North African Town
Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848-1933) c. 1915
North Africa had an enormous early impact on Louis Comfort Tiffany, and his art was profoundly influenced by its culture, color and light. Probably painted during his visit to Morocco in 1871, this casein on canvas shows his fascination with dramatic color. The influence of North Africa on Tiffany was recounted by him in a 1917 address published in The Art World, wherein he says: “When first I had a chance to travel in the East and to paint where the people and the buildings also are clad in beautiful hues, the pre-eminence of color in the world was brought forcibly to my attention.”¹
In the same article (entitled “Color and Its Kinship to Sound”), Tiffany goes on to say: “The Orientals have been teaching the Occidentals how to use colors for the past 10,000 years or so …. We have to discover, as they did, what marvelous power one color has over another and what the relative size of each different tract of colors means to the result – what the mass of each different color means for the effect of the design as a whole!”²
Although he later became more widely known for his work in glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany first committed himself to a career in painting, during which time he quickly became established and highly respected, gaining membership and accolades from the most prestigious associations in the field. He became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1867 and a full academician in 1880 of the American Society of Painters in Watercolors (later the American Watercolor Society), where he made his debut in their 1871-72 exhibition. In 1877 he helped to found the Society of American Artists in reaction to the rigidly entrenched conservatism of the National Academy. Tiffany regularly exhibited at all of these associations and also was chosen to display some of his paintings in at least three International World Fairs: the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, and Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Tiffany’s painting was initially influenced by the Tonalist landscape artist George Inness (1823-1894), with whom he studied informally in the late 1860’s, as well as by his artist friend and later associate, the Luminist Samuel Colman (1832-1920), with whom Tiffany traveled to North Africa in 1874-75.
With a background in the work of the Hudson River School, both of these early mentors shared with Tiffany their love of the natural landscape and a goal of portraying landscapes with an evocative poetic mood rather than direct literal observation. Always experimenting, Tiffany continually strove to achieve the most “palpable effects of colour, light and atomosphere” in his paintings, a search that eventually led to his work in glass. The experimentation in his artwork sometimes included the attempt to use alternate media and varied substrates, as demonstrated by this large casein painting on handwoven canvas.
1 Duncan, Alistair. . New York: Henry F. Abrams, 1992, pp. 21-23.