In the 1910s, two new rival modern movements emerged in the
Netherlands: the vibrant and ornamented Amsterdam School and the rigorous De
Stijl, which reduced to abstraction the geometric approach of Dutch design.
Modern Dutch Design, 1910–40
At the turn of the century a commitment to handcraft characterized the work of the Nieuwe Kunst movement, the Dutch variant of Art Nouveau. Around 1910 artists and architects began to engage more intensely with the forces of modernity. Industry and commerce, steamship and air travel, urbanization, labor organizing, and mass politics all created opportunities for design professionals, even as high-quality, handcrafted furniture and decorative arts remained important fields. If in the two previous decades Nieuwe Kunst had provided a relatively unifying design language balancing the principles of structure and decoration, two new rival movements now offered differing approaches to modern products, graphics, and buildings. During this period the Amsterdam School with its vibrant ornamentation contrasted with the rigorous and controlled De Stijl which reduced to abstraction the emphasis on geometry typical of Dutch design.
A new generation of architects and designers came to prominence in the Netherlands during the 1910s. The group they created, known as the Amsterdam School, was in certain respects a continuation of the legacy of Nieuwe Kunst, including adherence to Arts and Crafts ideals and ornament inspired by nature and by motifs from the Dutch East Indies. In its focus on viewing design as a vehicle for communicating emotion, an approach derived from German Expressionism, the Amsterdam School departed from this earlier movement. The result was an exuberant and highly ornamental style that influenced everything from architecture to furniture to lettering, as seen in this early cover of the periodical Wendingen, still inspired by Batik patterns.
Wendingen, Frank Lloyd Wright issue (1926) by Hendrikus Theodorus Wijdeveld (Dutch, 1885–1987)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The mouthpiece for the Amsterdam School was the journal Wendingen started in January 1918 by architect Hendrikus Wijdeveld and published by the architects’ association Architectura et Amicitia. Wijdeveld was inspired by Mathieu Lauweriks’s journal Ring, published in Düsseldorf and Hagen from 1908 to 1909. Wendingen adopted a similar Japanese method of binding and used the same sans serif Grotesque font. The journal’s typography, widely embraced in Dutch graphic design, took a more rigorous, geometric form than the sculptural, undulating nature of Amsterdam School architecture and furniture.
Wendingen became a platform for a young generation of artists and architects, and each cover was conceived by a different designer. Several issues were dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright, who was unanimously admired by Dutch architects, from Hendrik Petrus Berlage to members of the Amsterdam School and De Stijl.
Chandelier (c. 1915) by Michel de Klerk (Dutch, 1884–1923)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The development of the Amsterdam School owed a great deal to commissions from Dutch shipping lines, one of the most important industries in the country. Six Amsterdam-based lines commissioned the young architect Joan van der Mey, together with Michel de Klerk and Piet Kramer, to design a joint headquarters building, the Scheepvaarthuis [Shipping House], often considered the “manifesto” of the Amsterdam School.
The building is shaped like a ship and its ornate façade and interior decoration reference the history of the Netherlands as a maritime power. Motifs taken from sea life are evident in De Klerk’s design of the chandelier.
Chandelier, From the board room of the Koninklijke Hollandsche Lloyd building, Amsterdam by H. J. Winkelman & Van der BijlThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
This chandelier and clock from the headquarters of the Koninklijke Hollandsche Lloyd [Royal Dutch Lloyd] shipping line were made by Winkelman & Van der Bijl, a decorative wrought iron firm that worked closely with Amsterdam School architects and designers. While the stylistic influence of the Amsterdam School can be seen in the sea creature motifs that adorn both pieces, the architecture and decoration of the building took a more conservative, historicist form.
Amsterdam. Développement de la ville. Habitations populaires [Amsterdam. City Development. Public Housing] (1924) by Anton Kurvers (Dutch, 1889–1940)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Throughout the 1920s, many designers embraced the Amsterdam School style, its popularity evident in architectural and graphic design throughout the Netherlands. Officials in the Amsterdam Public Works Department advocated Michel de Klerk and his circle, sharing their belief that architecture and design should serve the community through public housing and street furniture. One of the chief goals of the Social Democratic representatives on Amsterdam’s city council was to improve the appalling living conditions of the growing working-class population—a task facilitated by the National Housing Act of 1901, which funded affordable housing developments .
