On this day in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in New York City. His father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, was a jeweler and the founder of Tiffany & Co. After military schooling, Louis studied art in New York City with a concentration on painting. Soon, however, his interest was diverted by art glass and the young artist worked for several local glasshouses.
With other artists and craftsmen, Tiffany started a commercial artists’ collective, and (thanks to family money) was able to grow the business quickly. One of the firm’s businesses was interior decorating and Tiffany was able to secure lucrative society commissions. In 1882, newly-elected President Chester Arthur hired Tiffany to re-decorate the White House. In fact, the new president refused to move-in until Tiffany had finished his work! Tiffany updated the lighting, built stained-glass screens, and made other decorative changes. Alas, future president Theodore Roosevelt removed all of these in 1902, returning the house to a strictly Federalist style.
In 1902, Tiffany’s collective was re-fashioned and re-named Tiffany Studios. It continued to make art glass—specifically, stained glass windows, mosaics, lighting, and blown glass vessels—plus metal work, jewelry, ceramics and furniture. Tiffany had been influenced by England’s William Morris and overwhelmed by the Art Nouveau he saw at European exhibitions. In America, he became a leader in Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau design.
Interestingly, Tiffany had a hard time finding the “raw” glass material for his creations. It seemed that the glass suppliers of the day were not interested in making rustic, old-style glass containing the impurities that Tiffany wanted. Initially, Tiffany melted-down jars and bottles which used a less-processed glass. Eventually, he made his own glass from scratch.
While the jewelry company made the Tiffany name famous, its founder’s son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was an exceptional artist, artisan and businessman in his own right.
Louis Comfort Tiffany died on 17 January 1933 and is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
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