At the moment, there’s a splendid exhibition about Dutch Art Nouveau books at Museum Meermanno – House of Books (which is said to be the oldest book museum in the world). The exhibition is the result of a collaboration with the Royal Dutch Library and the Leiden University Libraries, and focusses on 3 forefront artists of Dutch Art Nouveau, a.k.a. Nieuwe Kunst. The exhibition runs until the 23rd of June 2019 in The Hague.
The exquisite binding. Art Nouveau books of Dijsselhof, Lion Cachet and Nieuwenhuis
At the end of the nineteenth century, as a reaction to the rapidly increasing industrialization, the English Arts and Crafts Movement criticized the loss of artistic work and craftsmanship. This loss, they figured, was a result of the mechanization of labor processes. Thereupon, the quality of life of the workers and that of the products they produced, dilapidated quickly. Arts and Crafts artists decided to turn back to pre-industrialization production techniques and reverse the process.
Walter Crane’s book The Claims of Decorative Art (1893), published in Dutch as Kunst en Samenleving (1894), had a major influence on Dutch artists. Initially, they were convinced of the medieval principle that living nature should provide a guiding motive for the decoration of objects and bring them to life. Mathematical designing was rejected as being dead.
But around 1895, based on theosophical beliefs, the conviction that also nature is based on mathematical principles gained ground. This led to a new direction in Dutch design. Art schools played an important role in this as they started teaching students to design on a grit.
The workshop of E.J. van Wisselingh & Co. (1898-1924)
In 1898 art dealer E.J. van Wisselingh set up a furniture workshop for the vanguard artists Dijsselhof, Lion Cachet and Nieuwenhuis. Many well-to-do Dutch had their homes furnished by these three, creating an appropriate and exclusive environment for their artworks. Characteristic of their work is the use of techniques and patterns from folk art, such as wood carving and batik techniques, and motifs from nature.
Klaas Groesbeek, who became the director at Van Wisselingh, was also in charge of Scheltema & Holkema’s Publishers and Bookstores. He already published books, prints and calendars by the three artists. As early as 1893, Dijsselhof had been commissioned to provide a bookbinding for ‘Kunst en Samenleving’, which was to be published a year later. Other publishers that executed their beautiful Art Nouveau books were S.L. van Looy and L.J. Veen from Amsterdam and H. Kleinmann & Co. from Haarlem.
A famous example of the furniture that was executed at Van Wisselingh & Co., was for instance the 1903 stand which Lion Cachet designed for his batiked Rembrandt portfolio. A year later he designed a beautiful rosewood cabinet for the ‘Huldeblijk van Neerlands Handel, Industriaal, Landbouw en Visscherij‘, a series of books for Prince Hendrik. And also Nieuwenhuis designed cabinets for the luxury editions and batiked portfolios that were published at Scheltema & Holkema.
Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof (1866-1924)
Decorative artist Dijsselhof was one of the driving forces behind the Nieuwe Kunst, the Dutch interpretation of Art Nouveau. “One cannot learn to be an artist” he said, “one either has the gift to create, or not. But one can reject the fact that all mechanically created objects that surround us are needlessly lacking a soul. If this continues, if what one takes in, or what the eye sees, is dead and soulless, then where should the artist’s inspiration come from?”
Dijsselhof drew inspiration from nature and traditional folk art. He incorporated these elements into his design for the book that was to be a true manifesto of the Nieuwe Kunst: Kunst en Samenleving (1894). This was Jan Veth’s translation of Walter Crane’s The Claims of Decorative Art. Dijsselhof used images of animals, plants and elements from folk art in the decoration of the band, front cover and vignettes.
During the years 1895-1900, Dijsselhof worked almost exclusively for the Amsterdam skin doctor Willem van Hoorn, creating the interior of the so-called Dijsselhof room. This interior can still be seen at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. In 1903, Dijsselhof left Van Wisselingh to focuss on painting fish and other marine animals which he studied at the Artis aquarium.
Carel Adolph Lion Cachet (1864-1945)
Lion Cachet was a quirky designer with great imagination and courage. Where Nieuwenhuis and Dijsselhof started from the “medieval principles” and depicted the external form of leaves and flowers, Lion Cachet used cross-sections in his ornaments. The first time he did that was in 1893 when he incorporated the whimsical lines of a cut red cabbage into an ornament. The mirrored cross-sections of coal and flowers would always show in his work, on wallpaper, calendars, bindings and certificates.
