tiffany and Co were also jewellers to the Ottoman Emperor, the Tzar and Tzarina of Russia and the Shah of Iran. (not all success; T was innocently involved in the Diamond Hoax of 1872 when ‘prospectors’ Arnold and Slack arrived in San Francisco. to report a diamond mine in Wyoming and produced a small bag of diamonds; they were ‘persuaded’ to lead an inspection party to a huge field with raw gems on the ground, Tiffany evaluated the stones found at 150,000 dollars. The prospectors then claimed to have another site at Diamond Peak in Colorado, an inspection produced diamonds and the prospectors were persuaded to sell their interests to a mining company which included Rothschild and Tiffany. This time a geologist declared that the site had been salted with cheap diamonds purchased from London and Amsterdam. The matter caused a predictable sensation but was quickly hushed-up) Tiffany’s acquisition and sale of the French Crown Jewels in 1887 cemented the firm’s association with quality and Charles Tiffany embarked on a lucrative venture with Thomas Edison to install electric lighting in the New York theatres. Charles who was a patron of the Met Museum of Art and one of the founders of the New York Society of Arts remained firmly in charge of the firm until his death in 1902 (he left a personal fortune of $35 million) when his son took over.


THE AMERICANS AND THE AESTHETIC MOVEMENT

The Aesthetic Movement had its origins in Britain but its greatest impact was in America where we could argue that it changed the course of design. During its height from the mid 70s to the mid 80s the Aesthetic Movement affected all levels of society in America. The catalyst was the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 at which several British designers and manufacturers had pavilions but the work of British designers had already been known in the States for a decade. In the 1830s British reformers were already becoming dismayed by the wretched state of contemporary design. Costly hand made goods were generally smothered with eclectic inappropriate ornament badly imitated by the companies making mass produced objects. The Great Exhibition, the celebration of manufacturing confirmed their fears. As a result Henry Cole and others attempted to redefine the goals of the extant industrial training,The School of Design was founded at South Kensington followed in 1857 by The South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) intended to show examples of fine design with Cole as its first director. Japanese art and objects began to arrive in the West shortly after 1852, the apparent simplicity of Japanese design appealed strongly to the design reformers.

Owen Jones’ massively influential ‘Grammar of Ornament’ published in 1856 featured designs from Western and Oriental sources. In England Jones’ work was adopted by designers Godwin, Christopher Dresser and Bruce J Talbert, all of whom had important impacts in America. Talbert used rectilinear lines ‘honest’ construction and abstracted ornament. Godwin made Anglo-Japonesque furniture. Their ideas featured in Charles Locke Eastlake’s ‘Hints on Household Taste’ first published in London 1868 and subsequently in New York where it ran to 8 editions. Dresser the industrial designer who had been an assistant to Owen Jones shared with John Ruskin the use of nature as the basis of ornament but pushed the concept towards greater abstraction and flatness spurred in part by his interest in Japanese design. He was appointed professor of Botany Applied to the Fine Arts at the School of Design in South Kensington. Thereafter he published a number of works intended as practical guides for industrial manufacturers which were published in London and New York. He was active as an industrial designer working with various potteries including Minton and Wedgwood and with the metal producers Elkington and Company. He also created wallpaper and textile designs. His writing and his designs had a major influence on the Aesthetic Movement in America. In 1876 Dresser travelled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exhibition, a year later he was engaged to give a series of influential lectures at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. On his subsequent visit to Japan Tiffany commissioned him to make a collection of Japanese works for the company. (His book ‘Japan, Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufacture’ was certainly the best account of the country to be published in the late 19th century)

