When you hear “Tiffany,” you probably think of two things. First, the jewelry empire: exquisite rings in robin’s egg blue boxes. Tiffany’s jewelry has not only inspired many a daydream, it starred in the Truman Capote novella and Audrey Hepburn classic movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The second thing that probably comes to mind when you hear “Tiffany” is tiffany lamps. Most likely, knock-off tiffany lamps, found in old restaurants and ice cream parlors across the United States. But how much further does the name go? And are these all related?
Tiffany glass to Tiffany jewelry–they’re more connected than you might think. It all began with Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Tiffany was an American designer best known for his work with glass. His techniques and designs were both technologically and artistically revolutionary. His work reflects the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements. The Art Nouveau, a movement which celebrated nature and its natural, more curving lines, is particularly visible in some of his famous art glass lamps. Bunches of grapes and flowers seem to drip from lamp shades, redefining the shape and edges of this otherwise ordinary household object (see image, right). Many artists were exploring electric lighting in the early 20th century. Frank Lloyd Wright used paper, cut wood screens, and other materials in lamp designs (his home and studio in Oak Park features a large cut wood panel over paper that elegantly hides and distributes the electric lights in the dining room). Tiffany, however, was so well known for his lamps that his name came to define the patterned art glass lamp type he created. Thus, the tiffany lamp.
Louis Comfort Tiffany did much more than lamps, however. He is also well known in the art world for his art glass windows (the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion, among other historic places, features several) and his screens (the White House had extensive Tiffany glass until Theodore Roosevelt moved in and had it redesigned. See adjacent photo).
Tiffany also did glasswork on–did the article title give you a hint?–ceilings. Chicago has several that are visible to the public, including the vaulted ceiling in what is now Macy’s, on State Street. The scale is huge and the colors are stunning. The marbled colors created by mixing different shades are beautiful and characteristic of Tiffany.So what about the jewelry? Tiffany & Co was founded Charles Lewis Tiffany, the father of Louis Comfort Tiffany. It was Louis Comfort Tiffany–yes, the one who made the lamps, the windows, and the ceiling art–that is credited with bringing new design ideas and aesthetics to the company that built it into what it is today.
Next time you see Breakfast at Tiffany’s, perhaps you will think of the art glass that inspired artists and decorators across the United States. And, next time you step in to Macy’s on State Street and gaze up at the ornate ceiling, you may think of the luxury jewelry line that had Audrey Hepburn gazing through the Tiffany & Co windows at breakfast time.
The Tiffany lamp photograph is thanks to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The original photo can be seen here.
The photograph of Tiffany glass walls in the White House is courtesy of the White House Museum, available here.
The Macy’s ceiling photograph is my own. (Visiting? Head up to the top floor for the best view!)
A little more:
This story is so much more complex and interesting than I can begin to explain! For example: did you know many of the lamps, while designed by Tiffany, were actually made by women (artists in their own right!). If you’re intrigued, do a little exploring! An easy-in may be the novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany.