From the Vault: The Artwork of Louis C. Tiffany

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 11:18am -- mfarias

The cover of The Artwork of Louis C. Tiffany, written by Charles deKay with permission by the artist himself, is uniquely suited to its subject. With its raised texture and antiqued color, it is its own art, properly encasing the works of a man who declared that his lifelong goal was “the pursuit of beauty.”

Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933) was born in New York City to Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902), the founder of the fancy goods store turned luxury jewelry company Tiffany & Co. in 1837. His mother’s name was Harriet Olivia Avery Young. Tiffany began his artistic career as a painter, but he started studying glassmaking when he was 24, leading to his most well-known work as an artist of stained glass. During his lengthy career, he experimented with virtually every medium he could, from designing stained glass windows and interiors to creating mosaics, lighting, pottery, metalwork, jewelry, paintings, and sketches. He is the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements. 


"Mr. Tiffany Among the Flowers" by Sorolla, 1911

The Artwork of Louis C. Tiffany was published in 1914 and was written for the benefit of Tiffany's children. The book begins, “This volume is not written for the public, but for the children of Louis Comfort Tiffany and at their request.” For this reason, Tiffany overcame his “natural dislike for anything that savors of self-seeking and agreed to the printing of a book which is to some extent a biography but primarily a record.” Of course, they did print significantly more copies of the book than he had children. Ten copies of the book were printed upon parchment and an additional 492 were printed upon Japan paper for private distribution. The copy belonging to the Redwood Library is Number 351 and contains the signature of Louis C. Tiffany.

The book is divided by artistic medium. In the first section, “Tiffany the Painter,” the early life of the artist is explored and his interest in painting is developed. The first sentence of this chapter reads, “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” as his parents did not believe in spoiling him. The tone and humor of this sentence continues throughout the book as the author explores Tiffany's shifting interest in painting, stained glass, pottery, jewelry, lighting, interior design, and landscaping. The images that follow are taken from each of these sections.

"Woodland" by Tiffany, 1894 (left) & "Algerian Shops" by Tiffany, 1895

Stained glass window

Dark iridescent vase (left) & Peacock vase (right)

"Mr. Tiffany's original sketch for the Seventy-second Street House"

Louis C. Tiffany was driven in his art by his strong sense of color. In the afterword to the book, it is noted how often color is mentioned throughout the work, leading to the conclusion that "Louis C. Tiffany belongs to the painters who can be embraced under the broad term of colorists." This is why he turned to forms of art that require such a strong sense of "color-feeling." In his decorative work, he embraced color and the influences of other artists and cultures who do the same. The final sentence of the afterword reads, "When we think of the silent effect produced in a thousand families, and in more museums than could easily be named, by the inspiring art-works he has produced, we say sincerely that he has deserved well of the republic." 

"Entrance to Studio, Seventy-second Street Home"

All images for this post were taken directly from The Artwork of Louis C. Tiffany held in the collection of the Redwood Library.