In the years following the Centennial British design had a growing impact in America, the British Magazine of Art and The Art Journal began to publish editions in the US. New American journals like House Beautiful, Art Amateur, Art Interchange and Art Age gave instruction on how to decorate homes and make objects. The Society of Decorative Art was founded in New York in 1877 and then spread to every city in America. Painters and sculptors explored decorative media working outside the traditional academic programme. Every international and local exposition displayed objects reinforcing aesthetic ideas. William Morris’ wallpapers, textiles and furniture were widely distributed during the 1880s and many British craftsmen and ‘art’ manufacturers emigrated to the States where they had a receptive audience. John Bennett the ceramicist, Charles Booth the glass painter and Ben Pitman wood carver all brought Aesthetic ideals with them. Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of 1882-3 promoted popular interest. Progressive ideas found their first American expression in so-called Modern Gothic furniture, Bruce J Talbert inspired the firm of A Kimble and J Cabus of New York and Mitchell and Rammelsberg of Cincinnati. The Japanese influence made itself felt in silver by Tiffany and Co, porcelain by Ott and Brewer and the Greenwood Pottery and in furniture by A and H Lejambre and the Herter Bros. Islamic art was also extensively referenced

In the second half of the 19th century American women were generally more independent than their European or English sisters, to some extent they had to be because the male death toll of the Civil War had left numbers of women needing to support themselves. The Aesthetic Movement’s promotion of crafts gave at least some of them the opportunity to learn new skills or make an income by applying their talents to china painting, needlework and wood carving. The Cincinnati women were particularly successful in establishing an international reputation for their pottery (Rookwood) and establishing a School of Design and an Art Museum in their city. Another result of Philadelphia was an enthusiasm for artistic bric-a-brac, collectors like Mr and Mrs Henry Osborne Havemeyer and William H Vanderbilt assembled eclectic collections occasionally open to the public. Tiffany, John le Farge and Edward Moore collected for inspiration. The painter William Merritt Chase’s studio became a showplace for his collections.

It was the interior that best expressed the Aesthetic taste, major decorators like the Herter Bros and John La Farge’s Decorative Art Company created lavish interiors in collaboration with artists from every discipline. One of the most successful of the interior design companies was Louis Comfort Tiffany’s short lived Associated Artists.

ASSOCIATED ARTISTS

Louis Comfort’s family was at the centre of New York artistic society, when he was born his father was already a successful and respected businessman in a city that respected business acumen and a patron of the arts, the Tiffany house - then a luxurious house on Madison Avenue was a meeting place for many other patrons and artists of all kinds. Louis’ early education followed the pattern of most boys of his class attending boarding school and then Eagleswood Military Academy near Perth Amboy New Jersey and left to study art with the landscape painter George Innes. He was not interested in entering the family business and decided instead to train as a painter studying at the National Academy of Design in New York where he became friends with Samuel Colman and then spending a year with the Orientalist painter Leon Belly in Paris between 1868 and 69. He traveled to North Africa and around Europe with the landscape painter Robert Swain Gifford (later a partner in AA) and joined the American Water Colour Society when he came home. (Married in 1872 to Mary Woodbridge Goddard, they had 4 children. she died aged only 34) Paintings based on his travels were shown at Philadelphia and again in Paris in 1878 and in 1880 he was made an academician at the American National Academy. During his travels Tiffany became interested in medieval glass and had visited the new South Kensington Museum (Victoria and Albert) where he was very impressed by the Roman and Syrian glass he saw there.

In 1869 Tiffany secured a studio for himself in the newly built 5 story headquarters of the YMCA (Association building) where he lived until his marriage. He designed his studio there and filled it with choice objects and stained glass of his own design. When he married in 1872 he and his new wife Mary Woodbridge Goddard moved into the Tiffany House. By the mid 70s Louis was becoming dissatisfied with painting and was encouraged by Edward Moore, his father’s chief designer to choose a new career. ‘I have been thinking a great deal about decorative work and I am going into it as a profession’ he wrote to Candace Wheeler in 1879 ‘I believe there is more in it than painting pictures’. The same year he joined with Wheeler, his friend George Colman and Lockwood de Forest to found Associated Artists.

