Art Nouveau in the Netherlands in The Hague

Plenty of visitors, including me, still rave about the Art Deco and Paul Poiret exhibition at The Hague’s Gemeente Museum. The exhibition, now closed, raised expectations high for Art Nouveau in the Netherlands. This exhibition recently opened at the same museum.

Art Nouveau flourished roughly between 1890 to 1910. It went by various names in various countries and involved art, architecture and applied art. Its roots lay in Asian art (e.g. Japanese prints), the British Arts and Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as 19th century books on architecture and design.

Who has not heard of Horta, Lalique, Tiffany, Gallé, Guimard, Daum, van de Velde, Gaudí, Mackintosh, Klimt and many others. Posters designed by Mucha, Steinlen and Beardsley remain popular and continue to sell. But bubbly, swirling, dynamic and colourful Art Nouveau – in staid, dour, dull Holland?

Yes: Holland had its Art Nouveau period. However, the Dutch style was subdued. Moreover, not much remains and plenty architectural traces continue to be obliterated during ‘renovations’.

Searching for architectural traces in towns and looking at work displayed in this exhibition, one can not but conclude, the Dutch version is fairly staid. It is closer to German Jugendstil and Austrian Secession, than the exuberant versions of Belgium or France.

According to the museum “… art nouveau in the Netherlands is striving for the ‘true’, the ‘real’, the original. The revaluation of crafts, the reform of drawing education, the great appreciation for the perfect and unspoilt nature, and the fascination for exotic, ‘unspoilt’ cultures; the urge for renewal and idealism go hand in hand with the search for authenticity.” Dutch authenticity – with an occasional much needed dose of Indonesian art.

The museum focuses on the period 1884 – 1914. Artists include Jan Toorop, van den Bosch, Sipkema, Theo Nieuwenhuis, Jan Eisenloeffel, Johan Thorn Prikker, Karel de Bazel, Berlage. Visitors should not forget, the museum building was designed by Berlage.

The over 350 exhibited objects include posters, a great many book covers, drawings and prints of plants and animals, furniture, clocks, a few reform dresses, etc. Objects are displayed around themes like ”Return to Nature’, ‘Longing for the East’.

Anything produced by the The Hague eggshell porcelain and pottery factory Rozenburg remains exquisite. Created by leading designers, these works remain highly prized and much sought after. The factory became world famous with work displayed at the World Exhibition of 1900. As the exhibition explains: its unique, hand-painted products explored the limit of what was possible in producing porcelain.

There are other interesting objects but … This exhibition does not bowl one over like the preceding Art Deco – Paul Poiret one. It does not delight like the Max Liebermann exhibition, located opposite.

Local visitors detected art nouveau traces, where there were none. Some raved, but I did not. Expectations were perhaps raised too high; or blame regular visits to Brussels’ impressive Fin de Siècle Museum.

This exhibition serves as an introduction to Dutch Art Nouveau, after which a visit to Brussels’ Fin de Siècle museum is strongly recommended. The Antwerp Tourist Office has a leaflet with an Art Nouveau walk through Zurenborg. Or take a guided Art Nouveau walk through Brussels. You will be impressed.  Kate Den   9th May 2018

The Hague Gemeente Museum Art Nouveau in the Netherlands runs till 28th of October 2018


Photo courtesy of the Museum