Tiffany lamps – The colorful masterpiece of the Art Nouveau style

XPress “Like”
to follow us on Facebook
Milica Sterjova
Featured image

After more than a century from the moment they first appeared, Tiffany lamps are still very popular and sought after. Offering a unique combination of shape, functionality and vibrant colors, they can be an amazing addition to any interior design style.

The name of the famous lamp comes from Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of the famous Tiffany & Co. founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany. Louis began his career as a painter, redirecting his interest towards glass making somewhere around 1875.

After working together with several other American artists, he established his own company in 1885. This company would be known as the Tiffany Studios in 1902 and they would produce the famous lamps until the early 1930s. The trademark lamp, with the stained glass shade and the bronze base, was introduced in 1898. Tiffany was hailed as one of the most preeminent artists of the Art Nouveau era and his lamps are a true example of his mastery.

Louis Comfort Tiffany c. 1908.

The original pieces actually produced by Tiffany Studios are extremely hard to find and very expensive. The lamps once made for rich upper-class Americans are today sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Collection of Tiffany Lamps from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Author: Fopseh. CC BY-SA 4.0

There are cheaper Tiffany style lamps produced today, but the level of craftsmanship of the original remains unmatched. This is due to the fact that the studios employed a team of master artists and craftsmen and they used materials of the highest quality only. Each lamp was handcrafted by the skillful artists. Tiffany had also developed new glassmaking techniques allowing the glass pieces to obtain stunning effects. Using the copper foil method, the pieces of glass were later joined together, with more delicate lines compared with when lead was used for fusing.

Clara Driscoll in a workroom with another Tiffany employee (1901).

The creation of the original Tiffany lamps was initially attributed entirely to Louis Comfort Tiffany and his team of designers. Later it was found that it was actually Clara Driscoll and the so called “Tiffany Girls” who designed some of the most intricate and valuable of the famous lamps. All the records from Tiffany Studios were lost in the 1930s after the death of Louis Tiffany, but thanks to the combined efforts of professor Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray, and Margaret K. Hofer, in 2007 credit was given to Driscoll for her artistic work on the amazing leaded-glass lamps.

Tiffany Lamps – Mark Twain Museum. Author: Cliff. CC BY 2.0

The lamps can be arranged in several categories depending on their design and motifs. The irregular upper and lower border lamps are the most complex and sophisticated.

Table lamp, c. 1899-1902, Tiffany Studios, Carnegie Museum of Art. Author: Piotrus. CC BY-SA 3.0

Instead of a straight edge, they have an openwork crown made to look like a tree. The “Favrile” group consists of the simplest and earliest models of lamps introduced by Tiffany.

Table Lamp, Tiffany Studios, 1902-1919 – Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The company trademarked the name “Favrile” for its glass and it was also used in Tiffany’s stained-glass windows. The geometric lamps have a simple design in which shapes like triangles, ovals, squares or rectangles are used. The Floral category includes lamps that follow natural, botanical designs with leaves, dragonflies, flowers, or butterflies as fundamental details.

Tiffany lamp at the Museum of Modern Art.

The lamps first gained popularity in 1893, after the Chicago World’s Fair, where they were exhibited in a Byzantine-like chapel. The lamps attracted the attention of two Germans, Wilhelm Bode, and Julius Lessing, who happened to be the directors of two museums in Berlin.

Acorn table lamp, made by Tiffany Studios, c. 1895, stained and blown glass with gilt bronze fittings – Bennington Museum.

Lessing, head of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin at the time, was the first to purchase a few pieces making the museum the first in Europe to be in possession of Tiffany glass.

Wisteria Table Lamp, ca. 1902, designed by Clara Driscoll, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Author: Fopseh. CC BY-SA 4.0

Although very popular in Germany, the story of Tiffany lamps in France and the rest of Europe was totally different. The credit for the lamps success in France goes to a German-French art dealer living in Paris, named Samuel Siegfried Bing. His connections along with the assistance of several French artists, helped the lamps enter the French market. The popularity of the lamps in Europe started to decline after Tiffany and Bing ended their partnership.

Tiffany lamp, Budapest Museum of Applied Arts. Author: Yelkrokoyade. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Tiffany lamps, as well as other creations of the Tiffany Studios, saw a decline in popularity after Louis Tiffany’s death. After several years of being totally forgotten, the interest in Tiffany’s work was rediscovered during an Art Nouveau show in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Because of the enormous influence of Tiffany on the lamp’s style, the name is used for most leaded stained glass lamps even though they are being made by other companies.