Monday, May 05, 2008

May Artist #2: Louis Comfort Tiffany

Okay, maybe I'm being self-indulgent here by choosing Louis Comfort Tiffany as my second artist to study, because I've known I've loved him for a long time. I can't help it. He was an amazingly versatile artist that, aside from some quite hideous lamps, had an incredible grasp on palette, form, and style. I definitely have stuff I can learn from him.

I had always drooled unabashedly over his stained glass pieces, but I didn't know about his regular paintings until I bought the book Louis Comfort Tiffany by Jacob Baal-Teshuva, which is full of gorgeous photos of both his stained glass windows and his paintings (and also his hideous lamps, but we'll pass over that lightly).

So what is it that draws me to Tiffany's work? Well, man -- first of all, I really encourage everyone to follow the links at the bottom of the post to find out more about his life, because it's really fascinating stuff, and also to see more of his art, because it's impossible to represent it well in just a few pieces here.

Tiffany's work is diverse enough that I could really do two posts: one for his paintings and for his windows, but I'm going to only talk about his stained glass for now.

Why I Like The Works from Tiffany Studios:

  • Clever use of limited palette. One of the things that I find appealing about these windows is that he used an amazing amount of neutral tones and colored grays/ lavenders/ browns so that the color he did use popped out -- or to create a contemplative mood when the "color" of emphasis was pure white.
  • Use of strong, simple compositional design rather than color to create interest.
  • Powerful overall shapes. Stained glass tends towards a certain 2D-ness -- sort of like the layers of 2D cutouts that make scenery on a stage -- and I get the feeling when looking at a Tiffany window that he is embracing that effect and using it to lead me to a very definite focal point.
  • Strong structural elements. By necessity, he has the edges of the windows giving him strong verticals and horizons, but does that faze Louis? Not hardly. He rocks those strong geometrical shapes with diagonals that constantly guide our eyes where they need to go.
  • Recession. I'm not talking about what our economy's doing. I'm talking about how Tiffany pushes those dramatic elements of the composition back by placing bold, intricate shapes in the foreground.
  • Application of color. I love that no color in a Tiffany window is single color. Every petal of every iris is three different shades of purple; every brown is streaked with a green in the same value. Strong, simple compositions marked by insanely detailed glasswork and complex, beautiful colors. Lovely.
  • Idealism. These aren't real places. Well, actually they are. Oyster Bay is, for instance (the top right image). I saw a photograph someone had taken of Oyster Bay from the same angle. Can I tell you it did not look like that window? Tiffany's windows drip with a sort of understated idealism only made tolerable by his beautifully muted palettes.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artcyclopedia Images
Ye Olde Wikipedia
And of course the Tiffany book I mentioned above is really the best I've found for luscious images.


Karen Mathison Schmidt said...

Great choice, Maggie, also one of my favorites! Two things I'm glad you emphasized: that each color area is actually multiple colors, and the use of neutrals to make the beauty of the saturated colors stand out (something I'm constantly striving for in my own work).
I notice that all the examples you show are stained glass pieces; I also want to encourage your readers to find some pictures of his paintings ... awesome!
And thanks to you for the time you spend presenting these "mini-seminars" for us!

ChrisB said...

Thanks so much for sharing LC Tiffany. I had no idea that he also painted. I checked out the links to the various museums and was amazed at his talent and ability with a brush. I enjoy art history and learning about art movements and artists, especially wonderful surprises like this one. Can't wait for the next artist you'll share with us.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Karen -- yeah! His paintings are amazing as well. And you're welcome.

Chris -- I'm glad you're enjoying it! I'm learning a ton along the way.