Eigen Haard housing project, Amsterdam, 1917 From L’Architecture Vivante [Living Architecture], (1917) by Michel de Klerk (Dutch, 1884–1923)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In his designs for public housing projects, Michel de Klerk focused primarily on the building elevations, creating sculptural qualities through the treatment of their brick facades. This emphasis is seen in the renowned complex commonly called Het Ship [The Ship] with its flowing lines combining references to German Expressionism with the temple architecture of the Dutch East Indies.
Signage, For Amsterdam public housing (circa 1920)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The typography Hendrikus Wijdeveld developed for Wendingen magazine had a broad influence on Amsterdam School graphic design, manifesting even in building signage and letterboxes.
Architectural ornaments (c. 1920) by Hildo Krop (Dutch, 1884–1970)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The sculptor Hildo Krop, employed by the Amsterdam Public Works Department beginning in 1916, collaborated with many Amsterdam School architects on their projects, decorating bridges and buildings with his mythological creatures.
Shelf clock and incense burners (c. 1920) by Hildo Krop (Dutch, 1884–1970)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The influence of Indonesia and the Amsterdam School is evident in the parabolic forms and the use of stylized exotic natural forms in this clock and sculptural incense burners. Fauns, serpents, and birds are recurring leitmotifs that appear in the work of Hildo Krop who created several color variants for this clock.
Armchair (1916) by Michel de Klerk (Dutch, 1884–1923)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
While architect Michel de Klerk held socialist ideals and worked on many public housing projects, he also designed precious, sculptural furnishings for an enlightened elite clientele. This set, produced in a very limited run, was advertised in the catalogue of the
Amsterdam firm ’t Woonhuys and exhibited at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.
De Klerk incorporated many Indonesian references in these furnishings including the parabolic shapes associated with both the rising sun and the lotus leaf and the Hindu-Javanese motif of the naga (snake) head carved on the arms of chairs. The pointed fronts of the chair and sofa legs suggest the roof corners of traditional houses of the Minangkabau people, a group indigenous to West Sumatra .
Table lamp with batik shade (c. 1920) by Bernard Richters (Dutch, 1888–1966)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Many designers of the Amsterdam School were inspired by Buddhist aesthetics from Indonesia. Here, sculptor Bernard Richters channeled the contemplative quality of Buddhist sculptures in this lamp base and used the batik technique to produce the silk shade.
Kracht [Strength], model no. 21 (1923) by Theo Colenbrander (Dutch, 1841–1930)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In 1922 the Ram factory was founded to produce new work by Theo Colenbrander, a continuation of his design for the Hague Rozenburg factory in the 1880s. This vase’s shape and its vibrant geometric pattern echo Indonesian forms. Several models of this work, each with a different decoration, were shown in the Dutch pavilion at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.
for an Industrial Society
Urbanization and industrialization strongly shaped Dutch designers’ work in the early twentieth century. Many artists and designers, dedicated to leftist ideals, worked to promote the interests of industrial laborers through commissions from unions and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. Enterprises such as the Van Nelle confectionary and the Leerdam glassworks also provided significant opportunities in the areas of product design, architecture, and advertising.
Van Nelle’s Varinas (circa 1925) by Jac. Jongert (Dutch, 1883–1942)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Between 1919 and 1940, Jac. Jongert designed most of the packaging material and advertisements for the Van Nelle tobacco, coffee, and tea firm in Rotterdam. Influenced by the German industrial designers who showed their work at the 1914 Werkbund exhibition in Cologne, as well as by the De Stijl movement, Jongert’s designs evolved from decorative, pictorial motifs to flattened shapes, sans serif lettering, and primary colors. These materials helped create the firm’s image as a progressive enterprise, as did its
building. Designed by Jan Brinkman and Leen van der Vlugt and completed in 1931, the factory became a model for the young architects of the functionalist Nieuwe Bouwen [New Building] movement.
