June 2010 Feature Article

Tiffany Color And Light     Virginia Museum of Fine Arts only U.S. Venue



Lamp, Dragonfly, before 1906 - circa 1920, Clara Driscoll (designer, American, 1861-1944) (attr. to) for Tiffany Studios (New York, 1902-1932), Leaded glass, bronze, 28”H x 22”Dia., 71.1 cm x 55.8 cm. Shade unmarked; base marked Tiffany Studios / New York / 397; Shade: model # 1507 – Dragonfly, Base: model # 397 – Library standard, 6 lights, cast stem, large, slide. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.  Gift of Sydney and Frances Lewis. Photo: Katherine Wetzel

© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Color and light. Dazzling designs. Windows, wisteria and watercolors. The most important exhibition in decades of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s opulent creations in glass will open to the public at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts May 29. Richmond is the only U.S. stop for “Tiffany: Color and Light.”

The exhibition includes some 170 works attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany, the master of American glass, and his Tiffany Studios. Hand-blown objects, leaded glass windows, electric lamps and other decorative items from Tiffany are featured along with oil paintings and watercolors created earlier in his career. Fourteen objects come from the permanent collection of VMFA, which has an internationally renowned collection in the Sydney and Frances Lewis collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco Decorative Arts.

“Our own collection of Tiffany treasures has earned the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts the exclusive U.S. venue for the works of this genius of American Decorative arts,” said Director Alex Nyerges. “This is only the first of many major international art exhibitions coming to the newly expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.”

“Tiffany: Color and Light” was conceived by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and organized in collaboration with VMFA and the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris. The exhibition began its tour in Paris in September 2009, moved to Montreal in February and opens in Richmond May 29. The exhibition will be on view through August 15 in 8,500 sq. ft. of the special-exhibition space in the new McGlothlin Wing of VMFA. The exhibition is generously supported by the Fabergé Society and the Founders of VMFA and sponsored by Altria Group.

About Tiffany

Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Co. jewelers in New York City. A young man of means, Louis studied drawing in New York and painting in Paris before he traveled in Europe from 1865 to 1869. He visited Europe again and traveled in North Africa in 1870-71 honing his painterly skills. He especially appreciated the vivid colors and glass mosaics he saw in Egypt and other African nations.

After returning to the U.S., Tiffany continued to paint. He became an associate member of the National Academy of Design, a traditionalist art group, but later also joined the dissident Society of American Artists. He would continue this trend of exploring new art styles while filling the demand for luxury decorations throughout his career.

Possibly as a reaction to the steel and concrete seen in building construction at the time, Tiffany began working with glass around 1875. He appreciated the colors, forms, textures and light in medieval leaded-glass windows he had seen in European churches. However, there was little use of glass in contemporary Western art, and Tiffany had to design many materials he would use.

Tiffany established the Tiffany Glass Co., which became Tiffany Studios in 1900. Also in 1900, he unveiled Favrile glass, adapting the old French word for “handmade” as the name of his patented process for making multi-hued glass that artisans formed into hand-blown glass objects, leaded glass windows, lampshades and other decorative items.

At one point, Tiffany Studios employed more than 300 artisans, many of them women, to bring Tiffany’s designs and ideas to life.

About the art

The celebrated creations of Tiffany Studios include leaded-glass table lamps. The lamps became popular with the advent of electric lighting. Colorful shades helped to diffuse the artificial light. Many of the lampshades were made of glass left over from the creation of leaded-glass windows. They often featured floral designs in glass and jewels.

The VMFA presence in the exhibition includes the “Cobweb Table Lamp” fabricated by Clara Driscoll in 1902. The lamp features leaded glass, bronze and glass mosaics. Intricate herringbone patterns define the cobwebs on the lamp’s multi-colored leaded-glass shade.

Among works in the sumptuous exhibition drawn from major museums throughout the world are more than 25 leaded-glass windows. “Magnolia” was fabricated in 1900 by Agnes Northrop for the Paris Exposition that year. The window is part of the permanent collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Angel,” designed by Frederick Wilson in 1904-05, was installed at the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal. It joined the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2008.

The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, contributed a “Mounted Vase with Peacock-Feather Decoration.” The 1898-99 work includes Favrile glass and rubies, as well as enameling by Eugene Feuillatre and a silver mount by Edward Colonna. It is one of more than 60 Tiffany vases in the exhibition.


The Tiffany exhibition at VMFA opens to the public May 29 and continues through August 15. General admission of $15 includes an audio guide to the exhibition. Seniors and students ages 7 through 17 with I.D. pay $12. Admission is free for VMFA members and children up to age 6. Timed tickets may be purchased on line at www.vmva.museum/tickets or by calling 804-340-1405.

The exhibition’s curators are Rosalind Pepall, senior curator of decorative arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Martin Eidelberg, professor emeritus of art history at Rutgers University un in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In May 2010, VMFA opened its doors to the public after a transformative expansion, the largest in its 74-year history. Programs include educational activities and studio classes for all ages, plus fun after-hours events. VMFA’s Statewide Partnership program includes traveling exhibitions, artist and teacher workshops, and lectures across the Commonwealth. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, with evening hours on Thursdays until 9 p.m. After July 1, the museum will be open til 9 p.m. on Fridays as well. General admission is always free.

Return to Journal of Antiques Homepage