Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Art and Nature: Art Nouveau and Tiffany

From Louis Comfort Tiffany's Glassworks
From the 1880s to the First World War, an international art movement swept through the United States and Europe.  Called Art Nouveau (New Art), this movement encompassed all the arts from painting to decorative to architecture.  Artists of this movement sought to merge the ideals of nature and the styles of Asian cultures together with western sensibilities.  They strove to achieve the synthesis of art and crafts, hence the name “Art Nouveau”.

A reaction to the Neo-classicism of the 19th Century, Art Nouveau also was a product of the Industrial Revolution.  As the first decorative style of the 20th Century, this artistic movement sought to soften and humanize urban areas.  Cities as diverse as Riga (Latvia) and Chicago (U.S.) became the focus of “total works of art”.  (In various cities worldwide, architecture of the Art Nouveau movement can still be found.)

The movement ended with the coming of the First World War.  The positive and celebratory sense of Art Nouveau became overwhelmed by the despair and destruction of that war.  Moreover many pieces of Art Nouveau were expensive to manufacture, and the public preferred more streamlined and modern items.

The person that epitomizes Art Nouveau the most is Louis Comfort Tiffany (U.S., 1843-1933).  Starting out as a fine art painter, Tiffany branched into other areas of Art Nouveau ranging from ceramics to furniture to interior design to public spaces.  Moreover, he explored all these mediums with creative mastery and ease.

What people remember Tiffany for is his glasswork.  With John LaFarge (his rival) Tiffany revolutionized the artistry of stained glass.  (This art form had been unchanged since the Middle Ages.)  Tiffany experimented in this medium with different types of glass, colors, depth, and subject matter.  In addition, he replaced Biblical themes with scenes from nature for memorial windows.

Various examples of Tiffany’s glasswork can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.  A typical example is “Autumn Landscape” (1924), a monumental window that features the River of Life as a theme.  By using various types of glass (confetti, marbleized, mottled, and ripple), he created a painting made of glass. To create depth for the distant mountains and river, Tiffany layered the glass.
Essak, Shelley, “All About Art History”,,,

Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney, and Monica Obniski, “Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933),Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, July 2007,

Gontar, Cybele, “Art Nouveau”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2006,

Greenhadlgh, Paul, and Mari Griffith, “Introduction to Art Nouveau”, Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2000,,
---, “Guide to Art History”,, 2009,,
Janson, H.W. and Dora Jane Janson, “The Story of Painting”, Harry N Abrams: New York, 1966.

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