I am looking at the Century Vase. I read about some coins last week I think were designed by this sculptor; do you have any other pieces by this artist in the Museum?
Yes, the Century Vase was made by a German sculptor, Karl Mueller, who was commissioned by the Union Porcelain Works (in Brooklyn!). The Brooklyn Museum owns a few other items by Karl Mueller in our Decorative Arts collection, including a tea set, some smaller vases, and figurines. I do not see any coins, however.
Was this an advertisement?
At the Centennial Exposition of 1876, all United States manufacturers realized that they were going to be displayed along side their European competitors. Union Porcelain Works knew it had to put it's best foot forward and so hired Karl Mueller as their artistic director to make large, impressive objects with American themes specifically for their display. And this vase is one of those objects! So yes, in a way it was an advertisement for the United States, promoting the history and advancement of the young country to visitors from around the world, as well as displaying the skill of American craftspeople.
What is this?
The Century Vase was made for the United States' Centennial in 1876. You may notice that the vignettes and symbols used relate important ideas about the US at the time. The animals depicted are all native to North America, for example. One of the scenes painted around the middle of the vase features a woman at a sewing machine, indicating the industrial spirit of the young country; another shows men installing telegraph poles, a sign of the United States’ technological advancements. The grisaille, or monochrome, decorations around the bottom are a (somewhat fabricated) representation of historic scenes, such as William Penn’s meeting with the Lenape and the Boston Tea Party.
This is cool, what's it for? Holding flowers?
No, actually! Although the word 'vase' in the title would make you believe that. It was actually a sort of advertisement for the US during the country's centennial. It was put on display to showcase important ideas and innovations happening at the time, 1870s, in the United States. If you look closely at the vignettes you might see such distinctly "American" scenes as a large industrial mill and a steamboat.
Can you tell me more about this?
The Century Vase is one of many decorative arts objects produced in commemoration of the United States' 100th birthday. It was designed by Karl L.H. Mueller and produced by Union Porcelain Works which used to be in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
If you look closely, you will see many "American" scenes in those vignettes. This served as a sort of advertisement for all of the innovations happening in the US at the time---there are various farming scenes with new kinds of equipment, for example, and an industrial ceramics workshop perhaps similar to the one that produced this vase!
Thank you for the information!
Tell me more.
That is the "Century Vase," made for the United States Centennial anniversary in 1876.
I bet you spotted the silhouette of George Washington already! If you keep looking, you will see many scenes from American history and images of American innovations including the sewing machine and telegraph poles! This work was meant to be publicly displayed and to act as a sort of advertisement for America's past, present, and future at that 100-year mark.
It was shown in Philadelphia in 1876, in a big exhibition that was open to the public to mark the Centennial. It had buildings and booths dedicated to various industries and trades, to art, etc. It was the first World's Fair held in the United States!
That's awesome! Super cool!
I agree! It was a major attraction. It took 10 years to plan, and it was held in the area that is present-day Fairmount Park.
How did the Brooklyn museum acquire it?
It was a gift from the descendants of the man who founded Union Porcelain Works, the Brooklyn-based company that made it.
What was happening in American history at the time to inspire the themes in the vase?
The "Century Vase" by Karl Mueller, was made to celebrate the 100th birthday of America. Each vignette shows a different aspect of American history and culture. It was displayed at the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876.
It also showcases innovations, such as the telegraph and the sewing machine, that the United States made compared to its European counterparts in the 100 years since gaining independence. If you look closely, you can see them depicted throughout the vessel.