Art nouveau stained glass has many characteristics that are common to the art nouveau movement, such as organic figures and curved lines. In the United States, the glassmaker, Louis Tiffany, experimented with many new glassmaking techniques that made some art nouveau stained glass especially easy to identify. The art nouveau movement strove to make decorative arts just as important as the fine arts, so everyday items, such as windows, were transformed into works of art.
Popular from the late 1800s until the World War I, a trademark of this art nouveau was the use of curved lines, used to create organic figures. Floral motifs, such as vines, grasses, and leaves, were also not uncommon. Ornamented and extravagant animal figures were often depicted as were female forms with long flowing hair and wearing draped garments.
The makers of art nouveau believed that all objects could be artwork. Even functional objects, such as furniture, cookware, and home lighting were considered to be of equal artistic value to paintings and drawings. Stained glass windows fell into this category of both functional and decorative pieces, so art nouveau stained glass was not only reserved for monumental buildings, like churches, but was also created for use in the home.
In the United States, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the leader in art nouveau stained glass. Tiffany broke away from traditional methods of glass production and embraced techniques that created new styles of glass. Tiffany's company developed colored glass to create its pieces rather than use the traditional method of painting clear glass. Experiments in creating textured glass in order to give the appearance of depth or character, not through painting, but with the glass itself, were also done. Tiffany also placed layers of glass over one another to create the illusion of depth and movement.
These aspects of Tiffany's glass were not common to all art nouveau stained glass. Tiffany and other American glass artists are most known for their experimental styles and extravagant use of opalescent glass, textured glass, and layered glass. Artists from other countries used these techniques more conservatively if at all. While these characteristics are typical of some stained glass, not identify all art nouveau stained glass was produced using the same techniques. Instead, artistic elements such as the curved line and organic figures are more reliable markings of art nouveau stained glass.