"It is all a matter of education, and we shall never have good art in our homes until the people learn to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly." — Louis Comfort Tiffany
Louis Comfort Tiffany was the most important master of the decorative arts in America's "gilded age." He was a true visionary and one of the most original, creative, and influential designers of the period. Tiffany was the United States' leading proponent of Art Nouveau, the elegant, decorative, and graceful style of ornamentation that flourished in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. He is also regarded as one of the first industrial designers to combine fine art and functional utility in his various creations. Tiffany was an industrious experimenter, obsessed with perfection and excellence, ideals he pursued to the fullest in his quest for a luxurious new aesthetic to suit American high style.
Tiffany's widely varied career stretched over more than half a century, from 1870 to the middle of the 1920's. Early in his career Tiffany proved to be a gifted painter, an aspect of his work that often escapes public attention.
He was also an architect, designed both landscapes and interiors, and created new styles for furniture, draperies, wallpaper, and rugs. His pursuit of a unique vision led him to employ varied materials including enamels, ornamental bronze, ceramics, silver and wood to produce such diverse items as crucifixes, candelabra, desk sets, clocks and picture frames.
But as exquisite as these objects are, Tiffany is best known as America's premier glass artist. Glass was the medium in which he excelled, for the intrinsic beauty of the material opened limitless creative possibilities and permitted him the optimal realization of his aesthetic ideas. Tiffany and the artisans in his studios produced thousands of stained glass windows and lamps, tableware, mosaics and exquisitely beautiful glass jewelry.
According to the people who knew him well, Tiffany was an eccentric, an autocrat, and a purist. He was very demanding of his craftsmen and accepted nothing but perfection from their work. He was known to walk through the studios with his cane and strike any piece that he found unacceptable. Though considered tyrannical by some, he was also known to be kind and generous to his employees and demonstrated concern for their private lives.
His personal life was much the same. At times authoritarian, he accepted only perfection from his seven children. But he was also seen as a kind and caring father, preferring to spend his time away from work with his family.
In 1913, when Tiffany was sixty-five years old, he began to plan his retirement and the legacy by which he wished the world to remember him. His children also wanted him to set out in print a record of his accomplishments. To this end, Tiffany asked Charles De Kay, an art historian and former New York Times art critic, to write his memoirs. The fruit of their collaboration is the first biography of Louis Comfort Tiffany, The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany. The privately-printed book was published in 1914 by Doubleday Page & Company. The highly decorative cover, gold over a red ground papier-mache binding, was designed by Tiffany. The book contains 21 tipped-in color plates and 42 photogravures. Tiffany underwrote the high production costs of the volume and used it as his calling card trade catalogue to be given to the wealthy and influential.
The volume is a limited edition of 502 copies (10 on parchment for family and 492 on japan paper.) The Ingalls Library copy is number 245 and is signed and dedicated to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Tiffany.