Happy 166th Birthday to Louis Comfort Tiffany born February 18, 1848.
One wonders what gift would make this artist/impresario smile? In the years following his death in 1933, many of his iconic works were relegated to attics or dustbins. But following a renaissance of appreciation, Tiffany’s name and output are once again secure in the annals of art history.
So exactly how might Mr. Tiffany celebrate today? There are some hints in the fabulous, over the top fetes that became a part of his legacy. On the occasion of his 68th birthday in 1916, Tiffany threw a lavish party at his Madison Avenue studios in New York City complete with a masque in pantomime entitled The Quest for Beauty . A woman clad in white robes emerged onto the darkened stage and told the hushed spectators they would see “Genius in the form of an artist hunting for Beauty”. The actors then mimed a caveman drawing inspiration from a dancing flame of a fire.
Later after a toast by J. Alden Weir, president of the Academy of Design, Tiffany, in a speech to the 300 assembled celebrants, summed up the quest that was his lifelong ambition:
“If I may be forgiven a word about my own work, I would merely say that I have always striven to fix beauty in wood or stone or glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty; that has been my creed and I see no reason to change it. It seems as if the artists who place all their energies on technique have nothing left over for the more important matter — the pursuit of beauty.“
But that was just one of the many parties Tiffany threw in the cavernous space that was his studio and showroom. He had many theatrical events there in rooms heated by four huge fireplaces and lit with panels of vividly colored glass. It was the perfect artist’s loft to wow awestruck guests. Perhaps Tiffany’s most spectacular event was The Egyptian Fete of February 4, 1913. Invitations in hieroglyphs were sent written on papyrus scrolls. Four hundred attendees, attired in pre-approved period costumes including Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Dorothy Roosevelt and the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert de Forest stepped into “Alexandria” to witness a romantic encounter between Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Tiffany’s daughter Dorothy played one of the Queen’s attendants. One highlight was a suggestive dance performed by Ruth St. Denis who made a spectacular entrance unfurled from an Persian carpet. Catered by Delmonico’s restaurant, there was enough champagne to fuel some risqué behavior in the form of a rather uninhibited Turkey Trot. All of this sybaritic splendor was presided over by the artist himself garbed as an Eastern potentate.
Described in a gushing review by the New York Times, the late night bash was “one amazing riot of color” and “it eclipsed any fancy dress function ever presented in New York“. Even the Pinkerton security force wore Oriental disguise as they stood in silent watch over the treasures in the event space.
So perhaps today’s celebration although heartfelt might be a bit more restrained? How about a multi-layered cake with gloriously colored fondant stained glass panels and jewel-like flowers wrapped in iridescent Favrile spun sugar and lit with 166 candles? To quote the master: “I want to protest that beauty can be found in any material given the proper channel.”
Many happy returns Louis Comfort Tiffany!
To read the article in the April 1916 issue of Harper’s Bazar click here.