From the pleasing solidity of a Chinese ginger jar to the restrained elegance of Scandinavian modernism, we explore the history of iconic vase design and offer fresh tips for displaying them in you home. All you need to do is add flowers…
Nothing says ‘summer’ like an abundance of blooms loosely arranged in an eclectic assortment of antique vases. For a truly arresting display, choose vases from different eras in a range of sizes, colours, shapes and materials – glass, metal and ceramic – to create a look that’s joyful and uplifting. Add interest by positioning tall vases off centre, with tiny vessels towards the front. The flower shades you choose will unite the collection. Think about where you want to display your vases – here, the distressed wall lends a rustic, bohemian feel
Oriental blue and white vases – ‘In the 1860s, lots of European collectors and interior decorators went mad for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Feeding this demand, there was an explosion of brand new wares made in the 17th-century style. The most famous of these were the reproductions of sought-after ginger jars, some of which (the genuine ones) were fetching previously unheard of sums for ceramics,’ explains Lars Tharp, ceramics and oriental specialist and Antiques Roadshow expert.
Japanese vases – For over 100 years Japan isolated itself from the outside world by all but closing her frontiers, until 1854 and the Treaty of Yokohama, when Japanese trade with Western nations resumed. When Japanese pottery (mostly ‘Satsuma’ ware) and porcelain (‘Imari’, ‘Kutani’ and ‘Arita’ ware) flooded into Europe, the asymmetry of the designs took Europeans by surprise.
Majolica vases – Inspired by European earthenware, English pottery Minton & Co launched a range of brightly coloured, low-temperature, lead-glazed pieces at The Great Exhibition in 1851 as ‘Palissy ware’, which later become known as ‘majolica’. Other potteries such as George Jones and Wedgwood began to manufacture their own versions and, by the 1880s, the name majolica was commonly applied to all such wares, whether made by Minton or not.
Bohemian enamelled glass vases – Bohemia (now a region of Czech Republic) has long been associated with hand-painted glass. ‘Since the 13th century, this area has been a centre for stained glass windows, which are decorated in an identical manner to enamelled glass vases, so the tradition is historic,’ explains glass specialist and owner of Glass Etc, Andy McConnell.
Mid-century Scandinavian glass vases – Sweden was the most important glass-making nation during the mid-century period. It manufactured sleek, understated vases, mostly in the Småland region, which is in the south of the country and still renowned for production, currently having 13 glassworks and studios.
Indian metal vases – ‘A lot of the vases that were produced in India during the 19th century were decorative and made for the colonial market. The vessels produced for the local market were less decorative – they were usually ritualistic or utilitarian,’ explains Michael Backman, managing director of Michael Backman Ltd, a London firm specialising in rare antique Asian, Islamic and colonial decorative arts. ‘In India at that time, flowers were used as offerings at altars and statues, but they were changed every day, so there was no need to preserve them in water.’
Constance spry vases – ‘Constance Spry loved creating unusual, free-form displays with berries and kale leaves as well as flowers,’ reveals John Mackie, one of the founding directors of Lyon & Turnbull auction house in Edinburgh. ‘She couldn’t find the right vases to suit her creations, so she commissioned a range at Fulham Pottery.’ One of Spry’s employees, Florence Standfast, designed a 1935 Constance Spry collection of elegant, twin-handled ‘mantle’ vases inspired partly by ancient Greek and Egyptian forms.
Photographs: Katya De Grunwald
Styling: Selina Lake
All product names and prices correct at time of publication.