Tiffany and Art Glass
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass is part of a larger group that scholars and collectors call Art Glass. Art Glass is generally defined as ornamental and decorative glass dating from the mid-to-late 19th century through the early 20th century. Makers of Art Glass employed newly developed technologies for producing vibrant colors and surface textures. The work of Tiffany is undoubtedly the most well-known, but the beginnings of Art Glass predate Tiffany’s glass work by nearly a decade.
Nineteenth-century Americans were obsessed with showing off their good taste and wealth to family, friends, and neighbors. Conspicuous consumption and ostentatious materialism were bedrock beliefs in Victorian society. Glass for decoration was an important part of the Victorian interior, whether one was wealthy or of modest means. Art Glass, which was less expensive than cut glass, allowed middle-class Americans an opportunity to decorate with style.
Amberina Vase, 1883-1890 / THF163614
Kerosene Lamp, circa 1880 / THF167773
Scholars consider the most successful early Art Glass a product line called “Amberina,” first made by the New England Glass Company (later the Libbey Glass Company) in 1883. It was extremely popular and was widely imitated. Amberina was a relatively simple technique, known to glass makers but only exploited in the 1880s. The glass, which ranges from amber at the bottom to red at the top, is colored with a heat-sensitive gold additive. This shading results from reheating the top part of the glass before allowing it to cool.
Art Glass Goes Big: The Morgan Vase and Its Impact
Peachblow Vase, circa 1886 / THF163612
Peachblow Pear Whimsey, circa 1886 / THF163610
In 1886, an 18th-century Chinese porcelain was part of a highly publicized New York auction of the collection of socialite Mary Morgan. The vase, reputed to be the finest of its kind, sold for a record of $18,000. This unprecedented price made headlines, and soon enterprising glass and ceramic makers began to produce replicas of the vase. First known as “Morgan” vases after Mary Morgan, and later as “Peachblow,” these wares made Art Glass overwhelmingly popular with the public and highly profitable for many firms. Peachblow glass, like Amberina, ranges in colors from dark red to yellow. The most famous maker of Peachblow was J.H. Hobbs, Brockunier, and Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, whose colorations closely imitated the famous “Morgan” Vase.
Agata Tumbler, 1887 / THF163607
The New England Glass Company quickly produced a line called “Agata,” whose color and surface texture closely resembled that of the famous Morgan vase. Agata was difficult to produce and was only made for several years. The New England Glass Company also produced their own version of Peachblow, which they called “Wild Rose,” and collectors call “New England Peachblow.”
Peachblow Vases, 1885-1888 / THF163629
Peachblow Pear Whimsey, 1880-1890 / THF163609
Mount Washington Glass Company Emerges
Burmese Caster, 1885-1895 / THF167758
Burmese Vase, 1885-1895 / THF163618
The most versatile of Art Glass producers was the Mount Washington Glass Company, located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Although they created some of the very first Art Glass in the 1870s, they made their name with a line called “Burmese,” first patented in 1885. Like Amberina, Burmese ranges in shades from yellow at the bottom to a pale pink at the top of the piece. Unlike Amberina, it is always opaque. It was produced in both smooth and satin finishes, decorated and undecorated.
Burmese Caster, 1885-1895 / THF167758
Crown Milano Vase, 1888-1893 / THF163595
Crown Milano Vase, 1889-1891 / THF125954
With the success of the Burmese line, Mount Washington Glass Company produced even more ornate lines. They followed up Burmese with their “Crown Milano” line, which featured exotic-looking forms with ornate surface decorations. These would fit perfectly into the décor of an eclectic, late 19th-century American parlor or sitting room.
Royal Flemish Vase, circa 1890 / THF162343
For me, the ultimate in Mount Washington’s ornate Art Glass was their “Royal Flemish” line, dating to the 1890s. The satin glass body is covered with floral gilt decoration and the neck features swirled decoration, culminating in a gold ring at the top.
