“God has given us our talents, not to copy the talents of others, but rather to use our brains and imagination in order to obtain the revelation of true beauty.”
— Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933)
On view in Gallery 700 of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, “Autumn Landscape” is a tour de force of the stained glass maker’s art. Measuring 132 inches x 102 inches, it was produced by the Tiffany Studio late in the career of its founder.
Commissioned in 1923 by Loren Delbert Towle for the main stairway landing of the house he was building in Boston, the Gothic shape of the window was in keeping with the neo-Gothic style of Mr. Towle’s enormous mansion. The window’s details are not achieved using any paint; all the effects were created using the full range of stained glass making techniques that were developed at the Tiffany Studios. While still in a molten state the glass was “wrinkled” to achieve its variegated surface. The different color effects were achieved by embedding pieces of glass the size of confetti in the surface. To add depth a process called plating the superimposition of several layers of glass on the back of the window was used.
“Color is to the eye what music is to the ear.”
— Louis Comfort Tiffany
Mr. Towle died before the house could be completed; the window did not have a place to call home. In 1925, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and good friend to Mr. Tiffany, Robert W. de Forest, bought the window, donating it to The Met’s American Wing, which Mr. de Forest and his wife Emily founded. It is displayed just inside the entrance to the American Wing’s light-filled Englehard Court.
Depicting late afternoon sun filtered through colorful autumnal foliage, Agnes F. Northrop (1857–1953) designed the window; her talent earned her a well-deserved reputation for landscape design in stained glass. Ms. Northrop, who shared her boss’s love of nature, designed her first landscape window for the Tiffany Studios in 1895. Ms. Northrop, like her male counterparts, had a private studio.
“I have always striven to fix beauty in wood, stone, glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty, that has been my creed.”
— Louis Comfort Tiffany
The type of glass used is called Favrile. It is an iridescent art glass that Mr. Tiffany developed and then patented in 1894. His studio first manufactured Favrile glass in 1896 at its headquarters in Corona, a neighborhood of New York City’s borough of Queens. Mr. Tiffany won the Grand Prize at the Exposition Universelle, held at Paris in 1900, for works in Favrile glass.
Favrile differs from other iridescent glass in that its color is not on the surface, but imbedded into the glass. Favrile, a trade name, has its origins in an Old English word, fabrile, which means ‘hand-wrought’ or handcrafted. Mr. Tiffany changed the spelling to Favrile, saying “this sounded better” and a bit more French, we say.
Louis Comfort Tiffany did not join his father’s jewelry business, which was founded in 1837, but took to a career as an artist in the 1860s. He was impressed with Italian and French stained glass during a European painting trip. In the late 1870s he began experimenting with different types of glass manufacturing.
The Stourbridge Glass Company was founded by Mr. Tiffany in 1893. Located at the northwest corner of 43rd Avenue and 97th Place in Corona, a block north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks, it was named for Stourbridge, England. This town, renowned for glassmaking since the 16th century, was from where Mr. Tiffany brought the foreman and glassworkers to create the beautiful artworks—windows, lampshades, fountains—that we know today.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, his wife, father, mother, and other relations are forever at rest in Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark in the beautiful borough of Brooklyn. When you are part of our Gay Graves Tour you will discover, among other sights, their surprisingly simple grave markers. Take the Tour; Know More!
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT CREDITED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2017