A jewel box exhibition, sans the gems4 min read . Updated: 23 Sep 2009, 11:33 PM IST
A jewel box exhibition, sans the gems
A jewel box exhibition, sans the gems
The name Tiffany is synonymous with the finest jewellery, and a visit to the ongoing exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris devoted to Louis Comfort Tiffany is like standing inside a jewel box—without a jewel in sight.
The son of the founder of the New York-based Tiffany and Co. preferred glass. His creations, from vases to stained glass windows or the signature Tiffany lamps, are a study in colour, light and innovation that revolutionized glass making, breaking the mould set by European artisans and creating what became known as American glass.
Click here to view a slideshow of American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass art, featured in the show Louis Comfort Tiffany, Colours and Light
The jewellery of his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, who founded Tiffany and Co. in 1837, served as an inspiration for Louis Comfort Tiffany, but it wasn’t the only one.
The younger Tiffany, who travelled widely in Europe, North Africa and elsewhere, was also inspired by Orientalists, Islamic and Japanese art, and the flowers in his garden.
A selection of pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are featured in the show Louis Comfort Tiffany, Colours and Light, which opened last Wednesday. They range from monumental-sized stained glass windows to tiny stamp boxes bejewelled in glass. Rich, luminescent colours glow and dazzle like electric rainbows, while fine, sometimes startling, often lyric designs—best seen in the vases which gained Tiffany international acclaim—evoke a sense of harmony. This is the first display of Tiffany’s works in Paris since the 1900 Paris World Fair.
The window Magnolias (1900), showing a single magnolia branch, lent by Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and first shown at the 1900 Paris World Fair, appears to embody Tiffany’s artistic soul, incorporating his love of nature. The blossoms, with their three-dimensional petals and their confetti-spattered centres, seem alive.
Iridescent peacock feathers show up in numerous lamps, along with the classic Tiffany style.
Gilding the glass lily
Louis Tiffany began his artistic training as a painter, studying in New York and Paris before taking up interior design, where his reputation drew him clients such as Mark Twain, and in 1882, the White House of president Chester A. Arthur.
But it was his innovative work in glass that became the mainstay and has sustained his artistic reputation.
Tiffany believed that the decorative arts could stand up with sculpture and painting.
Through revolutionary techniques such as draping, in which semi-cooled glass was lifted and folded like draperies, he added a three-dimensional quality to his work and provided a glass maker’s version of shading. Nurtured on exquisite gems, Tiffany created his own jewels in multiple ways, using chipped glass, for instance, to allow light to glance off its facets.
“He liked the imperfections of glass, the irregular shapes you can get from glass, the unexpected effects," says Rosalind Pepall, decorative arts curator at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, the force behind the exhibition. “Glass goes into the oven and then it flows, the colours all melt together. So you never know what’s going to come out and he just loved that." European glass makers, meanwhile, were painting their works. As for Tiffany, “he was really playing with glass rather than painting on glass" like the English, Germans or French, says Pepall.
While the trademark Tiffany lamps were no more masterful than Tiffany’s other works, they gained special favour among buyers.
“They really attracted a Hollywood set for a while...that could have added to the cachet," says Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, guest curator and decorative arts expert from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which lent numerous pieces for the exhibition.
However, the Depression, when sombre colours and spare designs were favoured, was to be a blow to the Tiffany atelier, where he was the maestro of a team of artists, often women.
Tiffany died in 1933 aged 84, and his firm was liquidated five years later, but Pepall says it was his art, not the Tiffany name, that helped him live on. “Tiffany the father was very well known, but then Tiffany Louis, the son, ended up making the name even more famous. His name became a mark of prestige."
The exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg will run till 17 January, and will then move to Musée des Beaux-Arts (11 February-2 May), and after that to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (29 May-15 August), bringing many of this American artist’s works back to his homeland.
Swine flu dining
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