Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tiffany Exhibition in Richmond

  This past weekend, I was finally able to make the trip to Richmond VA, where a selection of glass and other art objects are on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. The exhibit is only open until August 15; Richmond is the ONLY city in the U.S. where this will be shown.

  Oh, sure, I've seen pictures of the famous elaborate stained-glass lampshades; but some of the works were jaw-dropping and even breathtaking. The works include designs from others in Tiffany's workshop, including Clara Driscoll and Frederick Wilson (don't know much about them yet). Up to this point, I've known zip about Tiffany as a designer / artist. This exhibit has spurred me to find out more. And, by the way, Chrysler (of the motor company) was close friends with Tiffany for some time.

  The exhibit was well laid out, although even with timed tickets (every half hour), it was a bit crowded. It included the lampshades (about which I'll discuss more in a bit), hanging lamps, vases, jewelry and other items. The most visually stunning feature was a separate room for huge stained-glass windows depicting various Biblical scenes and other subjects. The room had low lighting with the stained glass windows backlit, so one could step back and fully appreciate the depth and colors of the windows. 

  Did I say "depth" of the windows? Yes, literally. Louis Comfort Tiffany  (February 18, 1848 – January 17, 1933) created new techniques and types of glass, including one in which folds were created in the glass with a rod, while it was still malleable, to imitate drapery. So, for example, as one studies these magnificent windows, one becomes aware that the folds in Christ's garments, REALLY ARE folds of glass. Other techniques, such as imitating the rays of the sun at sunrise, or the leaves of a tree with layers of broken slivers of green glass are a marvel. In one window of a Biblical scene, one person is standing within a shelter or small patio which has a roof or some kind of cover. The man is standing in the shadows; an oil lamp rests on a table, its "flames" a glowing yellow-orange glass, which almost seems to shed its own light.

  Tiffany is well-known for the development of the use of opalescence in glass, and of iridescence in the finish of a vase. Many of his designs incorporate the forms found in nature, such as that of a sprouting bulb, with its long stem and budding flower forming the vase; sea creatures and similar motifs; and surging oceans or gurgling brooks.

  A few of the lampshades were also on display, including the very popular "Wisteria" lamp (which I believe was designed by Clara Driscoll); when viewed up close, one can better appreciate the intricacy of the designs, as well as the painstaking custom sizing of each glass component. 

  All in all, it was very interesting, and quite beautiful. 

 What troubles me, though, is that Tiffany was associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, which had been an extension of the Pre-Raphaelites. The political role of art  (and I mean this in the most noble sense of the word 'political') and science is not to underestimated.

 In a future installment, we'll examine the philosophy of this movement in depth, and the role of morals in the Aesthetic. Since I am almost entirely ignorant of Tiffany's personal philosophy, I'll reserve judgement for the time being.

Philosophy, the Arts & Aesthetics - just part of...

"The Elements of Life"

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