LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY: Autumn Landscape—The River of Life, 1923–1924

Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of the New York City jewelry store that still bears the family name, took no interest in his father’s business. Instead, he trained as a painter in Paris, and upon returning to New York decided to channel his talents into the decorative arts. “I believe there is more in it than in painting pictures,” he declared. By the 1890s, Tiffany was exploring the possibilities of colored glass, a medium that had remained virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages. In the late nineteenth century, it was experiencing a revival, owing to the large number of churches under construction in prospering American cities. Gradually, stained glass made its way into secular settings,
with biblical subjects giving way to naturalistic motifs and woodland themes. These luminous windows worked like landscape paintings to introduce a sense of natural beauty into an urban home. Their dense designs had the added advantage of blocking views of dirty streets and back alleys that an ordinary window might reveal.

Autumn Landscape - The River of Life by Louis Comfort Tiffany c.1923 - 1924

Autumn Landscape was commissioned by real estate magnate Loren Delbert Towle for his Gothic Revival mansion in Boston. The window was meant to light the landing of a grand staircase, and, by presenting a landscape view that receded into the distance, it would offer the illusion of extending a necessarily confined space. But even in domestic interiors, stained glass never entirely lost its religious overtones. Tiffany divided this composition into lancet windows reminiscent of a medieval cathedral. In keeping with the American landscape tradition, the theme of Autumn Landscape—The River of Life also invites a spiritual interpretation. Tiffany generally reserved the traditional subject, in which a mountain stream flows through the rocks and cascades into a placid foreground pool, for memorial windows in churches and mausoleums; here, the season enhances the symbolism of a lifetime winding to a close, with the sun sinking low on a late autumn afternoon. As it happened, the window did become a memorial of sorts, for the Boston client died before it could be installed in his residence. Autumn Landscape was subsequently sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where, divorced from its intended setting of a private
interior for the privileged few, it became a work of art available to the public.

Tiffany’s ambition was to use glass to create the effect of oil or watercolor painting, without resorting to the application of enameled decoration. To this end, he developed new techniques for producing and manipulating colored glass, and he eventually achieved a range of visual and tactile effects that would have been impossible with paint alone. Autumn Landscape, one of his later productions, makes use of nearly every method in Tiffany’s extensive repertoire: mottled glass for the dusky sky; confetti glass (with thin flakes of colored glass embedded in the surface) for the shifting colors of the autumn
foliage; marbleized glass for the boulders; rippled glass for the foreground pool. To deepen the color and enhance the depth of the distant mountains, Tiffany applied layers of glass to the back of the window, a technique called “plating.” But as he would have been aware, the full effect of the window depended on the intensity of the natural light that shone through it to magically alter the landscape throughout the day and the year.

As a window that resembles an elaborately framed easel painting, Autumn Landscape fulfills the aesthetic movement’s mission of introducing art into daily life. Tiffany concerned himself with the entire range of a room’s decorative effects, weaving them into a single, harmonious design. He found countless ways to give his art a practical purpose, designing everything from books to furniture; however, in any medium, he said, his primary consideration had always been simply “the pursuit of beauty.”

Have a great week. Pursue beauty! -Mrs. S

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ”   Philippians 4:8

 

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