Tiffany Jumps In
Favrile Toothpick Holder, circa 1895 / THF165617
Favrile Vase, 1901-1915 / THF163631
It was in this environment that Louis Comfort Tiffany started creating Art Glass. In the early 1890s, Tiffany developed a process to imitate the iridescent shimmer of ancient, weathered glass. He patented the process in 1894, which he called “Favrile.” Unlike other Art Glass makers, Tiffany was renowned for creating elegant, yet simple, products as well as grand, large-scale objects like stained glass windows and even interior environments.
Candelabrum, 1903-1919 / THF163661
Tiffany often mixed media, such as the bronze and glass candelabrum above. The sinuous and organic forms are closely related to the international Art Nouveau style, which reached its height of popularity around 1900.
Floor Lamp, about 1900 / THF186205, THF186208, THF186219, THF186215, THF186218
Around 1900, Tiffany started making large scale floor lamps—the one above is one of his first efforts. The fish scale–like shade is composed of his signature Favrile glass, which glows when illuminated. The bronze base features undulating spirals which rise through the lamp’s shaft. The kerosene reservoir is covered with organic S- or wave-like patterns, all of which derive from Tiffany’s Art Nouveau vocabulary.
Electric Table Lamp, 1903–1920 / THF167923
This nature-themed "Daffodil" lamp is the first design attributed to Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department at Tiffany Studios. Driscoll designed many now-iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany. Driscoll took iridescent Art Glass a step further, echoing nature—in this case daffodils, which she studied in detail while designing this lamp.
Aurene Vase, circa 1920 / THF162344
Aurene Plate, 1920-1929 / THF166928
By the turn of the 20th century, Tiffany’s iridescent Art Glass faced competitors. Foremost among them was the Steuben Company of Corning, New York. “Aurene” was the name that Frederick Carder used for his iridescent Art Glass. When Aurene was first produced, around 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Carder for copyright infringement. The courts found in favor of Frederick Carder, and Steuben’s Aurene competed with Tiffany’s Favrile glassware. The elegant, floral-shaped vase above combines a cased white outer shell with a dark blue iridescent interior, and may be easily confused with Tiffany’s work.
Lampshades, 1905-1910, Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company / THF167597
Like Frederick Carder’s Steuben, Quezal features iridescent glass similar to Tiffany’s Favrile. Also like Steuben, Quezal was founded in 1902 in Brooklyn, New York, by a group of Tiffany’s former employees. They produced some of the most vibrant iridescent colors of any of Tiffany’s competitors.
Vase, 1924-1931 / THF166015
Goblet, 1924-1931 / THF167600
One of the most interesting of Tiffany’s competitors was Durand Art Glass of Vineland, New Jersey. Founded at the end of the 19th century, the company developed a distinctive style of Art Glass. By the mid-1920s, they hired workers from the Quezal Art Glass Company, which had recently disbanded. They also hired a glass artist named Emil Larson, who had worked for several Art Glass firms and brought his distinctive feather design to Durand Art Glass.
The End of Art Glass
Favrile Wine Glass, 1918-1924 / THF167662
Favrile Plate, 1918-1924 / THF163653
In 1919, Louis Comfort Tiffany retired and turned his Tiffany Studios over to Arthur Nash, who continued the firm until it closed in 1933. These pieces were designed by Nash and marketed as Favrile glass. Nash maintained the high quality of Tiffany’s output, but times and tastes had changed following World War I. Art Glass was viewed as old-fashioned and part of the Victorian past.
One Last Gasp
Compote, 1931-1935 / THF166002
Following the demise of Tiffany Studios, Arthur Nash was hired by the Libbey Glass Company to design their “New Era” glass line. This ill-fated line was beautiful, but was considered old-fashioned during the early 1930s. This was also the beginning of the Great Depression, so sales were minimal and the line was discontinued by 1935.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
20th century, 19th century, Louis Comfort Tiffany, home life, Henry Ford Museum, glass, design, by Charles Sable, art