Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tiffany Lamp Shades

The Hanging Head Dragonfly Shade on Mosaic and Turtleback Base is a 2006 addition to the decorative arts collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Tiffany Studios produced this particular lamp sometime prior to 1906.  The lampshade is stamped “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK 1507” corresponding to model 1507.  The bas is stamped “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK 5858” corresponding to model 355.  Prior to its acquisition by the Art Institute of Chicago, it was owned by Mrs. Sandra van den Broek and Mr. Jeffrey C. Thier.

The list of Tiffany lampshades and bases around this time was extensive.  For many of the lamps, the base and the lampshade were designed to complement one another and ultimately to be sold as a pair.  This was particularly true for most of the florally inspired designs, where the lampshade was in the shape of a blossom with the base being the corresponding stem.  However, catalogs listed the shades and bases separately, with over 500 lamp base designs and over 500 lampshade designs available.[1]  Tiffany first introduced electric lamps in 1900.  When the electric lamps replaced the earlier gas lamps, some of the prior base designs were converted to accommodate the new technology.  New designs, however, took advantage of the fact that there no longer needed to be a repository for the oil.  The bases became more graceful and elongated, well suited to the Art Nouveau style.[2]
Louis Comfort Tiffany started as a fine artist, and enjoyed some success as an oil and watercolor painter.  He transitioned his career into interior design and decorative arts.[3]  Later, he found himself drawn to glass, attracted to the craftsmanship required for the production of fine glass.  However, he felt that the techniques used to color glass detracted from its beauty.  After some initial experiments in a rented studio, Tiffany entered into a series of partnerships in the mid to late 19th century.[4]  He sought to determine the formula and technique for producing high quality glass where the color was integral to the substance of the glass.  He decided that he needed his own plant and studio, and in 1892 he started his own company with Arthur Nash in Corona, New York.  Tiffany was the creative partner, both directing design and pushing the effort to develop the new process for creating colored glass.  Arthur Nash, with extensive experience in producing glass, oversaw the operations and quality in the plant.  It was Nash who carefully cataloged and guarded the formulae for the different colors and styles of glass.[5]
The studio’s basic process of glass production did not differ significantly from what was being done at that time.  While the specific formulae varied, silica was melted with other substances, typically soda and lime, in a furnace.  The molten glass was extracted and shaped using a variety of techniques, including blowing, rolling, and pressing.  A secondary furnace, called a glory hole, was used to reheat the glass so that it did not harden prematurely while being shaped.  After shaping, the glass slowly cooled, a process called annealing, in a lehr, a lower temperature oven.[6]
The main factor differentiating Tiffany’s glass from other glass at that time was his process for incorporating color.  Most glass was colored by enameling or painting on the surface.  Tiffany felt that true craftsmanship lay in adding color during the production of the glass, so that the color was inside the glass, not on the surface.  Metal salts were either melted in with the molten glass or vaporized in a furnace, into which the partial cooled glass was inserted.[7]  Different techniques were used to achieve affects such as striation and rippling in the color.  Depending on the formula, the process could also produce opalescence or iridescence, which was characteristic of favrile glass.  ‘Favrile’ is generally taken to mean glass produced by the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Tiffany coined the word ‘favrile’ in 1894, deriving it from an old English word ‘fabrile’ meaning handmade.[8]  Tiffany was a strong proponent of the tenets of the design reform, believing in highlighting the quality of materials and demonstrating outstanding artisanship.  He described all of his work as favrile.  Today, favrile refers almost exclusively to Tiffany glass, and more specifically to the iridescent glass.
Tiffany glass was also notable for its textures.  For the flat glass used in lampshades, tools were used to create rippled, hammered, and drapery effects.[9]  Glass was also poured into molds and then pressed to give distinctive shapes.  After the final cooling, these could be further polished or cut to create facets.  One such pressed form for which Tiffany was well known was the turtleback shape, resembling the shell of a turtle.[10]  Smaller turtleback tiles were incorporated into the design of some lampshades.  A few lampshades were made entirely of larger turtleback tiles.  Alternately, larger turtleback tiles were sometimes incorporated into a lamp base.
The process of designing and assembling the lampshades drew on the Tiffany’s experience with stained glass windows.  The lampshades were essentially leaded-glass windows, though the leading in Tiffany’s designs was more typically copper foil with lead solder.  A design would be selected by a client from a catalog, or a custom lampshade could be designed to specification.  Artisans in the studio would mold the design for a lampshade over wooden forms.  While the basic design for a particular shade would be reused multiple times, each individual shade was unique because of the variation of the glass.  The workers assembling the shades would hand select each fragment of glass.  The process of selecting and coordinating colors was dynamic and occurred at the time of assembly.[11]  Careful consideration was given not only to the hue of the tiles but also the opacity.  These factors would influence the amount and nature of light from the lamp.
Clara Driscoll headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, responsible for cutting, selecting, and assembling the glass for the shades.  In addition, Driscoll was largely responsible for most of the floral designs.  Her counterpart leading the men’s department, Mr. Cantrill, was responsible for the more geometric designs.[12]  By 1900, Tiffany had adopted a policy of collaborative corporate effort, where individual designers did not receive credit for specific designs.  As the head of the studio, Tiffany had direction of all artistic direction and likely approved most if not all designs.  However, there is clear evidence that Driscoll designed the original dragonfly lampshade, as well as evidence suggesting that she was responsible for many subsequent designs.  The dragonfly motif  was first included in a lampshade at the end of the 19th century.  Tiffany lamps were introduced at an exhibition of the Art Nouveau at the Grafton Galleries in London.  In the exhibition publication by Tiffany, design of the 16-inch dragonfly shade was credited to Clara Driscoll explicitly.[13]
Louis Comfort Tiffany was a significant figure in the Art Nouveau period in the United States.  He clearly embraced the design reform.  He spent years developing techniques to allow beauty of the material of his glass be the dominant feature of his design.  His dedication to the concept of hand artisanship was so profound that he even coined the word “favrile” to brand his approach.  Even when economic realities necessitated that parts of his process be mechanized, the ultimate products were assembled by hand.  The lamps received instant critical acclaim when they were introduced, winning top awards at international expositions in Paris and Turin.[14]  Siegfried Bing featured Tiffany lamps in L’Art Nouveau, his Paris gallery.[15]  The popularity of the designs remains popular today.  Antique enthusiasts catalog the various permutations of lampshades and bases and excitedly seek to authenticate when a previously unknown instance surfaces in an estate.  The Hanging Head Dragonfly Shade on Mosaic and Turtleback Base is a dramatic example of the genre.  With the natural motif of the dragonfly, the styling is distinctly Art Nouveau.  The lampshade features a variety of glass segments, including opalescent favrile glass and jewel like cabochons.  The dragonfly wings are particularly noteworthy, with fine copper foil delineating minute fragments of glass.  Unlike many of the other bases, this base is more geometric and prominently features more glass.  Large turtleback tiles  surround the base immediately beneath the shade.  The sides of base are covered with strips composed of glass mosaic tiles).
Tiffany lamps remain a success because of both the design and the craftsmanship.  While clearly a product of the Art Nouveau, the integration of lampshade and base and the use of harmonious colors make the designs enduringly popular.  Particularly impressive is the success of the craft.  Tiffany invested years developing a technique to showcase the beauty of glass.  A century later, the vibrancy and quality of his glass is still readily apparent.  He was not the first to develop opalescence and iridescence in glass, and he was extensive imitated both during his time and since.  However, his glass has remained one of the defining examples of American stained glass.