THE PARTNERS

Lockwood de Forest (1850) came from a wealthy New York family that had made its money from shipping. He visited Rome in 1868 and took his first lessons in painting there.
His uncle was the highly successful landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church who became his mentor and introduced him to other fashionable painters, Gifford, Kensett and so on and travelled with him to the Middle East and North Africa. He first became interested in decoration and architecture after studying the books in his uncle’s library at Olana. In 1979 he became a partner in AA overseeing architectural woodwork. The same year he married Meta Kemble and on their honeymoon in British India he met the philanthropist Hutheesing and the two opened the Ahmedabad Woodcarving company which supplied Associated Artists with carved detailing and furniture. (Lockwood de Forest House 7 East 10th Street 1887 (now NY University Centre for Jewish Student Life)

Candace Wheeler (Thurber) was the daughter of a successful dairy farmer in the west Catskills. Her father was a strict Presbyterian and an abolitionist who allowed his family to use no products made by slaves, no sugar or cotton. The family wove their own textiles from flax. Candace learned all the tasks associated with farming along with weaving, sewing and embroidery. At 17 she married the wealthy Thomas Wheeler and moved to Brooklyn and Long Island where she met the Hudson River painters. She was able to travel and meet artists at home and abroad, she painted and made needlework. Her life changed after visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition where she saw the embroideries from the Royal London School of Art Needlework and believed that this might be a way for women to support themselves in a male world. In February 1877 she formed the Society of Decorative Arts of New York with the society matron Mrs David Lane. The committee included many of the wives of the New York elite including General Custer’s widow. Artists including Tiffany and Lockwood de Forest taught and selected items for exhibition and sale through the society. It was a great success but Wheeler wanted to give an opportunity to a wider range of women and founded The Women’s Exchange offering quality goods of all kinds made by women including crafts and foodstuffs. The ladies of the DAS made her resign from the committee which enabled her to exhibit her own work, she won a prize in 1879. The same year Tiffany offered her the post of textile designer in his new firm.

Tiffany’s growing family prompted him to look for quarters larger than the suite of rooms they were occupying in the Tiffany house. He settled on the newly constructed Bella Apartments a block from Madison Square. The Bella was observed as having the best class of fittings and style, polished granite columns and marble floors, frescoed walls and ceilings, an hydraulic elevator and steam heating, the apartments were large because every Bella household had at least one live-in servant. Tiffany took a suite on the top floor for the light ($2,000 per year) Tiffany designed the interiors of apartment from start to finish and used it as a testing ground for ideas that had been germinating for a decade and as a kind of show room for AA

AA’s first major commission was the Veterans room for the Seventh Regiment Armory, 1879 combining exotic elements and military motifs. In 1881 the firm made the interiors for the Mark Twain House in Hartford Connecticut and in 1882 the White House for President Chester Alan Arthur. (Glass screen, Blue Room, Red Room, Drawing room).

Tiffany dissolved the firm in 1883, he had been experimenting with decorative glass since 1875, working at The Empire State Flint Glass Works and the Heidt Glass Furnace in Brooklyn but the high luxe interiors commissioned from the firm gave only limited opportunities for its use. The partners remained friends and sometimes worked together but went their separate ways, Lockwood de Forest continued his painting career and his association with the Hutheesing company. He opened his own design business in New York, attracting many clients including Andrew Carnegie. Candace Wheeler had tried her hand at wallpaper design for Warren Fuller and Company while she was still with AA and won a commission for her honey bee pattern. After the firm dissolved she began working exclusively as a designer for textiles and wallpaper, retaining the Associated Artists name. Her work and her numerous publications bought her to the forefront of the interior decorating world. The Chicago Worlds Fair Columbian Exposition of 1893 took place at a time when American women were becoming independent and active. A committee of powerful women advocated for and won permission to have a Women’s Building at the fair celebrating the progress of women in the 400 years since Columbus. As an influence in design and an advocate for women’s rights Wheeler was asked to supervise the decorations. (Women from many nations showed). The Exposition was a great success for her and for her former partner Tiffany After the Worlds Fair she continued to head Associated Artists with her daughter Dora as VP until 1900 (closed in 1907) She wrote and encouraged schemes for rural crafts until she died age 96

For his part Tiffany was heavily involved in the design of his father’s colossal mansion intended to be three homes in one, Charles and Harriet would have the first and second floors, Louise (unmarried) the third and Louis and his family the fourt and fifth. Charles had commissioned the design from McKim, Mead and White; Louis who was a friend of Stanford White more or less took over the project and Charles had the unlimited funds to realise his son’s dreams. White was successful in diluting some of Louis Comforts excesses - he substituted beige speckled brick for stone - it was produced by the Perth Amboy Terra Cotta Company and became known as Tiffany brick and he softened the heavy medieval feeling by adding triple Palladian windows to the south gables.

