glass art


The Tiffany style of stained glass is originated, of course, with Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). He started his career as a painter, showcasing his talent for color, composition, and subject, but it is glass that fired his imagination, as early as 1872. His father, a wealthy jeweller, bankrolled the son's foray into glassmaking. Tiffany broke with the more traditional style of leaded glass (clear glass with fired paint), and, with money enough to purchase his own furnaces in Corona, NY, and hire his own skilled laborers, create his own glass which was, by design, full of impurities and what we would call today 'organic.' This glass was what we now describe as opalescent.

He wrote: "I was confronted, amongst other problems, with the question what was to be done about windows since all window glass was of poor quality. I ten perceived that the glass used for claret bottles and preserve jars was richer, finer and had more beautiful quality in color than any glass I could buy. I set to puzzling out this curious matter and found that the glass from which bottles are made contained the oxides of iron and other impurities whic are left in the sand when it is melted. The problem of making the metallic oxides left in th e'impuire' glass combine effectively took thirty years of experimenting with new firing furncaces and new methods of annealing glass."

He favored a style with lead lines of uneven and varying widths, and where the glass itself filled in details that were traditionally expressed with fired paint. To this end, he created several styles of boldly patterned glass, such as ring mottles, fracture/streamer, and the dramatic drapery which was abundantly used to represent fabric folds in this figurative windows. When facial or hand detail needed to be applied, he preferred soft, low-contrast enamel shading to the more jarring tracing black and grisaille of the past. The process bagan with the glass itself.

One of the most important aims of Tiffany's experiments was to produce glass that would make it possible for the entire design of a window to be carried out by means of the colour in the glass itself.. Opalescent glass was widely used by Tiffany and his contemporary, LaFarge, in their windos to the extent that it became a special characteristic of American stained glass, while its British counterparts, to this day, continue to emphasize glass paints. Critics pointed out that this opalescent glass was destroying what the 17th and 18th century enamelers had done, which was to exploit the transparency of glass, the very soul of a medieval window. Tiffany however insisted that his windows were a purer expression of glass than those of the mediaval glassmakers because he could dispense with pigment.

In his own words, he said: "by the aid of studies in chemistry and through years of experiments, I have found means to avoid the use of paints, etching or burning, or otherwise teating the surface of the glass so that now it is possible to produce figures in glass of which even the fleshtones are not superficially treated, built up of what I call 'genuine glass' because there are no tricks of the glassmaker needed to express flesh."

It was an uphill battle at the time. Tiffany found that he had to contend with the tradition in the Episcopal Church of the United States that still looked reverently towards the Church of England, from whence it sprang. "The prejudices of clergymen and vestrymen are in favor of British glass for windows," he lamented, "nothwithstanding its coldness and lack of characters." His colours were considered gaudy, altogether too bright, by some churchmen.
As a colourist, he deplored the timidity and neutral tints favored in arts and crafts such as sculpture, architecture, pottery and textiles, dismissing the "obscure feeling that color is danger." There was a need to educate the public to be able to distinguish between strong colors and gaudiness.

"As in painting the introduction of new color is one part of the canvas or tint or tone, has its blissful or baneful effect upon all that has gone before, so with a stained glass window, no other eyes than those of the original artist can tell whether the fresh note added to the rest is the right one or the wrong one. Infinite, enedless labor makes the masterpiece."

It was only gradually that Tiffany's windows began to depart from the figure windows for which he was in great demand, taking a step similar to the post-Impressionist painters in breaking up form and setting areas of color one against the other. Breaking with the conservatively designed, banal late-nineteeth century religious art, he would develop themes taken from nature, like Gallé did in France. Examples are the squash and eggplant window in the Kemp House. He featured parakeets on the branches of blossom-laden fruit trees with a goldfish bowl hanging from one of the boughs, floral motifs, and lanscapes. Continuing to avoid surface pigments (paint) as much as possible, he used multiple layers of glass to denote shadows, and purposely out-of-focus far away details such as greek temples in the distance.

Tiffany however, did not become more adventurous, instead remaining a conservatist. He felt that the cubists would "peter out" and generally eschewed the aesthetics of the Art Nouveau movement, with its concept of linear dynamics and abstraction. But by then his interest had moved away from stained glass windows into sophisticated blown glass vessels; this is where he continued to invest his innovating and creative energy.