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Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the most famous names in lamp design.


This week we bring you guest blogger Rachel, co-owner of Gosh! & Absolutely, a wonderful shop on Plymouth’s historic Barbican selling a selection of handcrafted and vintage home wares and craft kits.

Rachel is a curator of social history and has worked in museums for around 15 years, she now co-owns Gosh! & Absolutely with her business partner Laura, and specialises in upcycling vintage lamps. Over to Rachel, and the world of Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the most famous names in lamp design.

Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany is one of the most famous names in lamp design. Known as a key influential designer of the Art Nouveau Movement, he was born in 1848 into a well-off, well-known family and it was Louis’ father who founded the prestigious jewellery manufacturers Tiffany & Co.

As a young man Tiffany chose not to join the family business, instead deciding to travel and develop his studies in art, as a talented landscape painter. His sojourn in Europe didn’t just have an impact on his painting but also had a huge affect on his future career in interiors. In Paris he met Emile Galle, whose art glass inspired by nature was to later influence Tiffany’s own designs. The Art Nouveau Movement was just beginning to become established and this aesthetic would shape the development of Tiffany’s work. He also encountered Roman glass and was intrigued by the iridescent quality of its surface.

detail from a tiffany lamp

On returning to the US, Tiffany developed his skills in stained glass, enamels and ceramics and set up his own interior design company, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists. They attracted a number of high-profile clients including Mark Twain and The White House.

In 1902 Tiffany became Art Director for his father’s company, where he designed and oversaw the production of many glass home decorations. However, it was when he worked with Thomas Edison to fit out New York’s Lyceum Theatre that the real light bulb moment occurred! Edison encouraged Tiffany to work with electric lighting and Tiffany’s experience with stained glass led him to create that now recognisable lampshade structure.

tiffany window in the library of congress

Tiffany’s lampshades were very detailed and meticulously manufactured. The process involved wooden moulds covered in paper or linen patterns to create the design. The shades were constructed by setting small pieces of glass into copper foil and soldering each into place.

During his career Tiffany developed four new kinds of glass, including a kind of opalescent glass called ‘Favrile’, which became a distinctive feature of many of his lamps.

After his death in 1933 Tiffany’s designs were largely forgotten – probably in the way that household furnishings of one era seem old-fashioned before they then become desirably retro. However, an Art Nouveau exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) in 1960 sparked renewed interest in his work. Original Tiffany Lamps are now highly collectable costing a small fortune with Louis’ designs continuing to be copied and reproduced to this day.

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