Vase (1925–27 (designed 1924)) by Chris Lebeau (Dutch, 1878–1945)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The Leerdam glass factory, which was established in the eighteenth century, gained a reputation for modern design after visionary industrialist P. M. Cochius became director in 1912. By cooperating with such designers as Karel de Bazel, Hendrik Petrus Berlage, Chris Lebeau, and Andries Dirk Copier, Cochius hoped to deliver high-quality wares at affordable prices. He was motivated by ethical and aesthetic ideals, but also by the need to compete with foreign products.
Breakfast service A (1920-26 (designed 1919-20)) by Karel de Bazel (Dutch, 1869–1923)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Invited to work with Leerdam by factory director P. M. Cochius around 1915, architect Karel de Bazel devised a geometric design for a pressed glass table service: a ten-sided polygon with a circle inscribed within. Following the success of this set, which could be batch-produced using molds, Cochius began to commission work from other artists.
Peer [Pear] (c. 1926) by Andries Dirk Copier (Dutch, 1901-1991)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Andries Dirk Copier, who became artistic director of the Leerdam glassworks in 1927, designed, among others, the Peer service which merges geometric proportions with a natural form: the pear.
Raden van arbeid [Labor Councils] (1920) by Richard Roland Holst (Dutch, 1868–1938)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
A member of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, designer Richard Roland Holst believed in providing access to fine art to a broader audience through lithographic posters and murals such as those he completed for the Amsterdam Stock Exchange building (known as the Beurs) and the Diamond Workers’ Union headquarters.
The archer was a recurring symbol of progress in his work, as seen in this poster advertising workers’ disability, illness, and old age benefits offered through government labor councils. The geometric figure emblazoned in a stepped, ornamented frame is in line with Amsterdam School graphic design.
Meubelmakers, voorwaarts met den modernen bond [Furniture Makers, Forward with the Modern Union] (1927) by Walter von Wenz zu Niederlahnstein (Dutch, b. Germany, 1898–1963)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Socialist and trade union posters from the 1920s usually portrayed burly, modern workers, such as this muscular cabinetmaker hailing his fellow workers with an appeal to join his union. The designer Walter von Wenz zu Niederlahnstein signed his works simply “Walter,” presumably to hide his German noble lineage. The popularity of his trade union and election posters led Philips to commission a poster advertising the Argenta light bulb. The poster was so successful that Philips hired Walter as their advertising director.
Stemt op de lijst der Soc. Dem. Arb. Partij [Vote for the List of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party] (1919) by Albert Hahn, Jr. (Dutch, 1894–1953)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
In November 1918, at the end of the First World War, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) called on workers to revolt against the Dutch monarchy. This appeal won little support and eventually the SDAP backed away from revolutionary politics. This 1919 poster by the socialist artist Albert Hahn, Jr. shows evidence of the previous year’s militant spirit, depicting a gigantic worker threatening to trample tiny caricatures of Dutch elites.
By remaining neutral, the Netherlands avoided the devastation inflicted upon most of Europe by the First World War. Seeking to promote economic growth during the war, the Dutch Products Association established an annual trade fair in the city of Utrecht in 1917; in 1921, the fair began inviting international exhibitors. Posters promoting the fair reflect the diverse tendencies that characterized Dutch design in the 1920s and 1930s, ranging from decorative Amsterdam School lettering to more simple patterns, colors, and type influenced by the De Stijl movement.
Internationaal Jaarbeurs Utrecht [International Utrecht Fair] (1930) by Henri Pieck (Dutch, 1895–1972)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Henri Pieck’s poster shows the influence of the De Stijl movement in its use of primary colors and intersecting lines. The designer used three-dimensional fonts to complement and interact with the functionalist architecture of the massive new fair building that was inaugurated in 1930.
De Stijl and
In 1917, Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian launched a journal titled De Stijl [The Style]. The artists, designers, and architects associated with the journal formed a movement that went by the same name, united by their objection to what they saw as the Amsterdam School’s decorative excesses. This group, inspired by a utopian faith in technology, preferred a plain, abstract visual language and a minimalist palette of primary colors. While the Amsterdam School remained influential within the Netherlands, De Stijl had a broader international impact, making major contributions to the development of both abstract art and modern architecture and design.
