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On my ‘Journey into getting to know Art Nouveau’ I come across many different kinds of decorations. I have mentioned the Sgraffito before, and this time I would like to dig a little bit deeper into the story behind Art Nouveau tiles. The tiles of a pottery called “Plateelbakkerij Holland”, from Utrecht, in particular.

Forget-me-nots-Tile GreenPoppyTile ArtNouveauFlowersTile

Many Art Nouveau buildings have a tile panel adorning their facade. But tiles were also used to decorate floors and walls, and not only in bathrooms. Tiles can be found anywhere in Art Nouveau houses: around fire places, in lobbies and staircases, in kitchens and bathrooms, in hallways, on porches, around front doors and… well, practically anywhere! Tiles were definitely popular (again) in the period around 1900.

You can see some really nice examples of the use of Art Nouveau tiles at the website of the Dutch Tile Museum:

Source: Nederlands Tegel Museum

The ceramics used for Art Nouveau tiles is called ‘Plateel’ in Dutch. The word Plateel comes from the old French word ‘platel’ which meant ‘plate, dish or platter’. Plateel was a type of earthenware that was decorated by a painter, before it was baked a second time. From the 17th century onwards, the term ‘Plateel’ was used to distinguish ‘Hollandse Majolica’ and ‘Delft Faience’ from ‘Chinese Porcelain’. Nowadays, all porous ceramics formed in molds and fitted with a layer of enamel, whether painted or not, are called Plateel.

Miffy Blue DelftThe famous ‘plateelbakkerijen’, potteries, were located in Delft, Gouda and Rotterdam. Most of those potteries have disappeared, but some of them still exist, even today, and are famous all over the world. After all, who hasn’t heard of the famous Delft pottery ‘De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles’ or Royal Delft?

In one of my previous posts, the one about the Hallincqhof, I have shown you the delicate tile panel that is located in the top of the facade of the building. This tile panel was produced by “Plateelbakkerij Holland”, in Utrecht. Plateelbakkerij Holland peaked around 1900 thanks to the Art Nouveau revival of the tile, but as Art Nouveau lost it’s popularity again when WWI commenced, the need for luxurious tile panels disappeared as well. Production stopped in 1917, and the firm was liquidated in 1918. Plateelbakkerij Holland no longer exists.

Ceramic Tile Panel 1902

Handpainted Ceramic Tile Panel 1902 by Pottery “Holland”

In 1894, Jan Willem Mijnlieff (1862-1940) bought the former brick factory “Holland” from bankrupt Hubertus Schillemans, who had just began the build of a modern faience and tile factory on the same plot. Mijnlieff completed the modernisation, but decided to keep the old brick factory in operation as well.

In the same period, a large number of new potteries was rapidly founded: “Wed. Brantjes and Co.” (1895, Purmerend), “De Distel” (1895, Amsterdam), “Lotus” (1896 Watergraafsmeer), “Plateelbakkerij Delft” (1897, Amsterdam) and “Zuid Holland” (1898, Gouda). All these new companies were to a greater or lesser extent reflecting the success of “Royal Delft” (1653, Delft), and “Plateelbakkerij Rozenburg” (1883, The Hague). These two were the only potteries in the Netherlands where the latest technology was combined with artistically quality handicraft. Mijnlieff managed to connect three experienced painters and designers from “Rozenburg” to his company: William Scherjon (employment 1895-?), John Charles Leurs (employment 1896-1903) and Jan Karel Heijtze (employment 1896-1913).

Tile paneling by Plateelbakkerij Holland, Utrecht

Plateelbakkerij Holland was one of the few factories that had a modern tile-press. Under great pressure, tiles were pressed from powderclay, which made them much harder and stronger than the tiles shaped from malleable clay. During the first years, the tiles were mainly used to make reproductions of paintings from popular masters. Also series of tiles with regional costumes from villages like Marken, Volendam and Scheveningen were produced.  And particularly  beautiful are a series of tiles with stylized flowers, such as poppies, with butterflies.

Tile paneling by Plateelbakkerij Holland, Utrecht Tile paneling by Plateelbakkerij Holland, Utrecht

Everything changed when designer Jac. (Jacob Pieter) van den Bosch started working for the company (employment 1898-1900) as a salesperson. Van den Bosch, absolutely against the wishes of his boss, created modern designs, inspired by nature, and got lots of orders. Threatening to go to the competitors, he made Mijnlieff produce his designs. And that proved to be a great success. His tiles with decors as “Waterkip” and “Cornflower”, for which he got his inspiration from Voysey’s (Arts & Crafts) Bird & Tulip wallpaper design, still adorn the porches of many homes built around 1900.

Waterkip, tile design by Jac. van den Bosch Korenbloem, tile design by Jac. van den Bosch

“Plateelbakkerij Holland” also got many larger assignments, such as decorative walls and tile panels for shop interiors. And it so happens to be that I ran into a beautiful example of a tile panel last week, in Leiden. It is kinda like a 1900 billboard for a luxury clothing store. As you can see from the beautiful tile panel in my picture, it is totally justifiable that “Plateelbakkerij Holland” was rewarded for its artistic quality and its technical implementation at the World Exhibition of 1900 in Paris, France.

Tile Panel by 'Holland'

Leiden- Nieuwe Rijn 8 (1900/1906)
Architect W.C. Mulder
Tile Panel by Pottery ‘Holland’, Utrecht

The kind of earthenware “Plateelbakkerij Holland” produced is called Faience (or Faïence). Faience is also known as glazed architectural terra-cotta. It is a fine type of pottery with an opaque white glaze layer, to make it look like Chinese porcelain. (When in doubt whether a piece of ceramic is porcelain or faience, you should see if there is a chip off. Is the ceramic inside brown or beige, it’s faience. A shard of real porcelain is always white.)

The piece of pottery is first baked in the oven at 900-1000 degrees Celsius (biscuit). It is then topped with a glaze with lead and tin oxides and baked again. In the second layer the oxides make a connection with the potassium in the clay. This gives the pottery a white appearance. Lead oxide provides an extra shine. The pottery can be decorated beforehand with an “underglaze paint”. This is applied prior to the ceramic getting baked for the second time. The painting merges during the baking process with the glaze and is burned-in, so-to-say. Corrections are not possible. And thanks to this solid production process, we can still enjoy the beautiful tiles today, more than 100 years later!

Holland, Faience en Tegelfabriek N.V.

Beroepen van Vroeger
Collectie Gelderland
Collectors Weekly
De Collectie Holland: Het Boek
Europeana: Explore Europe’s Cultural Collections
HKTH – Stichting Historische Kring Tolsteeg-Hoograven
Holland Utrecht Pottery for Sale
Jacob Pieter van den Bosch