When completed the 57 room house dominated the neighbourhood - Charles disliked it when it was finished preferring to stay at the old house 30 blocks south but Louis Comfort moved in 1885 with his 3 children after Mary died. In 1886 the 38 year old widower remarried to Louise Wakeman Knox a cousin of Lockwood de Forrest and daughter of James Knox the president of Lafayette College with whom he had 4 children, they were married for 18 years. (his youngest daughter Dorothy later D Burlingham became a noted psychoanalyst. She went to Vienna and met Anna Freud; - became an analyst specialising in children and moved to England with Anna in 1938 and founded the Hampstead Clinic for Children).

TIFFANY STUDIOS


Tiffany as Louis C Tiffany and Company with a team of designers worked for architects like Stanford White and Thomas Hastings. (Havemeyer House Kingscote Mansion Newport Rhode Island) In 1892 he founded the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company and the Stourbridge Glass Company at Corona Queens (director Englishman Arthur Nash) - the two were later incorporated as Tiffany Studios. The Corona Works incorporated metal workshops, glass workshops, a pottery and design studios under one roof which enabled a vital cross-referencing between the various disciplines. Tiffany’s own experiments led to new glassmaking processes, creating a range of textures, opalescent effects and strong colours, he subsequently patented his glass under the name Fravrile (from the old French for ‘made by hand’ Also the trademark for his ceramics) Inspired by William Morris, he was also concerned to use self-coloured rather than painted glass in his windows believing that it gave a greater richness and depth.

Glass was at the centre of all of the Studio’s productions; the glassware and windows apart it was used in the mosaics designed for interiors and to decorate items referred to as ‘fancy goods’. Tiffany employed teams of more than 300 designers, craftsmen and women, by the end of the century they were producing ceramics, metalwork, furniture and jewelry in addition to the glassware, lamps and windows. Perhaps on the advice of Candace Wheeler a significant proportion of his workforce were women including several talented designers, Clara Driscoll for example played a vital role in the production of glass and mosaics. (Clara Driscoll born 1861 attended school in Cleveland and worked for local furniture maker, moved to New York and enrolled at the new Metropolitan Museum Art School. Her talent was spotted by Tiffany and she worked her way up through the studios where she remained for 20 years designing and directing the design of lamps, mosaics etc. At the height of her career she was earning in the region of $10,000 a year. She left in 1889 when she married, no married women were employed by the studios, after her husband died in 1892 she returned and carried on working until her second marriage in 1909).

His employment of women caused him some initial problems, his male workforce claimed that the women would put them out of employment since they were paid less. Tiffany responded by putting up the wages of his female workers and the men called a strike in protest. The problems were eventually resolved and the Studios had a very low turnover in employment, many of the most skilled artisans and designer were with Tiffany for the entire lifetime of the company. Although all the objects produced were exhibited or sold under Tiffany’s name the various designers working for him were always publicly credited with their work, (Will H Low; - painter, Lydia Emmet; - painter Frederick Wilson, Joseph Lauber, Edward Sperry, Agnes F Northrop, Alice Carmen Gouvy and Claira Driscoll).

The pictorial glass department of the Studios were consistently busy through the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, executing a large number of ecclesiastical commissions and commissions for memorial windows at colleges like Yale, Princeton and Vassar. There was also demand for decorative widows and panels for private clients, Agnes F Northrop was responsible for a number of Tiffany’s landscape windows.

