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A few weeks ago I received an incredibly interesting book in the mail. The book is called Two Dutch architects in Paris – Johannes Jansen & Eduard Niermans, Trendsetters in the Belle Epoque. Written by Jan Kees Kokke, a well-known Dutch journalist, the book is painstakingly researched and well documented. I read the book during my summer vacation in France, and I couldn’t have chosen a nicer place to read the book! Because, without planning it, I actually ‘bumped into’ one of Niermans’ buildings at Châtel-Guyon. And that would have been a lot harder back home in The  Netherlands!

As a Dutch native, I hear it a lot: Do you have Art Nouveau in The Netherlands? Or even worse: We don’t have Art Nouveau in The Netherlands. And because of that, it has become more or less my personal mission to tell the world (including my fellow-Dutchmen) that we díd have great Art Nouveau artists back in 1900. Now, this new book (unfortunately only available in Dutch at the moment) proves what I have been saying all along: the Dutch have produced some éxcellent Art Nouveau artists! The thing with these two is though, that they moved to Paris at a very young age and no-one in The Netherlands seems to know about them anymore. And that really is a shame. A bit of chauvinistic pride wouldn’t harm us, as Jansen and Niermans have absolutely left some monumental traces in Paris, at the Côte d’Azur, and way beyond…

Hotel Negresco in Nice, ontworpen door Eduard Niermans. © Jan Kees Kokke

Hotel Negresco in Nice, by Eduard Niermans. © Jan Kees Kokke

The book tells us about the lives of Johannes Jansen (born 24-10-1854 in Amsterdam) and Eduard Niermans (born 30-5-1859 in Enschede), two young men eager to conquer the world. Johannes was 26 years when he moved to Paris in 1880. And Eduard was only 24 when he left for Paris 3 years later. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like, to move from a relatively small Dutch city to the overwhelming hustle and bustle of the city of lights, the city of the Expositions Universelles. Yet both young men took to Paris like ducks take to water; they mingled with the bohemian avant-garde artists at Montmartre as well as with the worlds aristocratic crème-de-la-crème at the Rue Royale. Eduard changed his name to Édouard, and Johannes changed his’ to Jean-Henri. Et voilà!

The interior of Brasserie Mollard, designed by Eduard Niermans.

While I enjoyed reading the book during my summer vacation in France, one thing became crystal clear: the importance of connections and networking. Kokke has meticulously mapped the relationships that helped Niermans and Jansen become the architects of the elite, the designers of the royals and the trendsetters of the Belle Époque. And by doing so he confirmed that Jansen and Niermans knew their way around in France like no other Dutchman probably ever did.

Eduard Niermans, Le maître de l’Art Nouveau

Eduard Niermans 1895, photo by Pierre Petit

Eduard Niermans 1895, photo by Pierre Petit

Eduard Niermans (1859-1928) rented his first apartment at Rue Lepic 48, the oldest street in Montmartre, where he lived next to Theo & Vincent van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, and Bonnard. Through Theo van Gogh, Niermans also got to know Gauguin, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley and Renoir (with whom he remained friends until Renoir died in 1919). Niermans also became a member of the ‘Nederlandsche Vereeniging Aneas‘ in Paris. This Dutch charity organisation was founded by Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt, who happened to be the founder of the Automobile Club de France too. Van Zuylen and his insanely wealthy wife Hélène de Rothschild invited Niermans to their castle where in turn he met other wealthy people. Like Alexandre Darracq, who would later finance his biggest commission, the hotel Negresco in Nice. Niermans was also well at home among the members of the Dutch Protestant Congregation in Paris, which is how he got involved with the Dutch section of the 1889 Exposition Universelle: beer brewer Gerard Heineken, chocolate producer Casparus van Houten Jr. and Bols distiller Christiaan Moltzer.

