Lamps and Lighting—Tiffany and His Contemporaries
Few designers did more to bring art into the home than Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), and few of Tiffany’s incredibly varied products did more in this regard than his lamps. Tiffany had been interested in lighting since his days as a decorator, but the rapid adoption of electricity in the late 19th- and early 20th-century created unprecedented opportunities to marry technology and beautiful design for a much larger group of consumers.
This exhibition at the Morse includes more than 30 objects, including not only Tiffany’s signature styles but examples by other makers of the period who were also vying for a stake in the explosive market for electric light in the home.
In his 1904 catalog Tiffany Lamps, Tiffany described his clever and richly colored lampshades as “pieces of glass bound together with copper and welded together, producing the effect found in our floral and geometrical windows.” From the 1890s on, world expositions boldly celebrated electrified light, giving it the attention formerly reserved for master furniture or fine art. Tiffany Studios’ production was so innovative and successful that other decorative arts manufacturing firms produced spinoffs of Tiffany designs for the middle class by using finished white metal in place of bronze for bases and by limiting the options in design and glass selection to keep costs down.
Award-Winning Electric Lamps
At the 1902 Prima Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna, in Turin, Italy, Tiffany Studios was awarded a grand prize for two lamps that transformed standard lamp forms into electrified sculptures from nature: the Pond Lily and Wistaria lamps. This ambitious decorative arts exposition put an emphasis on the aesthetic renewal of everyday objects. Many of Tiffany’s early lighting designs were oil lamps that required a base that could serve as a fuel source and a shade that provided ventilation for an open flame. Electricity made new designs for lighting possible. The delicate form of the Pond Lily lamp housed only wire and small light bulbs that followed the natural down-turned orientation of the lilies. On the Wistaria lamp, the bronze vine completely envelops the top of the shade.
The Tiffany Girls
In the production of lamps, Tiffany Studios employed scores of people, each with specialized skills and training. Louis Comfort Tiffany kept strict control over design and quality, ensuring that everything the studios created met his standards and taste. In the creation of Tiffany lamps, no individual was more important than Clara Driscoll (1861–1944), who supervised the Women’s Glass Cutting Department and is believed to have designed many leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany. Driscoll’s staff, a group of female employees known as the “Tiffany Girls,” worked in design, glass selection, and fabrication. Male employees soldered pieces together and patinated the lead surfaces.