As you may have noticed by now, I am kind of an Art Nouveau addict. Even when I just have to go to another town for a birthday party or a trade fair, I can’t resist and take my camera along. Today I needed to be in Delft, so last night I looked up the Art Nouveau objects in the center of town, and made my ‘shopping-list’:
Oude langendijk 2 – De Gruyter
Camaretten 1 – Tile Panels
Havenstraat 16 & 18
Koornmarkt 37 & 39
Voorstaat 85, 87 & 89
Hertog Govertkade 13 & 14
De Lindenhof – Agnetapark
Museum Lambert van Meerten – Tile Panel
After a two-hour stroll, I didn´t get to see all the above addresses, but I did get a good impression of the city. According to one of the websites I used to prepare myself, Delft is Art Nouveau city number 3 in The Netherlands, but I do not agree. There are several objects with Art Nouveau details, but there are certainly more attractive places in The Netherlands for Art Nouveau lovers.
Not on any of the locations did I come across luscious Art Nouveau buildings like you would find in Brussels or Paris. The decorations on the buildings in Delft were interesting though. And what made these architectural decorations interesting? Well, there were many examples of an ‘old’ technique called Opus Sectile, applied on the facades. I had not seen this technique anywhere else before!
Back in 1880 Adolf Le Comte became a designer at Royal Delft (a.k.a. De Porceleyne Fles / Joost Thooft & Labouchère) and later he even made it to artistic leader. Le Comte is said to have ‘reinvented’ Opus Sectile which he applied to tile paneling. Royal Delft then introduced this ‘new’ technique at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris where it was rewarded with a gold medal. Instead of square tiles that showed a general straight cut, the (sectile) designer modeled tiles to the outline of the image, like with stained glass windows.
Being a world-famous city for its porcelain and tiles, it is not strange that this new technique was ‘reinvented’ in Delft. Another possible reason why the technique was reinvented in Delft is the fact that the Polytechnic (currently TU – the University of Technology) was established in Delft in 1863. Teachers like Adolf le Comte (1850-1921) were in principle artists, but they also exercised great influence on the education and the development of Architectural Decorative Art between 1870-1930 in Delft and beyond. Classes included both theory (art history and study of ornaments) and practice (drawing and sculpting). And this should come as no surprise: Le Comte specialized in pottery and stained-glass. One of his students was Jan Toorop, whom we all know.
The tiles for the Opus Sectile tile panels were produced by applying thin layers of colored porcelain on a thicker layer of white porcelain. This is called pâte-sur-pâte technique. The tiles were not glazed in order for the panel to retain a natural appearance. Because of the materials used, the tiles are extremely strong and weather-proof, and excellent for outdoor use. For indoor use, sometimes a glaze was added to give the tiles a more attractive surface. As the materials and the production process were relatively expensive though, the production of Opus Sectile tile panels remained limited.
Also noteworthy is the low number of students for ‘Architectural Decorative Art’. Between 1880 and 1900 the average number of graduating students was one per year! So I think that too explains why we don’t see a lot more of these kind of tile panels today…
In short, Delft absolutely has some interesting features. But in general the Art Nouveau is rather sober… I’ll go back another day so see the buildings I missed today.
To give you an impression of what Delft has to offer:
(Click on any of the pictures below to get a slide show with larger images)
In April 2021, Bart Verbrugge published a book (in Dutch only) on a few very special types of ceramics that were manufactured at the Delft ceramics factory De Porceleyne Fles between 1891 and 1914. These ceramics can be considered most interesting representatives of a revived ceramics production in the Netherlands around 1900. The book describes ornamental ceramics as well as architectural ceramics, such as: Berbas, Reflet métallique, Jacoba, porcelain biscuit and opus sectile. De Porceleyne Fles had a pioneering role with these innovative types of ceramics and can therefore be regarded as the breeding ground for an era of innovation in the Dutch ceramics industry between circa 1890 and 1914. Click on the picture of the book (left) for more information about this new publication.
Adolf Le Comte
Art Nouveau in Delft
Binnentuin De Porceleyne Fles
Collecties Erfgoed Delft en Omstreken
Delta, Magazine van de Technische Universiteit Delft
De maagd van Amsterdam, 1900
Plateelbakkerij De Porceleyne Fles