Bols Poster by Henri Privat-Livemont (1901) Van Houten Poster by J.G. van Caspel (1899) Salon d'Automne 1903 poster

His accomplishments at the Exposition Universelle then led to his commissions for Émile and Vincent Isola, and Charles and Émile Pathé. He got involved with the Folies Bergère, the Moulin Rouge and many, many more projects. One project led to the next and soon he was building luxurious hotels all over the world. From Paris to Nice and Monte Carlo, from Biarritz to Madrid to Moscow. With Hôtel Negresco undoubtedly as his pièce de résistance, Eduard Niermans became the ‘Mâitre de l’Art Nouveau’ who was, according to Le Figaro “born in The Netherlands by a mistake of Nature!”

Paris 1914 Moulin Rouge Niermans' Villas at Mers-les-Bains

Johannes Jansen, Officier de la Légion d’Honneur

Johannes Jansen 1904

Johannes Jansen 1904

Soon after his arrival in Paris Johannes Jansen (1854-1928) settled at the Rue Royale where jeweler Georges Fouquet became his neighbour. Fouquet asked Jansen to design a ‘modern’ interior for his new shop and Jansen hired many craftsmen, including Alphonse Mucha (of all people!), to create an Art Nouveau masterpiece. Today, the interior is installed in its entirety at Musée Carnavalet in Paris. Many other famous establishments opened at Rue Royale and Jansen became the ‘Président du Comité de la Rue Royale’. Economic prosperity and royal weddings caused palaces and villas to need new interiors. And wedding gifts from all over the world were ordered from Maison Jansen.

Interior of Fouquet's jewellery shop designed by Alphonse Mucha

Interior of Fouquet’s jewellery shop designed by Alphonse Mucha

Jansen was one of the founders of the Salon d’Automne in 1903. And shortly after that, the French government even appointed him Commissaire-Général for the Buenos Aires World fair. Understanding the opportunities in Argentina, Jansen opened his first foreign branch in Buenos Aires, soon to be followed by branches in London, New York, Havana, Caïro, Rome, Milano, Prague, Genoa and São Paulo. And from the long list of projects in Kokke’s book it becomes clear that it would be very hard to find a famous hotel or estate that was nót decorated by Maison Jansen. From the castles of the kings of Belgium, Portugal and Egypt, to the White House and Buckingham Palace, to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the villas of the Rothschilds and President Tito, to the interiors of steamships and banks. Jansen decorated them all!

Both Dutch, of course our heroes met and worked together on quite a few occasions! But their most interesting common project was probably ‘Les Ateliers’. For his rapidly expanding business, Jansen asked Niermans to create him a new building including enough space for ateliers, workshops, administration, expedition, and storage of materials and finished products. That way, every new commission could be coördinated from one and the same location. Les Ateliers Jansen, at 48-50 rue Saint Sabin, would offer workspace for hundreds of craftsmen, designers and office staff.

Now, why were these two Dutch men so successful in Paris? one may ask. I think the clue is in the book as well. Kokke quotes Niermans saying in Bouwkundig Weekblad (Architecture Weekly) that he is highly surprised by the attitude of the French workers. “They are rude, foul-mouthed, and arrogant towards their patron.” Jansen was praised by his former employees for being able to give his customers a feeling of importance. And these traits, I believe, may be typically Dutch. The famous Dutch saying “De Klant is Koning” basically means “Customer is King”. No matter how big or small the commission, real King or no king at all, Jansen and Niermans always stayed involved personally, and nothing was too much for them. And as a result they were respected by the elite as equals rather than ’employees’, these two Dutch architects in Paris…

Photography supplied courtesy of Jan Kees Kokke

Twee Hollandse architecten in Parijs by Jan Kees KokkeTitle: Johannes Jansen & Eduard Niermans
Subtitle: Twee Hollandse Architecten in Parijs, Trendsetters in de Belle Epoque
Author: Jan Kees Kokke
Language: Dutch
ISBN: 9789082779004

You can order the book for €24,50 (incl. postage) from Bol.com by clicking here, or directly from the publisher at uitgeverij.belle.epoque@gmail.com

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