Tableware set decorated with irises, 1900, Carl Knoll, Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague, CC0

Technical excellence and innovation were a hallmark of the decorative arts in the Art Nouveau era. In this chapter, we will encounter some of the leading designers and manufacturers working in glassware, jewellery and ceramics.

To add layers of texture and glazes over decorative elements, ceramicists and glassmakers of the period often returned pieces to the furnace many times. Historical techniques were revived and new ones invented such as the Favrile glass formula patented in 1894 by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), son of the famous jeweller Charles Lewis Tiffany.

Magnolias and Irises window in leaded Favrile glass, ca. 1908, Tiffany Studios (1902–1932), The Metropolitan Museum of New York, CC0
Magnolias and Irises window in leaded Favrile glass, ca. 1908, Tiffany Studios (1902–1932), The Metropolitan Museum of New York, CC0

When visiting London’s South Kensington Museum in 1865, Tiffany had been impressed and inspired by Roman, Syrian and medieval glassware. Tiffany achieved the brilliant iridescent surfaces of Favrile glass by introducing metallic oxides into molten glass. His subsequent glass creations are among the most famous Art Nouveau objects in the world.

The Tiffany Studios window shown on the left is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of New York. It was designed as a memorial to the Frank family of New York and was originally installed in a mausoleum of a Brooklyn cemetery. The River of Life theme is prevalent in the designs Tiffany created for memorials, and the years between 1900 and 1910 were the height of ecclesiastical window production for Tiffany Studios.

Vase, 1899, Emile Gallé, Museum Für Kunst Und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0
Vase, 1899, Emile Gallé, Museum Für Kunst Und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0

Emile Gallé (1846-1904) was a French glassmaker, ceramicist and furniture designer, who became one of the most influential figures within Art Nouveau and the French decorative arts. Born in Nancy, he studied botany and mineralogy in Germany before taking over his father’s glass and ceramics factory in 1874.

At the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Gallé’s stylistic innovations in glass with carved cameo and pâte de verre work were acclaimed. The École de Nancy, whose founders included Gallé, Louis Majorelle, Victor Prové, Eugene Vallin and the Daum brothers, produced furniture, glassware, leather, ceramics and textiles. It staked Nancy’s claim as one of the key centres of Art Nouveau.

Jewellers created exquisite pieces for their clients, such as chokers, pendants, bracelets and earrings. These items often featured enamelling and semi-precious materials like sculptured ivory and tortoiseshell. Nature-inspired Art Nouveau pieces depicting leaves, orchids, lilies and butterflies are commonly seen.

French jeweller René-Jules Lalique (1860-1945) was one of Art Nouveau’s most renowned craftsmen. Trained in Paris and London, Lalique was unusual in not coming from an established dynasty of jewellers.

'Swallows in the Reeds' necklace, 1900, René Lalique, Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0
'Swallows in the Reeds' necklace, 1900, René Lalique, Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0

Having established his reputation whilst working for the celebrated jewellery houses of Cartier, Jacta and Boucheron, Lalique took over the workshop of Parisian jeweller Jules Destape in 1885. His luxurious pieces used materials such as horn, ivory, glass and brightly coloured gemstones.

Lalilque's insects, flowers and nymphs were quintessential Art Nouveau motifs realised in exquisitely detailed and delicate forms. Lalique worked for private clients such as Sarah Bernhardt and many of Paris’s finest jewellery retailers.

As with glassware and jewellery, the best Art Nouveau ceramicists experimented with new forms and innovative glazing techniques. Malleable clay was the perfect medium for realising the characteristic forms of the Art Nouveau aesthetic.

Notable practitioners in Europe included Brantjes and Rozenburg in the Netherlands, Meisenthal and Koepping in Germany, Zsolnay in Hungary, Harrach, Loetz in Bohemia, and Scandinavia.

Discover more Art Nouveau ceramics on our Pinterest board below.