Tiffany And His Stained Glass

By Tracy Crowe

When I think of stained glass windows, or stained glass lampshades, I think of Louis Comfort Tiffany. What is his story? How did he come to create such magnificent pieces of art?

Louis Comfort Tiffany lived from 1848 to 1933. His father was the founder and main owner of a highly successful New York City jewelry and fancy goods store. This business provided Tiffany with both “know-how” and financial backing. Although he was a competent painter and a skilled colorist, Tiffany turned most of his attention and creative energies to the design, manufacture and retail of decorative arts objects. His first business became the premiere “artistic” interior decoration business in New York in the 1880s. He was especially interested in glass, and began experimenting with it to give his sophisticated clientele the living environments that they expected from him.

At that time artists applied tints and painted on glass, which Tiffany considered “dull and artificial” compared to the method of coloring molten glass with metals and other chemicals that was used by medieval artists. He, with other artists, experimented and developed a new method of making “opalescent” glass which simulated the effects of painting on glass.

Tiffany’s firm eventually offered more than 5,000 colors and varieties of stained glass, and this allowed him to give his glass color and light effects that were previously unknown. Tiffany used several innovations in his work. He layered (or plated) multiple pieces of glass to add depth or to create a misty, ethereal quality, created “drapery glass” by pouring, gathering, twisting, pulling, and folding glass to simulate garment folds, melded tiny colored glass chips with solid sheets to produce a shimmering “confetti” effect often used on clear or colored backgrounds to render foliage, and studded glass with jewel-like fragments. He also wrapped glass in copper foil to depict the organic lines of flowers and foliage, and used lead came to highlight architectural lines.

In 1883 Tiffany established the first of several New York City based firms devoted mostly to the manufacture and sale of glass objects. Initially, they made religious and figural windows for churches and landscape and floral windows for private and business clients. He hired the best creative talents of the era to provide ideas, concepts, and designs for his windows. His firms made four types of windows. One was the landscape window which was rare among religious commissions but is considered his greatest achievement in stained glass. A more common religious commission was figurative windows, in which he followed theological standards of imagery and depicted faces, hands, and feet using paint. The other two types, floral and ornamental (often mosaic) were less expensive and were common in domestic interiors.

During the early 1890’s, Tiffany, working with a team of other people, invented “Favrile” iridescent blown glass. This allowed him to make vases, stemware, place settings, and shades for candlesticks and oil lamps. He capitalized on the new Edison electric light bulb to start producing leaded- glass lampshades, for which he used the pieces of opalescent glass too small to make windows with. Seigfried Bing, the inventor of the term “Art Nouveau” called Tiffany’s lampshades “glowing fantasies”. Tiffany Studios’ “Price List of 1906” lists more than 125 designs for lampshades, and these, along with his Favrile art glass, took top prizes at all the major fairs and expositions between 1900 and 1910.

The Art Noveau movement which was popular at the time, and his lifelong interest in horticulture, inspired Tiffany to favor naturalistic designs for his stained glass. His beautiful and innovative floral motifs for his lampshades were implemented by a team of prize winning designers. Tiffany’s stained glass business lasted 50 years, until the 1920’s, and during the height of their popularity, Tiffany windows were very expensive symbols of prestige. An average three-by-five-foot piece cost $700 at a time when Tiffany’s own artisans were paid $3 a day.
Louis Comfort Tiffany revolutionized and dominated the American stained glass business throughout the late-19th and early-20th centuries. He was the best known and most prolific of American stained glass artists. Fortunately, the revival of interest in Tiffany windows has encouraged their restoration, so we can still marvel at them today.

About the Author

Tracy Crowe loves stained glass! For information about stained glass, visit


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