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Louis Comfort Tiffany: Biography, Lamps & Paintings

Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

He came from a family known for creating fine jewelry, but Tiffany took his talents in a different direction. In this lesson, learn about the life, lamps, and paintings of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

The Son of an Icon

When you think of the last name Tiffany you probably think of light blue boxes and expensive things inside, right? Well, there's more to the Tiffany name than just fine jewelry. Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany, is known for his works in stained glass and his paintings of his exotic travels.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in New York City on February 18, 1848. His father was the co-founder of the well-known Tiffany & Co., a jewelry and luxury goods retailer. The younger Tiffany decided not to follow in his very successful father's footsteps of creating fine jewelry and silver. Instead, his family's wealth allowed him to attend New Jersey's Eagleswood Military Academy. When he graduated he realized he wanted to become an artist, but the family jewelry business wasn't what he was looking for. Tiffany explored different art forms and, over his lifetime, he worked in almost every decorative medium, from painting to stained glass to enamelware.

Tiffany the Painter

Louis Comfort Tiffany's artistic career began in painting and was influenced by two American painters, George Inness and Samuel Colman, both of whom were heavily influenced by the Hudson River School. The Hudson River School was a group of 19th-century American landscape painters whose paintings celebrated America's unspoiled landscape. Tiffany's training also included time spent at the National Academy of Design in New York, where he first experimented with stained glass in the 1870s.

Tiffany traveled much of Europe, North Africa, and North America. His travels inspired many of his paintings. His goal was to bring exotic scenes to life on the canvas. Take a look at Cairo Travelers Resting, which Tiffany painted in 1869 after visiting Egypt.

Cairo Travelers Resting, 1869

Cairo Travelers Resting, 1869

Do you notice the extensive detail in the figures and what look like mountains of sand in the background? This detail is reminiscent of the Hudson River School style. When you look at Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco, which Tiffany painted in 1873, you should see even more attention to that background and landscape detail, showing how Tiffany was growing as a painter.

Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco, 1873

Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco 1873

Branching Out From Painting

Tiffany never stopped painting, but by the late 1870s he started working on interior design and leaded glass projects. He became a leader of America's Art Nouveau movement. Art Nouveau was a short-lived late 19th and early 20th-century movement in the decorative arts and architecture that spread across Europe and America. The movement hoped to modernize interior design and relied on geometric forms and graphic art elements.

Tiffany's New York home, known as Laurelton Hall, was his greatest interior design masterpiece. The leaded glass projects there are what earned Tiffany the most recognition. Just before the turn of the 20th century, he started working on stained glass windows for churches and lamps that brought the outdoors in. Most featured nature-driven designs meant to marry form and function.

Wisteria lamp
Tiffany Wisteria Lamp

When you look at this 'Wisteria' lamp do you notice what the base of the lamp looks like? You should see a tree. The lamps are all created from patterns, but the individual glass pieces selected for each one make them unique. Many are well known for having tree-like bases.

Tiffany also created works known as enamelware, an art form well-known in London where he exhibited them, but with a unique Tiffany twist. Compote, created in the first decade of the 20th century, featured this unique shape and style that was purely Tiffany's, a style he called Favrile.

Compote
Tiffany Compote Enamelware

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