The mosaic workshop was overseen by the Swiss designer, muralist and mosaicist Jacob Adolphus Holzer who had worked with the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John La Farge before joining Tiffany. He and his team created the mosaic dome of the Marshal Field Store and the Marquette Building in Chicago, the Alexander Hall at Princeton and the glass dome and mosaics of the Chicago Cultural Centre.
The Studios were also making small scale metalwork, desk sets and so on referred to as fancy goods. These provided a steady income for the company and could be produced in ‘editions’ The fancy good range increased to include ceramics and then jewellery. The Tiffany lamps which became the Studio’s most famous and best selling items were first made as oil lamps, it was probably Adolphus Hozler who first devised the electric versions in the mid 90s allowing for more open and delicate bronze bases. The shades were made using the technique perfected in the pictorial glass workshops with favrile glass sections held in lead frames, both bases and shades could be produced in batches

The glassware marketed as Favrile became another best seller for the company, Tiffany had studied Eastern glass in North Africa and devised ways of incorporating metal salts to give opalescent effects. Tiffany glass was blown in the traditional way, the craftsmen could produce an infinite number of variations on shape and colour so no two pieces are absolutely identical. After meeting Emile Galle, Tiffany was encouraged to use more abstract and organic forms.

Tiffany Studios took a showroom on Madison Avenue for furniture, glass and so on. He was also a great publicist for his firm and understood the importance of showing on occasions that would introduce the Studios to an international audience.
The Chicago Columbian Exposition was a huge success for Tiffany, he showed a chapel and two rooms calculated to show the products of the Tiffany studios to their best advantage. (won 54 medals) The exposition introduced him to an international audience and brought him to the attention of Samuel Bing, the promoter of Art Nouveau in France. In 1895 Bing described Tiffany’s enterprise ‘Tiffany saw only one means of effecting this perfect union between the various branches of industry, a vast central workshop that would consolidate under one roof an army of craftsmen representing every relevant technique...all working to give shape to the carefully planned concepts of a group of directing artists themselves united by a common current of ideas’ Bing introduced Tiffany to the French avant-garde including the Nabis painters Bonnard and Serusier and Tolouse Lautrec in the Paris Exposition of 1889 he showed ten windows designed by French artists. Bing became Tiffany’s European agent and encouraged him to show at the European fairs, he took awards at Paris in 1900 (Made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor), at Turin in 1902 and back in America at St Louis in 1904. (his second wife died of cancer the same year)

In 1902 Charles Tiffany died and Louis Comfort inherited $5 million and a controlling interest Tiffany and Co. The firms prospered in the years before WWI, there was great demand for art glass, lamps and fancy goods in copper and bronze.
(last big commission - National Theatre Mexico City 1911,foldable panel million pieces of glass - divided into 200 panels each 3 ft square - made at Tiffany furnaces at Corona supervised by Tiffany and made by 20 workers over 15 months) In addition to his design work Tiffany gave lectures and financed several publications, including his biography written by Charles de Kay. (literary critic for the New York Times) edition of 492 with another 10 copies printed on vellum with cast bronze clasps

In 1918 he founded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, a retreat for young artists, designers and craftsmen which operated from his home the 84 room Laurelton Hall in Oyster Bay Long Island. Laurelton, begun in 1902 was Tiffany’s Xanadu complete with its own railway station, farm and chapel, there were eventually 1,500 landscaped acres of land and cost $2 million to create. (money inherited from his father) He lived there alone, his wife having died from cancer a couple of years before. He furnished the 65 rooms with his own collections and the best works from Tiffany Studios and gave the art school a separate building in the grounds. He provided an endowment and donated Laurelton to the Foundation after his death - sadly by 1945 financial difficulties saw the sale of the building’s contents at auction, the house was sold for $10,000 and the land subdivided, in 1952 the house was gutted by fire - see Hosmer Morse Museum Florida and the Metropolitan Museum New York)

The Studios continued through the 1920s but taste was changing as ‘moderne’ became popular towards the end of the decade. Income declined but Tiffany’s taste for an opulent high life did not, he was famous for his parties held at Laurelton and in New York and he was also funding his Foundation. In 1932 the Studios were officially bankrupt, (Tiffany and co were not) Louis Comfort died of pneumonia aged 84 a year later in the New York house and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery Brooklyn. Three years later the family sold the house to a developer and it was demolished to make way for a modern apartment building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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