According to his Wikipage, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (1834–1919) was a German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology.
Now, what’s interesting for us is the fact that in 1904 Haeckel published the book Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature) that included over 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations of animals and sea creatures. Moreover, these illustrations inspired many Art Nouveau artists like Émile Gallé, Hendrik Petrus Berlage and René Lalique, all of whom owned a copy of the book. Kunstformen der Natur bridged the gap between science and art.
The exhibition A Sea of Glass at the National Glass Museum includes a lot of large Haeckel posters as well as artworks inspired by these posters. A prominent example is Het Scheepvaarthuis, currently known as the Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam, that served as a modern office complex for six shipping companies. In 1912/1913 Johan Melchior van der Meij was asked to design the complex with references to the rich maritime tradition of the Netherlands.
With the idea of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ in mind, Van der Meij invited many like-minded artists. Interior designer Theo Nieuwenhuis (1866-1951) used Haeckel’s forms almost literally when he designed a wallpaper with sea creatures. Willem Bogtman (1882-1955) designed the stained glass windows with seahorses, jellyfish and starfish, also inspired by Kunstformen illustrations. And Michel de Klerk (1884-1923) let Haeckels spiny brittle stars inspire him when he designed the pendant lights.
Other beautiful works of art featured in the exhibition are for instance below designs by Berlage (1856-1934). Berlage owned a copy of Kunstformen der Natur and saw endless possibilities for jewellery, tilepanels, wallpapers and lamps. Unfortunately none of his designs were executed until, in 1927, the Amsterdam wallpaper manufacturer ‘Rath & Doodeheefver’ got permission to take four of Berlage’s 1905 wallpaper designs into production. The Ciliata design for example was available in five colorways and also the Ophiodea was realised.
Of course the exhibition wouldn’t be complete without the world famous Andries Dirk Copier (1901-1991) and Christiaan Johannes (Chris) Lanooy (1881-1948), but also contemporary artists like Catharine Coleman, Paula Arntzen and Eibert Draisma – who have clearly been inspired by Haeckel – contributed some interesting pieces.
I´ll say it one more time. If you have the opportunity, you must go see this exhibition! Haeckel’s posters are beautiful, fascinating and inspiring. And the artifacts based on his posters are just amazing!
Architectenweb – Het Scheepvaarthuis
Behang & Berlage
Kunstformen der Natur – download the complete book in PDF!
Kunstformen der Natur – view posters as zoomable images
National Glassmuseum Leerdam
Wikipage Ernst Haeckel
Wikipage Het Scheepvaarthuis
Rath en Doodeheefver