At The Queens Museum
Tiffany's Iridescence: Glass in Rainbow Hues
Transfixed by color and light, Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933) embarked on a life-long quest to harness their artistic potential. This fascination found its most dazzling expression in 1895 with the development of his iridescent glass. As the marriage of color and light, Tiffany's iridescence provided the ideal canvas to showcase exciting new surface effects, said to "outdo nature" and "shame the rainbow."
Among the most significant artistic contributions of the nineteenth century, Tiffany's iridescence owes its beauty to the complex chemistry that lies beneath its glimmering surface. Inspired by the highly-reflective finishes of the "metallized glassware" produced in Paris and Vienna, Tiffany used the same key ingredient – silver nitrate – to create a base glass with a lustrous, mirror-like sheen. When sprayed with a metallic salt solution, a well-established method for iridizing glass, the silver nitrate greatly amplified the iridescent colors that danced across the surface. Tiffany was the first glassmaker to combine these effects, and this newfound innovation resulted in a spellbinding display of shimmering rainbow hues more vivid, more intense, and more brilliant that had ever been seen before.
In addition to valuing the aesthetic appeal of his iridescent glass, Tiffany also recognized its scientific importance. The basic principles behind his pioneering process were widely publicized in company brochures and period articles, and Tiffany even exhibited his iridescent glass at the New York Academy of Science to illustrate his groundbreaking achievements in glass chemistry.
Discover the science and artistry behind these extraordinary effects that continue to mesmerize audiences today.
The Queens Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11am - 5pm. Learn more about special Tiffany-related educational programming available through our partnership with the Queens Musuem.