Strolling through Leiden a couple of weeks ago, I walked right into this building with its stunning Art Nouveau facade. I was surprised by the sheer size of the sgraffiti, as they cover practically the whole facade of the building! Where most Art Nouveau facades are decorated with tile panels and metal constructions, this one is decorated with a 3 story high sgraffito and that is exactly what makes this Art Nouveau facade such a rare one.
Back home, it turned out to be rather difficult to find information about the building, other than the name of the owner, and the function of the building back in 1896. But I did find someone who does know more about this building: Drs. Claudia Thunnissen. Claudia Thunnissen studied Art History at Leiden University and now has her own agency ‘Kunst en Cultuur’. She finds it important to transfer her enthusiasm for art and cultural history to a wide audience. By writing about it, doing research, advising on cultural heritage, by making exhibitions and films, by setting up projects, events and activities. So one evening I gathered all my courage and called her, hoping she would help me a little further with this project. And she did. She even sent me the above picture of the building, as the picture I took two weeks ago was showing the building partially in scaffolding.
Here’s what I learned. In 1896 E. Noack opened a shop for sausages and charcuterie at Breestraat 65, Leiden. The new brick facade got an asymmetrical parapet with consoles. The wooden storefront, which was not designed in the same style, was demolished in 1966 and replaced by a new one. According to the official report (RM515124) the abundant sgraffiti were added around 1905. They are mostly figurative scenes that refer to the original function of the shop, and decorative borders with stylized flowers (Irises) and so-called whiplashes, in line with what was considered modern and fashionable in those days. In 1913 J.J. Taverne took over the shop, gaining the clientele of the popular E. Noack. The decorations disappeared in 1934 when the facade was painted white by yet another new owner, Makeup artist Piet van der Pijl. In 1996, after consultation between ‘Stichting Tegenbeeld’, Leiden city and the current owner of the building ‘De Slegte’, Claudia Thunnissen took colour-samples and painter Peter Huntjens removed the white paint. The facade was restored, and the sgraffiti were given back their original colours.
The two decorations in the top (currently behind the scaffolding) are figurative representations in ocher on an ultramarine background. The one on the left is showing children negotiating the sale of a pig and the one on the right is a representation of children slaughtering a pig and making sausages. The facade was a stunning contemporary business card as sausages were what E. Noack was famous for.
The German immigrant E. Noack started a small company in Groningen in 1879. He must have been very successful at it, as in 1884 he could build a large factory at the Emmasingel. His company bought ham and bacon from the butchers, smoked it and preserved it. E. Noack’s charcuterie was very popular in The Netherlands, but a lot of canned meat was exported too. Browsing old newspaper archives results in countless advertisements for E. Noack’s sausages and canned meats, from all over the world!
In the period up to 1964/65 many pre-war independent companies were taken over by the leading companies; E. Noack was taken over by Zwanenberg-Organon. Later, in 1970, Unilever acquired the integrated meat processing interests of Akzo, grouped in the Zwanenberg-Organon food division. This was the largest post-war merger in the Dutch meat processing industry.
I find it extraordinary that this beautiful sgraffito facade can be admired again, after it has been hidden behind white paint for more than 60 years, thanks to a handful of passioned people like Claudia Thunnissen and Peter Huntjens.