March 25, 2015

At the Met: Louis Comfort Tiffany's Molten Color

Vase, 1893; Favrile glass, h. 3 5/8 in. 

I can understand the fascination with glass as a medium: it holds light and color and carries its history of being liquid into its permanent solid form. The last time I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I spent some time with Louis Comfort Tiffany's beautiful blown glass objects, designed by him and executed by skilled craftsmen. Wondrous colors and iridescence dance across the surfaces of these pieces. From the Met's label, I learned that "Favrile" was a name invented by Tiffany, from the Old English fabrilis, meaning hand wrought.

Vase, ca. 1900; free-blown Favrile glass, h. 22 in.

This very beautiful large vase, in its translucency, imitates the water that the lily-pad shapes are floating on.

Vase detail

There is a sense of movement in this vase, and a mystery in its depths.

Bowl, ca. 1908; Favrile glass, h. 6 5/16 in.

The iridescence and irregular surface variations, from rough to smooth, give this piece a look of a natural object, some small treasure found on a beach. How difficult it must have been to make something so seemingly artless.

Vases, Favrile glass

These vases have elegant tubular shapes as if to embody the flowers that they will hold. Elegant sweeps of color flow vertically and onto the bases.

Vases, Favrile glass

Tiffany was inspired by the natural world, and we can imagine that seeing light passing through the petals of a tulip brought forth some of his designs.

Vase, ca. 1912; Favrile glass, 5 3/16 x 3 1/4 in. 
Vase, ca. 1912; Favrile glass, h. 5 7/8 in.

Ancient glass was also an inspiration for Tiffany, and these vases were an attempt to "replicate the surface effects found on the ancient Roman and Syrian glass he displayed at Laurelton Hall. The effect was achieved by rolling the parison of molten glass on a marver covered with pulverized glass crumbs and exposing the surface to metallic fumes". (from the Met's website). These works are so different in their weighty quality from the translucent ones above; rather than passing through them, light is bounced back as many luminous colors. Art and nature and invention and skill came together to make these beautiful works.


  1. I love glass art. I can't have it because I am the proverbial bull in the china shop. Tiffany was a master in his time...timeless.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Lisa and Sue; I'm glad you enjoyed seeing this work.

  3. It's interesting how the last vases above, given their opacity, appear much like pottery; it's as if I expect glass to be transmitting light in some way. These pieces are beautiful. Thanks for the share.

    1. You're welcome, James. Those last pieces do confound our expectations.