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Art Nouveau in the Netherlands

A new art for a new, improved society. That is what many artists and designers were seeking around 1900. After a century of styles that literally quoted the past, a new form language emerged, based on asymmetry, curved lines and organic decorative motifs. The Netherlands played its own unique role in this artistic quest. In this country, Art Nouveau fizzed with a desire to innovate and with idealism, but it was also a search for the authentic. In this interdisciplinary exhibition, the Gemeentemuseum will showcase fin de siècle decorative arts in a broad context, making the dynamics of the age (1884-1914) visible, tangible and recognisable in this age where authenticity and craftsmanship are once more highly prized.

The art world’s urge to innovate around 1900 coincided with major changes in society. For the first time the urban population was growing faster than the rural population. New means of communication fostered internationalisation. The first cautious steps towards wider suffrage prompted the rise of equal rights movements. And industrialisation and growing prosperity made luxury and entertainment accessible to broader swathes of the population. In the art world, particularly among designers and decorative artists, these changes led to counterreactions, including a rediscovery of the value of nature, the countryside and the traditional.

As in neighbouring countries, the new industrial society was held responsible for the ‘decline in art’ in the Netherlands, too. ‘We are children of the age of the steam engine, the telegraph and electricity. We have turned our backs on the beautiful, and that is why we no longer understand it,’ decorative artist Johannes Ros lamented.

However, there were differences between the Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium and Germany. A new expressive form language that developed there was designed to appeal above all to an emerging zest for life in a world that was gathering momentum, whereas Art Nouveau in the Netherlands was a quest for the ‘truth’, the ‘genuine’, the original. The re-evaluation of tradition and skill, the reform of art education, appreciation of the perfection and pristine quality of nature, and fascination with exotic, ‘unspoilt’ cultures; here, the urge for innovation and idealism went hand in hand with a search for authenticity.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, 19th Century, 20th Century

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