Lion Cachet had already been experimenting with batik as a student, and in 1895 he was the first to apply batik on parchment. Around 1899 he also started to apply batiks by means of lithography, in order to create a series of prints on parchment.
While experimenting, Lion Cachet always came up with beautiful new designs for book bindings and portfolio’s. Several of them were gifts for members of the Royal Family. The exhibition shows his Sports Album for the Queen, that was gifted to Queen Wilhelmina in 1898, the year of her inauguration. Later that year, the inhabitants of Apeldoorn presented the new Queen a batiked charter on parchment, with a matching casing of batiked parchment and ivory, also by Lion Cachet.
Besides book bindings and covers, he also designed bank notes, ex libris’, posters, furniture, pottery and ship interiors. And in all these disciplines, he always remained faithful to a tight symmetry and his own visual language.
In 1906, Lion Cachet left the furniture workshop of Van Wisselingh; despite his beautiful designs, his contributions had only caused financial losses for the firm.
Theodorus Wilhelmus Nieuwenhuis (1866-1951)
Nieuwenhuis stayed true to the medieval principle, whereby living nature provided the guiding motive in his work on documents, wallpaper, bindings and calendars. The use of materials, such as parchment, and the use of a handwritten letter and decorative borders, also reflected the medieval character of his work.
Nieuwenhuis often created lithographic designs. In 1896 and 1898, he designed the calendars for Scheltema & Holkema. In 1899 and 1900 he did the same, now together with Dijsselhof and Lion Cachet.
In 1897, after two years of work, a luxury edition of Poems by Jacques Perk appeared at S.L. van Looy for which Nieuwenhuis had created no less than fifty(!) lithographs. And while Nieuwenhuis never experimented with batik, in 1906 a colorful series of parchment batik covers was released by S.L. van Looy for the luxury edition of Jan Hofker’s ‘Thoughts and Imaginations’. Nieuwenhuis had made de design, and Van Looy published the luxury edition (only 50 copies) in several different colours.
Nieuwenhuis continued to work for Van Wisselingh’s furniture workshop until 1924. From 1927 he designed ship interiors for the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij (KNSM) and the Vereenigde Nederlandsche Scheepvaartmaatschappij (VNS) until blindness made it impossible for him to work.
More Batik Book Covers
There is one more famous Dutch artist who created a lot of exquisite batik book covers and I would not dare to skip his work in this review. His name was Chris Lebeau. Personally, I thought the most beautiful book in the exhibition was the book he created for the 80th birthday of the painter Jozef Israëls. Batik on parchment on the outside, with white parchment pages – full with signatures of friends and colleagues – on the inside.
At the end of the exhibition was one more showcase. It contained work of a contemporary artist, graphic designer Hansje van Halem (1987), which I found an excellent match. Van Halem seems to be working in a similar way as the designers of the Nieuwe Kunst: by repeating, turning, doubling and mirroring (natural) elements on a grit she creates decorative patterns. The difference is, that Van Halem uses a contemporary medium: a computer. Interesting to mention is, that her work decorates some publications of Ernst Braches, who is considered THE expert on Dutch Art Nouveau / Nieuwe Kunst-books.
For this exhibition a special edition of the magazine De Boekenwereld was published with 11 very interesting and abundantly illustrated articles about the exhibition. One of the articles was also published online at Anno1900. The curators of the exhibition, Freek Heijbroek and Kasper van Ommen, also wrote an excellent recap in Leeslint, the museum’s newsletter. (all in Dutch)
Exhibition ‘The exquisite binding. Art Nouveau books of Dijsselhof,
Lion Cachet and Nieuwenhuis’ at Museum Meermanno, The Hague
22 March – 23 June 2019
Still not enough of Dutch Art Nouveau / Nieuwe Kunst Books? Head over to the website of my dear friend Sipke van de Peppel who is specialising in Dutch Art Nouveau books at Anno1900.nl. Sipke is also working on an English website about his Art Nouveau books at DutchBookDesign.com.
Title: De Bijzondere Band
Published: March 2019
Illustrations: full colour
To order online: click here
Leeslint 29-57: De bijzondere band PDF (Dutch)
Sportalbum 1898 in de collectie van het Koninklijk Huis
Argusvlinder’s blog: Art Nouveau in Meermanno (Dutch)
Argusvlinder’s blog: Een bijzondere band met Art Nouveau (Dutch)
De Boekenwereld 35.1 – De Bijzondere Band (Dutch)
Website Hansje van Halem
Heruitgave Sportalbum 1898
Website Koninklijke verzamelingen (The Royal Collections)