[1] Robert Koch, Louis C. Tiffany’s Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, a Complete Collector’s Guide (New York: Crown, 1971), 119.
[2] Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, an illustrated reference to over 2000 models (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007), 53.
[3] Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, "Louis Comfort Tiffany at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer (1998), 4-17.
[4] Norman Potter and Douglas Jackson. Tiffany ( London: Pyramid, 1988), 32-34.
[5] Nina Gray “Glass of All Hues and Colors,” in Tiffany Glass, a Passion for Colour, ed. Rosalind M. Pepall (Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009), 106-108.

[6] Koch, Tiffany’s Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, 52-55.
[7] Potter and Jackson, Tiffany, 34-47.
[8] Koch, Tiffany’s Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, 17-19.
[9] Gray, “Glass of All Hues,” 108-111.
[10] Koch, Tiffany’s Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, 27-28.
[11] Frelinghuysen, “Louis Comfort Tiffany,” 69-72.
[12] Martin Eidelberg, “Tiffany’s Lamps and ‘Fancy Goods,’” in Tiffany Glass, a Passion for Colour, ed. Rosalind M. Pepall (Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009), 166.
[13] Duncan, Tiffany Lamps, 7-9.
[14] Potter and Jackson, Tiffany, 84-88.
[15] Frelinghuysen, “Louis Comfort Tiffany,” 72.


Bing, Samuel. "Louis C. Tiffany's Coloured Glass Work." Artistic America, Tiffany Glass, and Art Nouveau. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970.
Duncan, Alastair. Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, an illustrated reference to over 2000 models.Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Colelctors Club, Ltd., 2007.
Eidelberg, Martin. "Tiffany's Lamps and 'Fancy Goods'." In Tiffany Glass, a Passion for Colour, edited by Rosalind M. Pepall, 164-199. Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009.
Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. "Louis Comfort Tiffany at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer 1998.
Gray, Nina. "Glass of All Hues and Colors." In Tiffany Glass, a Passion for Colour, edited by Rosalind M. Pepall, 106-113. Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009.
Koch, Robert. Louis C. Tiffany's Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, a Complete Collector's Guide. New York: Crown Publishers, 1971.
Potter, Norman, and Douglas Jackson. Tiffany. London: Pyramid, 1988.

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