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The Flowers of Louis Comfort Tiffany Roberta A. Mayer L ouis Comfort Tiffany (1848- 1933) reveled in the visual language of design and ornament. With an imaginative flair, he conjured eclectic exoticism as easily as European and American historicism. At the same time, his most original and inspired designs came from his love of nature. Plants, trees and especially flowers fueled his creative spirit. Indeed, when in 1911 Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida painted Tiffany’s portrait, Sorolla filled the large canvas with colorful blossoms. Lush potted hydrangeas from Tiffany’s private greenhouses at Laurelton Hall complemented the fragrant May gardens in full bloom along the shore of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Tiffany’s father was Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902), the founder of the famed jewelry store, Tiffany & Co. As such, the young Tiffany grew up in the world of jewelry and silver design. His own aesthetic sensibilities began with easel painting, but by 1877 his interests broadened, and he became a member of the Society of Decorative Art in New York, an organization that aimed to help impoverished women profit from their handiwork. Soon thereafter Tiffany decided to explore business opportunities in the decorative arts, and his early ventures included partnerships with Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932), who provided hand-carved teakwood furnishings from India, and Candace Thurber Wheeler (1827-1923), who concentrated on hand-embroidered textiles. By 1883, however, it became clear that the partnerships were not working, although each ended on an amicable note. Over the next few years Tiffany’s businesses evolved; the Tiffany Glass Company was formalized in 1885, then the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1892, and finally Tiffany Studios in 1902. From the very beginning to the end in 1932, when the Great Depression forced Tiffany Studios into bankruptcy, flora and fauna inspired some of Tiffany’s most admired creations. Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911 by Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923). 150 x 225 cm. Courtesy Hispanic Society of America, N.Y. This portrait captures the artist at Laurelton Hall, his magnificent estate in Oyster Bay on Long Island. The estate was destroyed by fire in 1957. Floral designs Perhaps the earliest evidence of Tiffany’s floral designs can be found in his pressed-glass tiles of the late 1870s, well before the formal introduction of his “Favrile” glass. These three-inch square tiles came in a variety of colors, as well as an “opal” effect that Tiffany patented in 1881. Opalescent glass was made by swirling transparent color with opaque white, and some of Tiffany’s examples reflected and refracted light in such a way that they appeared to have an internal glow. Many of these early tiles were impressed with a five-petal flower somewhat reminiscent of a hibiscus. These were typically used in the design of fireplaces, as well as windows. Beautiful examples appear in the Veteran’s Room of Page 52 ◆ Antiques Journal ◆ May 2014 the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York City, as well as the dining rooms of Kingscote in Newport, R.I., and the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn. The early 1880s marked the beginning of Tiffany’s designs for leaded-glass windows. For these, Tiffany used glass that was manufactured for him by different glasshouses, including Louis Heidt and Company in Brooklyn. Likewise, he purchased commercially available glass from the Opalescent Glassworks in Kokomo, Ind. Although ecclesiastical themes were popular for churches and chapels, Tiffany offered innovative floral patterns and landscapes for the embellishment of domestic settings. The five Magnolia panels that were incorporated into the bay window in the library of Tiffany family mansion at 72 nd Street in New York City provide a perfect example. Created around 1885, they capture a close-up view of creamy white blossoms emerging from the branches of a mature tree – a peak spring moment before the leaves begin to appear. In 1900 Tiffany displayed a sumptuous leaded- glass window that celebrated the four seasons at Paris Exposition Universelle. There were yellow- orange and deep-violet tulips in the vignette dedicated to spring, while red poppies provided the color of summer. It was a true work of art that rightfully earned a gold medal. By the 1890s, Tiffany introduced leaded-glass lamps and hanging fixtures with colorful designs by Clara Driscoll, head of the women’s glass-cutting department. The full blooms of showy flowers – peonies, www.antiquesjournal.com