Exhibition: ‘Art Nouveau in the Netherlands’

Plenty visitors, me included, loved the recent Art Deco & Paul Poiret exhibition at The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum. This exhibition, now closed, raised expectations high for ‘Art Nouveau in the Netherlands’, at the same museum.

Art Nouveau flourished internationally roughly between 1890 to 1910. It went by various names in various countries. It involved art, architecture, applied art – and more.

Its roots lay in Asian art (f.i. Japanese prints), the British Arts & Crafts movement and Pre-Raphaelites, as well as architecture manuals like one written by French Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

Who does not know Horta, Lalique, Tiffany, Gallé, Guimard, van de Velde, Klimt and many other artists creating work in this international style. Posters designed by Mucha, Steinlen, Beardsley and others continue to be popular. Art Nouveau sells – as an exhibition at the Amsterdam Hermitage in 2007 showed.

Art Nouveau in the Netherlands?

But Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Liberty and dour, dull Holland? Surprise: the Netherlands did have its Art Nouveau phase. However, it never erupted into a full-blown hype as in say Paris, Brussels, Vienna and plenty other places.

A screen in the exhibition

The Dutch version is also more subdued. Examples seem closer to German and Austrian versions of the international style. No Horta, Mucha, Lalique here!

The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum focuses on the period 1884 – 1914 and places whatever it exhibits ‘in a broader context’. By stretching the period, objects are included which pre- and post-date the eruption of Art Nouveau on the international scene. Having to do this, already should have rung alarm-bells.

Over 350 objects in this exhibition include works by artists like Jan Toorop, van den Bosch, Anna Sipkema, Theo Nieuwenhuis, Jan Eisenloeffel, Johan Thorn Prikker, Karel de Bazel, Berlage and other Dutch artists and designers. No – I was unfamiliar with these names as well.

Much exhibited, consists of prints, book covers, posters, some furniture and the occasional fashion example. After all: like the term Art Nouveau, fashion lures visitors. Never mind: the museum created an ‘interdisciplinary exhibition’. Displays are grouped according to a ‘Return to Nature’, ‘Longing for the East’, or other themes.

It does not sparkle

As the museum states: Art Nouveau sparkles – usually. But in dour, dull Holland? Well … though the country was surrounded by other countries which had their own interpretation of the style … thing did not exactly froth, bubble, swirl.

The museum mentions contemporary Dutch remarks like: “… kant-nog-wal-rakende wulpschheid van de Belgen of de opdirkingskunst van de Duitsers“. Translated diplomatically: senseless and baseless voluptuousness of Belgian [artists] or overly hoisted-up art by the Germans”. Holland’s mud and heavy clay were no fertile soil for the bubbly, innovative style.

Whenever an object in this exhibition ‘sparkles’ – it turns out to be either by a Dutch artist copying a foreign leading artist, is by a non-Dutch artist. Take visitors gushing over the ‘only Dutch Art Nouveau villa in the Netherlands’ – who simply erase the fact from their minds, van de Velde was not Dutch.

No surprise then, this exhibition delights visitors who have never wandered around museums or towns, filled to overflowing with real, authentic Art Nouveau and Jugendstil. Art Nouveau and Jugendstil fans visiting it, run the risk of being sorely disappointed.

Rozenburg egg-shell porcelain

The only truly interesting exhibits are examples of the egg-shell porcelain created by The Hague’s Rozenburg Pottery. It’s designer Theo Colenbrander created truly ‘sparkling’ works. Hardly surprising, items still fetch high prices and are much sought-after. The company was forced to resort to creating tiles – to prevent bankruptcy – and folded in 1916.

Art Nouveau addict? Visit Brussels

Interested in a museum full of Art Nouveau and not too far away from the Netherlands, Germany, France? Visit Brussels’ fabulous Fin de Siècle museum!

Brussels’ Fin de Siècle Museum shares an entrance with Brussels’ Musée des Beaux Arts. The Fin de Siècle museum offers visitors floor after floor of the real thing: Art Nouveau, Jugenstil, Szecession – in the right context, with examples from all art-forms.The Hague’s exhibition palls compared with it.

The Hague Gemeentemuseum: Art Nouveau in the Netherlands closes 28th of October 2018
Brussels Musée Fin-de-Siècle
Brussels Horta Museum
Brussels’ Art Nouveau & Art Deco bi-annual Festival is scheduled to take place in 2019.

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