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Louis Comfort Tiffany: The Painting Career of a Colorist

Louis Comfort Tiffany: The Painting Career of a Colorist

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Louis Comfort Tiffany: The Painting Career of a Colorist

193 pages
2 hours
Aug 21, 2020


LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY: THE PAINTING CAREER OF A COLORIST The painting career of Louis Comfort Tiffany reflects the diverse nature of an extraordinarily creative man. His paintings portray a wide range of settings, subjects, and themes. His paintings are a visual record, an actual account of his journeys to Europe, North Africa, and in later years Canada. The paintings document Tiffany’s family life with a jewel-like use of color, attention to detail, and a particular figural naivete. This text documents the stylistic development of his unique American realism combined with the evolution of Tiffany’s color concepts.
Aug 21, 2020

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Louis Comfort Tiffany - J. Price Ph.D.



© J. PRICE Ph.D.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: The Painting Career of a Colorist

Copyright © 2019, J. Price Ph.D.

All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

eBook Edition:

1827 Walden Office Square Suite 260,

Schaumburg, IL 60173, USA




ePUB ISBN: 978-1-5457-5056-8

Mobi ISBN: 978-1-5457-5057-5


I would like to dedicate this book to my friends, who have patiently endured all; to my parents, whose continual emotional support made this possible; to Gary Lee, for his true friendship and to Gary Reynolds for his generosity.


It is not possible to name all the scholarly, intellectual and inspirational support required for this book. I would like to thank my professor, Dr. James Dennis for his years of patience. In brief, I would like to thank Dr. Hugh McKean, Anne Gerkin and David Donaldson, of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, for their never-ending assistance. I would also like to thank the following: Michael and Roseanne Burlingham for their invaluable information; Alastair Duncan for his illuminating conversations; Dr. Robert Koch for his letters; the Lillian Nassau Gallery, Bonnie Kirschstein, The FORBES Magazine Collection, New York, for their generous time; the Kennedy Galleries, New York, and Dr. Wayne Craven for their assistance with the Samuel Colman material.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to my professors: Dr. James Dennis, Dr. Robert Beetem, and Dr. Jane Hutchison, of the University of Wisconsin Art History Department; and Professor Larry Junkins and Professor George Cramer, of the University of Wisconsin Art Department.

I would particularly like to thank Dr. James Scherz, University of Wisconsin Civil Engineering Department, for his encouragement.

This book could not have been finished without the many prayers from Blackhawk Evangelical Free Church and the Last Days Praise Center of Madison, Wisconsin.


I chose to study Louis Comfort Tiffany paintings because his working method, that of transferring watercolor to stained glass, was the same as my own. I considered myself an artist, a colorist in glass and paint.

What began over five years ago as a nine-chapter narrative of over 200 Tiffany drawings, sketches and paintings has evolved into the development of his color theory. When I began this project, I had no comprehension of the time, energy, research and endurance needed to complete this task. My book is severely limited by three items. First, establishing an artist’s color concepts, based on slides and polaroids, can be inaccurate. Second, working in Madison, Wisconsin, did not allow for extensive research beyond trips to New York, Florida, New Jersey and Washington D.C. Third, not having access to most of the actual art objects made research difficult. For these reasons, this book does not claim to be the final word on Tiffany paintings.

It is with great joy that I return to creating my own art work.


The painting career of Louis Comfort Tiffany reflects the diverse nature of an extraordinarily creative man. His paintings portray a wide range of subjects, settings and themes. The paintings are a visual record, an actual account of his journeys to Europe, North Africa and Canada. The paintings document Tiffany’s family life with a jewel-like use of color, attention to detail and a particular figural naiveté. It is the purpose of this paper to document his paintings in a developmental stylistic order which will explain the evolution of Tiffany’s color concepts.

Table of Contents





Chapter One: The Eclectic Roots of Tiffany’s Painting Style

Chapter Two: The Development of Style: A Twofold Path

Chapter Three: The European Paintings: A Combination of Color and Style

Chapter Four: Tiffany’s American Genre Paintings: Farmer, Family and Seascapes

Chapter Five: The Cathedral Paintings: Nature, Color and God

Chapter Six: Tiffany’s Women: Luminosity and Ideal Beauty

Chapter Seven: Genre, Late Orientalism and Landscape: A Subtle Palette

Chapter Eight: The Sarah Hanley Paintings




List of Paintings

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Comments on Water, Life and Crystals

Well, you see, said Mr. Tiffany, here water is used as an element of beauty, following the methods of the Far East. The Orientals worshipped water. To them it is a treasure rare, a guest they honor. Here it not only harmonizes with the architectural scheme, but the vital liquid suggests hope, a message even to those living in the arid place of life. So here I have made a cascade. Just listen to the merry music as it splashes over the rockery.* It is the quick movement of the water that interests me, constant and pure as sunlight. I glory in its whimsicality.**

*A reference to the stream of water which flows out of Laurelton Hall, into large fountains, where it splashes over the huge quartz crystals outside of Tiffany’s home.

**A quote taken from Louis Comfort Tiffany, The Quest of Beauty, Harper’s Bazaar, New York NY December 1914, p.44

Figure 4. Landscape With Seated Figure 1866

Figure 15. Fruit Vendors under the Seawall at Nassau, New Providence, 1872

Chapter One: The Eclectic Roots of Tiffany’s Painting Style

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) formed a specific painting style by assimilating techniques, subject matter, design, color use, and composition from various artists. His fully developed style, which evolved out of years of experimentation, stresses a specific painting technique and color use. It was developed in four stages. In the first stage, Tiffany copied color use, subject matter and actual painting technique from his early teachers, after experiencing difficulties in drawing. His first paintings illustrate this eclectic learning process, resembling the works of George Inness and Samuel Colman. The second stage in the evolution of Tiffany’s painting style was the formation of a specific color painting method. This is visible in his first colorist work, entitled Fruit Vendors Under the Seawall at Nassau.¹ The third evolutionary stage was the formation of two specific painting styles, an Orientalist landscape style and the Couture-Colman style, which were the results of different painting methods. Tiffany developed these two styles simultaneously in the early 1870s. The fourth stage in Tiffany’s painting career was the assimilation of these two styles into one. It was this amalgamation of approaches, which created the foundation for his fully formed style.