De 8 en Opbouw (1932) by Paul Schuitema (Dutch, 1897–1973),The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
By the late 1920s, several Amsterdam and Rotterdam architects were basing their designs on a set of tenets known as Nieuwe Bouwen [New Building]. Though they shared many commitments with De Stijl, these architects focused more on practical results than on pure explorations of form through their work and their journal, De 8 en Opbouw. Nieuwe Bouwen architects applied the values of functionality, efficiency, and hygiene to designing buildings and everyday objects.
Giso 404 (1927) by Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud (Dutch, 1890–1963)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
A founder of De Stijl, J. J. P. Oud used the ideas of standardization and industrialization in his architecture, such as the internationally acclaimed workers’ housing complex Hoek van Holland Rotterdam , and in his object design.
The famous Giso piano lamp, a balanced composition of pure, geometric forms, was originally conceived by Oud and Willem Gispen as a wedding present to a friend. Subsequently it was serially produced by Gispen along with other models of Giso lamps and tubular steel furniture.
Design drawings for traffic signals, Verboden in te rijden [Do Not Enter] and Verboden in te rijden [Do Not Enter], (1927) by Died Visser (Dutch, 1899–1977)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
The practice of De Stijl founding members in the use of basic geometric forms and primary colors became very influential. The city of Schoonhoven, for example, adopted the reductive geometric abstraction and restrictive color palette for traffic signals designed by city architect Died Visser.
OLVEH Opgericht 1879 [OLVEH Established 1879] (circa 1932) by Jan Wils (Dutch, 1891–1972)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
This tin sign promotes insurance company OLVEH’s building in The Hague, designed by Jan Wils, one of the founding members of De Stijl. Wils translated the ideas of Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in his architecture, which was characterized by asymmetrical, rectangular forms, flat roofs, and horizontal lines.
Like other De Stijl architects, Wils was influenced by Hendrik Petrus Berlage (in whose office he trained), as well as by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dutch companies such as KLM, Holland America, and Rotterdam Lloyd were pioneers in long-distance travel by air and by sea. KNILM became the airline of the Dutch East Indies in 1928, while the Batavier Line had been running a service between Rotterdam and London since the 1830s. These firms hired graphic designers to create advertisements that promoted their service as unforgettable travel experiences. By emphasizing the streamlined forms of new aircrafts and ocean liners, the graphics represented them as icons of Dutch modernity and glamour.
KLM Fokker Douglas DC-2 (c. 1937) by N.V. Reclame-Adviesbureau NoordervlietThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University
This KLM poster promotes the successful 14-seat aircraft DC-2 which is represented in cross-section to show the comfort and security of the passengers on board. Produced by the American Douglas Aircraft Company, the DC-2 entered service with KLM in 1934 and subsequently the Dutch company Fokker bought its manufacturing rights.
Wm. H. Müller & Co’s Batavier-Line Daily Passenger Service (1927) by Bart van der Leck (Dutch, 1876–1958)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Bart van der Leck designed a promotional poster for the Batavier steamship line in 1914–16, which the company used as an advertising image for more than a decade, as in the album shown here. Although Van der Leck’s poster predates the 1917 emergence of the De Stijl movement, it displays features that anticipate the graphic style of the group: a simple layout with rectangular compartments, use of empty space, and, above all, reduction of the figures and ship to basic shapes.
W. H. Müller & Co. Passage en Reisbureaux [W. H. Müller & Co. Passage and Travel Agency] (circa 1929) by Franciska Clausen (Danish, 1899–1986)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University
Around 1929, W. H. Müller & Co. commissioned the avant-garde Danish artist Franciska Klausen to design posters for its travel agency and for the Batavier steamship line. Klausen’s design drawing shows the influence of De Stijl in the limited color palette and in the geometric reduction of forms.
Modern Dutch Design is organized by The Wolfsonian–Florida International University. The exhibition was made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts; the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York; the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami; the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs; and the Netherland-America Foundation.