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Due to the Corona-pandemic, this exhibition kept being postponed time and again. But after almost a year of waiting, I have finally made it to Amsterdam. In the mean time I have read the catalogue twice so I can now check this wonderful opportunity to indulge off my list. If you have not yet visited this wonderful show: It’s on at the Allard Pierson in Amsterdam until 24 October 2021, after which it will travel to the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe (18 Dec 2021 – 24 April 2022) and the State Museum of Braunschweig (13 Oct 2022 – 9 April 2023), in Germany.

Entrance to the exhibition Goddesses of Art Nouveau 2021 Amsterdam

1900, Heinrich Kindervater, Landesmuseum Braunschweig

Goddesses of Art Nouveau

Goddesses of Art Nouveau presents the first exhibition in the Netherlands devoted to the Art Nouveau fascination for the female figure. Women were both the dream and nightmare of a gene­ration of artists who sought to escape reality during the Fin-de-Siècle. They were deployed as contemporary symbols and represented something greater than themselves. They personified higher ideals, human emotions or timeless virtues. Goddesses of Art Nouveau presents these allegorical figures within the context of social developments of the time.

Art Nouveau set the tone in Europe and beyond between 1890 and 1914, and drew most of its inspiration from nature. Buildings, interiors and decorative objects featured organic shapes and were adorned with motifs derived from flora and fauna. Moreover, the imagery was overflowing with beautiful females whose elegant bodies and long flowing hair were borrowed from antiquity, Byzantine icons and medieval legends. These divine-looking women were worlds away though, from the contemporary society in which the first feminists were campaigning for education, the right to vote, and careers of their own.

Gobelin E. Burne-Jones & William Morris

1896 Tapestry by Sir E. Burne-Jones & W. Morris; produced by Merton Abbey Mills in 1901, Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Women demanded education and employment, social participation and political participation. The first girls’ high schools opened. The first female students enrolled at universities. And despite difficult conditions, women dared to set up their own businesses as freelance artists. They literally got rid of old corsets, designed reform clothes that allowed more freedom of movement, and got active in sports. Dancers like Loïe Fuller and theater actresses like Sarah Bernhardt stood on the stages of the European metropoles, enchanted their audience and, not least because of the poster art of well-known Art Nouveau artists, achieved the status of living icons.

1902, Gertrude Käsebier - The Sketch

1902, Photograph by Gertrude Käsebier – The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter Ruyl Drawing), Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

All these different facets of the female figure, all the female clichés, are addressed in different sections of the exhibition, under the following titles:

1900, Alfons Mucha, La Nature, Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

  • Body versus Mind
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Corporate Identities
  • Peasant Girls and City Maidens
  • The Fairy Light
  • Figureheads
  • Muses for Women
  • The Universal Body

I have utterly enjoyed visiting the exhibition though I must admit there were not many new items on show for me personally. Many objects had already been displayed in 2018 at the exhibition Art Nouveau in the Netherlands. Or they were familiar to me because they originate from well known Dutch collections and galleries like Anno1900, Het Ware Huis, Gallerie Stylo, Proportio Divina and Drents Museum.

So what I personally enjoyed the most, was the context created through the gallery texts by guest curator Dr. Yvonne Brentjens. I love it when art or architecture is well explained within its cultural and socio-economic perspective. “I wanted to evoke the tense atmosphere of that period, and help the visitor understand why all the galleries are about desire on the one hand and anxiety on the other” said Brentjes. And she has done an amazing job with the gallery texts. Chapeau!

Can you imagine my surprise when I realised there was no essay by Dr. Brentjens in the catalogue. I had read the catalogue befóre I visited the exhibition (as it kept being postponed due to covid). And it appeared rather fragmented to me. So when I started researching, I discovered that Brentjens actually did write an essay about the exhibition. But for some reason, it was not published in the catalogue. Which is a shame, because her essay would have definitely made it a better book. Her essay would have been the glue that keeps all the other essays together.

Fortunately for Dutch readers, Dr. Yvonne Brentjens has published her brilliant essay nonetheless, in an independent Magazine called Eigenbouwer (Self-Builder). A copy of the magazine (Issue nr. 13, for € 13,50 including postage) can be ordered via www.eigenbouwer.nl or directly  from the editors (oldewarris@box.nl). I highly recommend my Dutch readers to also peruse this 16 page essay for a much deeper understanding of Brentjens’ view on the paradox!

Het Conflictmodel - Dr. Yvonne Brentjens - Godinnen van de Art Nouveau

Since the exhibition at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam is realized in collaboration with the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe and the Landesmuseum in Braunschweig, I have focussed on (for me less familiar) objects from the German collections. That way, I hope, this exhibition review may add something new to my already extensive overview of what has been exhibited previously about Art Nouveau.

Together, these three museums have created “a new European narrative about this European art movement, based on their own collections” according to Wim Hupperetz, director of the Allard Pierson Museum. All in all I found it to be a wonderful exhibition to go see. The accompanying catalogue is an interesting collection of essays, crammed with even more illustrations than actual exhibited objects. And I urge Dutch readers to get a copy of the Magazine Eigenbouwer nr. 13, and read the splendid essay by Dr. Yvonne Brentjes.

Allard Pierson Museum Amsterdam
Until 24 October 2021

This exhibition will travel to Karlsruhe (18 Dec 2021 – 24 April 2022) and Braunschweig (13 Oct 2022 – 9 April 2023).


The Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam has created a Cross Cultural Timeline (CCT) in order to put the objects from their exhibition ‘Goddesses of Art Nouveau’ in a geographical, cultural and historical context. Unfortunately, this application is only available in Dutch (as far as I can see you can opt for English at the bottom right corner, but no English texts will accompany the objects). Visit the Timeline here: Art Nouveau Timeline.

Goddesses of Art Nouveau Book

Goddesses of Art Nouveau sheds new light on an extraordinary era and on the question as to how the image of women was used in paintings, spectacular jewellery, the Rolls Royce mascot, advertising posters and book covers, made by women and men.

Title: Goddesses of Art Nouveau
Publisher: Wbooks
ISBN: 9878462584051
Year: 2020
Language: English (paperback)
Order the book by clicking on the image

Continue Reading:
Allard Pierson Museum
Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe
Historiek.net – Godinnen van de Art Nouveau
Bekijk de video Nú te zien: Godinnen van de Art Nouveau
Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum Braunschweig
Yvonne Brentjens – Godinnen van de Art Nouveau
Proportia Divina: Staand naakt met witte lelies by Wiesje van Blommestein
NRC: Hoe de vrouw in Art Nouveau de krachtenstrijd weerspiegelt tussen de oude en de nieuwe samenleving