The text below is the excerpt of the book Tiffany (ASIN: B00IODLN06), written by Charles De Kay, published by Parkstone International.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, but the spoon was immediately tucked away and he was seldom permitted to remember its existence. His father, the eminent goldsmith and jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany, and his mother, who was Harriet Olivia Young before her marriage, did not believe in spoiling children by allowing them to live on a scale such as their fortune warranted.
Tiffany the maker of stained glass
During his travels in England, France, Germany, and Italy it could not fail to strike a painter possessed of a feeling for color that modern stained glass as produced in Europe lacks the fundamental quality which separates the colored glass window from mosaic, or painting on the wall, that quality, without which the stained glass window may be said scarcely to have a reason for existence.
The first windows were mattings, lattices of wood or open-work stone, skins or slabs of ice (under the Arctic Circle), horn, thinly wrought alabaster, and at last glass. And the first glass we may imagine as a material discovered by potters in search of glazing to make their pots impervious to water, which glaze, build up by hand in shapes just like clay, and then subjected to the heat of the kiln, formed the earliest vessels of glass.
Originally, we must argue by analogy, windows or the gratings in the window were stopped by materials which allowed some light to filter through, but did not permit those inside to see out. Transparent glass is a comparatively late invention. When stained windows, therefore, came up in Europe it found people indifferent because unused to the convenience of transparent panes. The heavy leads and thick, dark-toned panes in old cathedrals, like those of Chartres, Beauvais, York, etc., delighted their eyes and did not bother them by reason of the dimness of the light that fell through.
The result of all these experiments and inventions may be summed up in the statement that modern American window painters can use glass as a painter uses his colors, lightening or darkening his work at will.
Favrile is distinguished by certain remarkable shapes and brilliant or deeply-toned colors, usually iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the necks of pigeons and peacocks, the wing-covers of various beetles. Its commonest use is for flower vases and table decorations, but it is also employed for plaques on the wall like the decorative glass boards. It is employed in mosaic and the tiling of floors and walls and more recently for table services to fill the role usually allotted to chinaware.
Such success demonstrated a current in popular taste on which other glass makers were eager to embark, and favrile soon received that mark of honor which is called the sincerest flattery. Bohemian glassware appeared in the American market copying some of the forms and trying to imitate some of the colors of favrile, while appealing to the multitude with low prices. The peacock-feather design was a favorite.
But here again Tiffany produced something new. For a time he devoted himself to the production of charming little petals, flowers, leaves in glass, which were assembled in proper natural order and then annealed all about with clear glass until gradually a vase was formed, in the solid stem of which or in its broad thick bottom the flowers hung suspended.
Enamels and jewelry
The writer has met several men who made a practice of collecting unset precious and semiprecious stones and carrying about with them a large wallet filled with the choicest specimens of their hoards. They enjoyed handling these jewels and loved to watch them sparkle in the sunlight as they shifted them from side to side.
It is not hard to imagine the enjoyment which an artist of Mr. Tiffany’s nature, training, and antecedents obtained from the exercise of his faculties and taste in the designing of such rare and beautiful things. Along with a seeming fragility like that of petals and tendrils of the vine they have a solidity of material and a thoroughness in workmanship which place them in a high rank, considered merely from the craftsman’s viewpoint.
Not only the favrile glass pieces mentioned in a former chapter but objects like those alluded to above are permanent exhibits in many museums. Many luxurious private houses have Louis C. Tiffany’s enameled objects. His constructions in color for personal jewelry are favorites in a host of households. Owing to the extraordinary collections of all sorts of gems and colored stones amassed by Tiffany & Company.
Practically all women and most men take an interest of a more or less lively sort in things which they carry about their persons. It is well, therefore, that objects of the sort should be beautiful or at any rate exhibit some taste.
In the preceding pages, should they be thought worthy of a careful reading, it may be remarked that the words color, color-sense, color-feeling often recur. The value attributed to color has been denied by theorists who have started from an untenable assumption that there is a purity, there is a moral worth attached to absence of color, in opposition to sensuousness and luxury in a bad sense attached to its presence. This is a convenient theory for a vast majority of artists who are born without the peculiar eyes and senses that distinguish values and respond with sympathy to the vibrations of light.
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