Louis Comfort Tiffany’s watercolor sketches.

I’m a bit obsessed with a little drawing/watercolor currently on view at the High Museum in Atlanta. I went back for the second time with a friend who was nice enough to humor me while I made sketches and took notes.

Louise Comfort Tiffany, Stained Glass Window Design, watercolor, graphite, and ink on paper laminated to cardboard. Collection of the High Museum, Atlanta, GA. (Images: M. Levacy)

I was unaware that Tiffany (who I generally do not have any strong feelings about either way) created such delicate and beautiful preliminary works in preparation for his more well-known stained glass compositions.

I’m fascinated with the look and energy of the muted appearance of the watercolor in this piece. It appears that Tiffany created a detailed grisaille sketch with the graphite then went over it with watercolor. The paper appears rather smooth and non-absorbent so I’m guessing that some of the watercolor smeared the graphite upon application – giving it the rather marbleized appearance in the work. The ink is only really applied in the outlines – primarily where separate panes of glass would occur. The entire work is surrounded by a cut out piece of grey paper.

The first time I saw this work in the permanent collection at the High I immediately came home and searched online for other similar works. I found several images but overall the availability is quite scarce.

Tiffany, Louis Comfort (1848-1933), Design for figural window, ca. 1910-20.
Gouache and watercolor over silver gelatin photograph collage and watercolor, pen and black India ink, and graphite on wove paper support: 16 9/16 x 11 13/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY – Photo Credit : Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It seems like the Metropolitan Museum of Art has the primary collection of these works – at least if there are other collections out there they aren’t widely publicized on the web. And, of the works documented as being in the Met’s collection – the images are mostly available through a private person’s in-gallery snap shots – like the following study:

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Design for a rose window. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY – Photo Credit : Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plum Leave’s has a Flickr set devoted to stained glass and enamel that contains quite a few images from the Met collection (which I’m guessing are original photos as well). They’re great – by far one of the best collective image sources for these types of preliminary works by Tiffany. The images below are two of my favorite images from Plum Leave’s collection.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stained Glass Window Design – watercolor, gouache, pen, red ink, and graphite on Bristol board, mounted on grey mat board. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Louise Comfort Tiffany, Design for Triple Light Window The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

I still don’t completely love the stained glass but – I do love the idea of stained glass.

One of my two primary major professors used to work for a stained glass maker. He would – on occasion – make references to cutting glass and his time working with stained glass. The occasional metaphor from this time period worked well for painting and making art. This experience made me appreciate the art form in a way that I had not done previously.

I think that to best appreciate stained glass it must be seen with light streaming into the space that the work was designed for – perhaps if I was to see some of Tiffany’s glass pieces in this context I would connect with them like I connect with the watercolor sketches.


  1. We have cartoons of five window designs don by Tiffany. Three are of the first three windows installed at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta in 1919 – 1922. The other two designs were not accepted. We have four other Tiffany windows for which we do not have the cartoon.

    Bill Lyons 770-805-9017

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