japonisme: swimming in the shadows

11 February 2010

swimming in the shadows

i have read similar things about the dutch art nouveau porcelain in numerous places:

The Art Nouveau movement developed as a reaction against historicism. The interpre- tation of the wealth of forms to be found in the worlds of plant and animal life, follow- ing the example of Japanese art, was one of the innovative aspects of this movement.

It was also a reaction against the frequently low quality of industrial design. In the Netherlands as elsewhere there was a desire to reinstate honest craftmanship, which led to reforms of technical training and to exhibitions of good examples of design. Art Nouveau in the Netherlands, unlike that of other countries, generally takes the form of symmetrical compositions in which asymmetrical details are incorporated. Decorations are also often confined to the flat surface.

Dutch ceramics of this period are characterized by the large quantities that were produced and by the high degree of mutual influence present. Floral, linear and geometrical designs were adapted. A fairly small group of designers is respon- sible for most of the original models; the others often go back to classical Chinese porcelain and traditional Delft ware.

Inspiration for the decorations was drawn from the pattern- books of, for instance M. Verneuil and E. Grassèt, and the domestic and foreign magazines that circulated. 1

it's that part, as another book puts it, "The artists took as models illustrations from the French book on ornamental plants La Plante et ses Applications ornementales, published in Paris in 1896. This is an instance of how knowledgeable the artists were about the very latest developments in ornamenta- tion... the leading fashions were closely followed by the factories," 2 that confuses me.

it's clear that the influx of japanese arts and crafts had as much of an impact in the netherlands as they did elsewhere throughout the west. though as in every country the dutch put their own spin on it, the influence is unmistakable.

in fact, though japan's influence is mentioned in these books and sites, they seemed to pay more credence to the 'design books' of the times. but i have been through dozens of images of (mostly rozen- burg) porcelain, and the same amount of the many verneuil/ grasset/ mucha style books, and i have actually found very few that have seemed related except for on the most superficial levels. the japanese influence is throughout.

and yet, just as modernisme (art nouveau) in spain is influenced by moorish design and architecture, holland's nieuwe kunst is influenced by both the japanese (which we've discussed to great length), and the indonesian styles, as the dutch east india company set up trade in both places centuries before the rest of the west were allowed to.

note this particular rozenburg vase, one which makes quite obvious the reason their porcelains were called 'eggshell.' both indonesian and japanese influences are readily apparent. flowers with art nouveau grace, stems with the angularity of a shadow puppet.

my continuing ignorance can be immediately revealed when i tell you that it simply had never occurred to me that the afore-mentioned design books were used in such a way! i don't know what i thought they were used for, but never that!

and while i quite knew, as we have discussed before, that japanese design books were made for just exactly that reason, it didn't occur to me that the french ones were too!

so how did that work? were the designs under some sort of copyright, and a fee had to be paid to the designer (or, more likely, the publisher) to use them? what about the silver studio designs? surely they were not available without some kind of licencing.

the answers to these intriguing questions will have to wait. maybe someone read- ing this knows! if so, please add your knowledge. see another part of the same loop in the paintings of jan toorop -- clearly the same set of inspirational inputs. look too at all of the dutch calendar makers we've been chronicling: they also designed the pottery, painted the paintings; it was not a large crowd, but it was, as we've seen, a tight one.

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Anonymous evan said...

I'm not sure what the copyright laws were 100+ years ago. Surely some artists felt ripped off, while other artists I would imagine felt vindicated (?) when they saw their designs, or deigns that were damn close, appearing on vases etc. There are a few things that come to mind- like-minded artist eventually produce similar stuff- they find & inspire each other. Word gets around. Then there is the bizzare phenomenom where artists working in absolute ignorance of each other produce work that looks like it was produced in the same studio.
I've never been much for things (with the unfortunate exception of art books & art supplies), but as I've gotten older, that's changed. I've inherited a ton of stuff from parents that as a kid did little to impress me. Now I see their beauty (through nostalgia colored glasses?).
It would be great to see art reincorporated back into design- beautiful things that are affordable- maybe a nouveau art nouveau...
I had a point...just that this stunning blog really does remind us that there was a time when art really mattered, that craft & art are not so separate & beauty was appreciated. And many artists worked within a community of artists, inspiring one another.
I wont even try to guess the mood I'm in. :)

12 February, 2010 09:07  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

evan, evan, evan -- you're such a treasure.

very interesting thoughts. i suppose it's a matter of "how does fashion get communicated?" because you're right, strangers 'inventing' the same thing at the same time....

interesting about your inherited treasures; for me, i wanted no reminders, to tell you the truth, and besides, my sister found rationalizations to steal everything promised to me anyway. maybe for the best, now that i think of it.

you know what comes to mind on your last point, though -- target! the store! one thing they have done is introduce design ethics into products for 'everyday prices.' you see this perhaps the most in their kitchenware; it's difficult, for some reason i've never understood, to make things beautiful as well as affordable. i guess it's materials and craftsperson-time. even the greatest-looking square dishes with a crackle surface pale when one reads the reviews that the cracks bleed food stains forever.

12 February, 2010 10:21  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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