Art Nouveau/New Objectivity at Prinsenhof, Delft.

Art Nouveau/Nieuwe Zakelikkheid.

If you find yourself in Delft this summer, make a beeline for the Art Nouveau/Nieuwe Zakelikkheid (Art Nouveau/New Objectivity) exhibition at the famous Prinsenhof museum.

This exhibition is not only fascinating in its subject matter, it is beautifully mounted to world class standard. It is of such a richness that it is impossible to name all those who created the explosion of enterprise, coupled with art and exquisite applied crafts.

Between 1880 and 1940, no doubt because of its previous history of the world famous blue and white Delft pottery and the Polytechnic School (now the Technical University, knows as TU), Delft attracted not only creative talents in the arts and crafts, but also men capable of creating a variety of industries all of which commissioned artists to design and illustrate the packaging and publicity.

The smallish town grew into one of the most dynamic centres of applied arts in the Netherlands. It was a time when Strasbourg, changing hands between Germany and France during the same period, also fell under the spell of renewal, of the fin de siècle Zeitgeist. Technology, industry and art collaborated as never before or since. In Delft, Jacques van Marken creator of the Netherlands Oil Factory, commissioned the most beautiful and romantic Art Nouveau posters to advertise his products. Even the crates for the bottles of salad oil were beautifully adorned and are used to great effect in this exhibition to create high partitions as you follow the exhibition. The Dutch nicknamed the Art Nouveau style, the ‘Salad Oil Style’.

There was an important glass studio in the Prinsenhof complex, the creativity of the De Porceleyne Fles was a powerhouse of design and craftsmanship. Although some of the work was inspired by the ground-breaking Bauhaus, this exhibition is still rich in the typical swirling designs for posters as well as the pottery – the recurring images of the lilies and ethereal young women in flowing dresses reminded me of the Pre-Raphaelites. But the influence of Russian experimental graphics such as Kazimir Malevich can be felt in some of the work exhibited.

I loved the giant photographs of the work in both design, art and craft workshops and busy factories – they really transport the viewer right into the midst of where it all happened. One of the factories played, and still plays, a vital role in the town of Delft – the Spiritus and Gist factory. It was the first factory set up by Jacques van Marken, barely out of college in 1869. His oil factory followed in 1883 and Marken’s bold enterprise attracted other industrialists. Unlike today’s industrialists, they had a passion for art and design. They also saw it as their duty to be public benefactors. Their commissions allowed artists, designers and craftsmen to flourish in Delft. The Spiritus and Gist factory can still be seen (and smelled) by anyone finding themselves in the northern end of town – on hot days the tall chimney still pumps out the beery odours of yeast.

There are fabulous, original drawings on show, together with their applications on Delftware and packaging. Hugo Tutein Nolthenius became manager of the Oil Factory in 1898. Not content with commissioning leading artists such as Adolf Compte, Karel Sluyterman, Bram Gips, Jan Toorop and George Henrik Breitner to promote the factory, he also adorned his home on the nearby Nieuwe Plantage with stained-glass windows, one of which, a circular panel not unlike the Rose windows in churches, is in the exhibition – but this one features a design made up of glass bottles.

Don’t miss this breath-taking and excellent exhibition which is a companion to the Art Nouveau in the Netherlands exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag.    Astrid Burchardt    17th May 2018

Art Nouveau/Nieuwe Zakelikkheid runs until 26th August 2018.