RICHMOND, VA.- The most important exhibition in decades devoted to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s opulent creations in glass will open on May 29 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond is the only U.S. stop for “Tiffany: Color and Light,” which will continue until August 15. The exhibition includes more than 170 works by Louis Comfort Tiffany – the master of American glass – and his studio. Handblown glass objects, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and other decorative items from Tiffany’s studios are featured along with oil paintings, watercolors, and mosaics. Fourteen objects come from VMFA’s internationally renowned collection formed by Sydney and Frances Lewis.
“Our own collection of Tiffany treasures has earned the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts the distinction of being the exclusive U.S. venue for the works of this genius of American Decorative arts,” says Director Alex Nyerges. “This international master of American glass achieves original and spectacular effects in his handblown vessels, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and other decorative objects.”
Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Company in New York City. A young man of means, Louis studied art in New York and in Paris before he traveled in Europe from 1865 to 1869. He visited Europe again and traveled in North Africa in 1870-71 while developing his skills as an artist. He especially appreciated the vividly colored glass mosaics and other artworks he saw in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere.
After returning to the United States, Tiffany continued to work as an artist, but gradually his interest turned to glass design and production. He appreciated the colors, forms, textures and light in medieval leaded-glass windows he had seen in European churches. However, there was little use of glass in contemporary Western art, and Tiffany developed the materials he used. He returned repeatedly to the French capital and in 1894 began exhibiting his glass with the Parisian art dealer Siegfried Bing. At the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, Tiffany’s booth featured the spectacular punchbowl, which is in VMFA’s collection, and he was acknowledged as the foremost American designer.
Tiffany established the Tiffany Glass Company, which became Tiffany Studios in 1900. In 1894, he patented his Favrile glass, adapting the Latin word for “handmade” as the name of his handblown glass.
At one point, Tiffany Studios employed more than 300 artisans, some of them women, to bring Tiffany’s designs and ideas to life.
The celebrated creations of Tiffany’s various companies include lamps with colorful leaded-glass shades that helped to diffuse the new electric light. Many of the shades were made of glass left over from the creation of leaded-glass windows and often featured floral designs in glass and jewels.
VMFA objects featured in the exhibition include the “Cobweb Lamp” designed by Clara Driscoll in 1902. The lamp features leaded glass, bronze, and glass mosaics. Intricate patterns define the cobwebs on the lamp’s multicolored leaded-glass shade.
Among works in the exhibition are more than 20 leaded-glass windows drawn from major museums and private collections throughout the world. The “Magnolia” window was designed in 1900 by Agnes Northrop for the Paris World’s Fair that year. This window is now in the permanent collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“The Angel of the Resurrection” window, designed by Frederick Wilson in 1904-5, was installed at the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal. It joined the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2008 and is one of nine windows from Montreal on display for the first time in the United States.
A “Mounted Vase with Peacock-Feather Decoration,” owned by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., is one of more than 60 vases made by Tiffany Studios in the exhibition. The 1898-99 work is comprised of handblown glass, rubies, as well as enamel by Eugene Feuillâtre and a silver mount designed by Edward Colonna.
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