The sources of Tiffany’s painting style are found in his early paintings. These works illustrate his eclectic learning process, whereby he imitated three American artists’ style, techniques and designs.

Louis Comfort Tiffany began his artistic career at Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he studied drawing, painting and anatomy from 1862–1865.² It was Tiffany’s drawing difficulties, combined with his fascination with color, that led to a career as a colorist. His lifelong difficulty with drawing was temporarily suppressed in 1863, when he received a silver medal award for drawing.³ The sketch, dated July 7, 1864, is entitled Award For Proficiency in Drawing.⁴ It was a prize possession for Tiffany. It depicts the Academy’s buildings with front, back and side views, serving as an example of Tiffany’s thoroughness in his art work. The Drawing Award is misleading, however, as in reality Tiffany had difficulty drawing the accurate presentation of proportion, depth and form.

Tiffany’s drawing difficulties may be seen in his 1865 European sketchbook. During November 1865 and continuing through March 1866, Tiffany traveled to England, France and Italy. There he created a sketchbook entitled My First Visit to Europe, composed of over 50 pencil and watercolor sketches.⁵ These works were not created under the influence of an art professor and reveal problems with proportion and accuracy. This statement is supported by a visual analysis of his early sketches. His difficulty with proportion and depth is visible in the Clock tower sketch.⁶ The drawing depicts several closely knit buildings, with windows and slate roofs that are placed in front of a cathedral which has a tall tower. Tiffany has some difficulty in the composition of the buildings, for the angles of the roofs meet awkwardly in the shadows. This problem with accuracy is visible is his later works. Tiffany never addresses this problem, instead covering the lack of structure with shading, or in later works, layers of color or clothing. This is why his later paintings of ships, buildings or people appear spineless, or without support. Tiffany developed as a colorist, yet lacked the foundation skills in drawing.

Tiffany’s difficulty on drawing the human figure is seen in Maidenhood, which is a watercolor and pencil portrait of his bride, Mary Goddard.⁷ His problems with proportion, apparent in the small face, elongated body and tiny hands, continue throughout his painting career. His difficulty with depth is seen in the fact that the figure lies flat on the page.

At Eagles wood, Tiffany was strongly influenced by the artist in residence, George Inness, who arrived there in 1863. He was not officially employed as an instructor; however Tiffany frequented Inness’s studio and learned a distinct painting technique from the great artist. This technique is evident in Tiffany’s second extant oil painting entitled Landscape with Seated Figure.

This painting emphasizes Inness’s painting technique, which was described by George Sheldon, via his observation of George Inness at work, as follows:

First he stains his white fresh canvas with Venetian red, but not enough to lose the sense of transparency. Then, with a piece of charcoal, he draws, more or less carefully, the outlines of the picture, afterwards confirming the outline with a pencil and puts in a few of the prominent shadows with a little ivory-black on a brush. His principle pigments are white, very little black, Antwerp blue, Indian red and lemon-chrome. He begins anywhere on the canvas, and works in mass from generals to particulars, keeping his shadows thin and transparent, allowing the red with which the canvas was stained to come through as part of the color. When the work is sufficiently dry, he adds to his palette cobalt (for the sake of giving permanency to the blues), brown and pink. The last steps are glazing, delicate painting, scumbling, and the use of any additional pigments that are needed.

Tiffany adopted this painting process, which is visible in Landscape With Seated Figure. The work is Tiffany’s interpretation of the French Barbizon School, which recalls the work of Emile Corot. Although the painting retains Corot’s coloring of yellow ochre and moss green, a visual analysis reveals Tiffany’s use of the Inness Technique.

The painting contains a red under painting, which is visible of the stone wall, the gate area, the man’s trousers and in the fore and midground grassy area. Tiffany used a charcoal outline to begin with the composition and proceeded from large shapes to the very small. As instructed by George Inness, the painting depicts minute details on the surface, as part of the final touches. These are visible in the tiny brush strokes which compose the foreground.

Besides using the Inness painting technique, Tiffany borrowed the subject matter, Hence the imagery, from the French Barbizon School, as it was described to him by George Inness. In this interpretation, the pastoral scene includes the great foreground tree, a seated figure, several sheep in the background, a crumbled country wall and a hazy afternoon mist in the background trees.

As a source and comparison for this painting consider George Inness’s 1855 composition entitled A Road Through the Woods.¹⁰ This work featured the same subject matter: a sheep, a seated figure, a midground wall, trees and an emphasis on a hazy afternoon light which gleams through the trees. This light depiction presented a challenge to Tiffany who painted over it with a white over glazing and its effect is not highly successful.

Tiffany’s drawing difficulties appear in this painting, as seen in the human figure. Note that the feet appear quite large, the jacket and shoulder are perhaps out of joint, and, as Tiffany could not yet draw faces, the head it turned away from the viewer. The figure wears a black cap and tie, with a white shirt, which is a very French outfit that recalls the Edouard Manet painting, Luncheon on the Grass. The Tiffany figure closely resembles the Manet Luncheon figure in

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