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Get Creative at Home: Design an Art Nouveau Vase

Get familiar with Art Nouveau style, learn about colorful Tiffany glassware, and try your hand at designing a vase.

By Melissa Katzin, Manager of Family Programs, High Museum of Art

Art Nouveau was a style of art, architecture, and decorative objects from 1890 to 1910. From Paris to Russia to America, the Art Nouveau, or “New Art,” style was a reaction against a formal, strict style of the nineteenth century, which was often about historical events and created to imitate earlier styles. Instead, Art Nouveau incorporated natural forms into designs inspired by different types of flowers, trees, vines, and even animals to create curving lines, round shapes, and nature-inspired colors.

Art Nouveau Tiffany vase.
Art Nouveau poster of a woman.
Stained glass window with a woman seated next to a column.
Vase, ca. 1905, Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933), designer; Tiffany Studios, Long Island, New York, 1900–1932, maker; Eugene Vavasseur (French, 1863–1949), L’Éclair, 1897; Untitled (Architecture), ca. 1903–1904, John La Farge (American, 1835–1910), designer and maker.

One of the most well-known Art Nouveau decorative artists was Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany is best known for his stained glass windows, but he also created lamps, jewelry, and other decorative objects. Tiffany was also the design director for the famous family jewelry business Tiffany & Co.

Early in his artistic career, Tiffany was a painter, but he began working with glass and eventually opened his own glass factory in New York. One of his company’s most prestigious commissions was redecorating the White House under President Chester A. Arthur in 1882.

Tiffany, tired of using pure glass that had no special qualities or impurities, decided to create his own glass after failed experiments with other artists’ creations. In 1894, he patented Favrile glass, which is glass that is colored and iridescent, or has a shimmering effect. Favrile is different from other glass because the color is within the glass itself rather than applied to the surface.

Look closely at the Favrile glass works by Tiffany below, paying close attention to their color and iridescence. How are they different from other glass works, like cups or vases, that you have seen?

Green vase with very thin spout.
Vase styled after a floral form with a stem.
Glass vase with black designs on a green, purple, and blue iridescent background.
Vase, ca. 1905; Floriform Vase, ca. 1898–1903; Vase, ca. 1892­–1900.

Tiffany was one of many Art Nouveau artists creating decorative objects. While he worked almost exclusively in glass, many other artists also used ceramics.

Look closely at the vases below, paying attention to the shape, design, and material. What is different among them? What is similar?

Glass vase with a dragonfly design in green and gold.
Honey colored vase with floral designs and two handles.
Green vase with subtle linear detailing.
Vase, ca. 1889; Two-Handled Vase, ca. 1900, Émile Gallé (French, 1846–1904), designer and maker; Vase, ca. 1902, Hugh M. G. Garden (American, 1873–1961), designer; Terra Cotta Ceramic Company, maker.

Get Creative at Home!

Design your own Art Nouveau vase! First, think about what profile, or outline, you want. Traditionally, vases are large at the bottom and narrow at what’s called a neck before fanning out at the top. However, vases come in all shapes and sizes!

Tall, light green vase decorated with graphic, slender fruit trees.
Glass vase with floral decorations, a round red base, and a thin blue stem.
Large ceramic vase decorated with tall grasses and irises.
Vase, 1908–1915, Marblehead Pottery, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1904–1936, maker; Vase, ca. 1900, Émile Gallé (French, 1846–1904), designer and maker; Vase, ca. 1910, Joseph Fortune Meyer (American, 1848–1931), modeler; Anna Frances Simpson (American, 1880–1930), decorator; Newcomb Pottery, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1894–1940, maker.

To make your vase, take a piece of paper and fold it in half longways. On the edge of the paper opposite the fold, draw a line with a pencil or pen to represent the shape of one side of your vase — it can be curvy, straight, or a combination.

With a pair of scissors, cut through the paper along the line you drew. When you unfold your paper, you should have a symmetrical vase! If you want to change the shape, fold your paper again along the same crease and cut off more with your scissors.

Once you are happy with the profile of your vase, use crayons, markers, paint, or even collaged paper to add your organic, nature-inspired designs!

Love being creative with the whole family? Head to the High for Family Art Escapes — a program designed for children ages six through twelve years with their caregivers.

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