Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was known primarily for his "hand-wrought" style in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement, and continually challenged the American palette with themes of exoticism, naturalism and light. During his half century career, from the 1860s to the 1920s, he demonstrated a multitude of talents as an architect, painter, interior and jewelry designer.
His first artistic training started as a painter in the beginning of the 1860's. In 1866 he traveled to England, Ireland, France, Italy, and Sicily, sketching the places he visited. He first exhibited his work in 1867 at the National Academy of Design. During his second trip to Europe, he met the Orientalist painter Lion-Adolphe-Auguste Belly and was exposed to varying cultures that shaped his career. In 1870 he traveled with fellow artist R. Swain Gifford to Egypt and North Africa, visiting Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, gathering exotic subject matter for his canvases, which were employed throughout his career.
While Louis Comfort continued to paint, it was in the decorative arena where he truly made his mark. There was hardly a medium to which he did not turn, and he became interested in the decorative possibilities of glass from 1875. He operated under Tiffany Furnaces, separated from the auspices of Tiffany & Co. and his father, Charles Tiffany. It was here that he produced richly colored lamps and vibrantly toned favrile glass, pottery, tapestries, enamels, metalwork, furniture and hundreds of other items that would grace the homes of some of the most important Americans of the time including Mark Twain, Cornelius Vanderbilt II as well as The White House itself. Renowned for his excellence and perfection, Louis Comfort personally examined each piece before it received the final stamp of approval.
It was not until the death of his father, the patriarch Charles Tiffany, in 1902, that Louis Comfort began to manufacture his own jewelry designs. It is possible that this late flowering was due to the fact that he felt that his designs would be rejected, so as not to compete with those from Tiffany and Co., a firm that had defined American taste and style in jewelry for so many decades. Immediate yet highly secretive production was begun by Louis Comfort and his team of craftsmen in anticipation of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to be held in St. Louis in 1904. It was at this world's fair that he showcased twenty-seven pieces of jewelry in the Arts and Crafts style, which received international acclaim.
In May 3, 1907, Tiffany & Co. purchased the enameling and jewelry making department of Tiffany Furnaces for the sum of $35,000 and set up a special "Art Jewelry" department at the store, located at 37th street and Fifth Ave. From then on jewelry production was completed in house with the name "Tiffany & Co." stamped on each piece. Only those pieces produced before this date bear the mark "Louis C. Tiffany, Artist".
Unlike his Edwardian counterparts, Louis Comfort was not preoccupied with the traditional choice of diamonds and pearls. Of primary consideration was how a gemstone could diffuse and transform light, similar to the Impressionist painters of the 19th century. Dense lapis lazuli, opaque jade, multi-colored opals and even scarabs can be seen as continuations of his pioneering work in glass, lamps and windows. This fascination of color and light was a common thread in every aspect of his work. In lot 260, Louis Comfort has used a large transparent violet sapphire as the focal point of the piece to the smaller sapphires in graduated hues, teasing the observer with its ability to have colors travel from a light purple to blue. The theme of light and color, not unlike the Impressionist painters that influenced him, was a common thread in every aspect of his oeuvre.
Naturalism was another key element in Louis Comfort's work and he frequently used a graceful grapevine motif. In lot 240, the vines form the chain of the necklace, which delicately entwine the neck of the wearer and safely encase the large sapphire pendant. Small, textured gold leaves serve a dual purpose acting as both the central design element and replacing the traditional prongs that hold gemstones in place. Also unique to Louis Comfort's work was that the reverse was nearly as beautiful as the front, evidence of his desire for perfection and this necklace is no exception. The same scrolling grapevines featured on the front can be seen on the back, only to be known to the wearer herself.
Louis Comfort continued to work at the "Art Jewelry" department, which remained open until his death in 1933, producing approximately 5,500 individual pieces of jewelry. With a clear focus on color and a constant drive to express unusual combinations through themes of nature, he was driven to stimulate the ordinary palette and test the limit of conventional style. This exceptional pendant necklace is a true expression of Louis Comfort's ingenuity and creative passion, further enhancing his place as a pioneer in American design.