Much has been written about the dress-reform movements in England, Germany, and America, as well as artistic or aesthetic dress in Great Britain and Austria, during the fin de siecle.(1) This article, however, is the first to appear on the subject of Art Nouveau artistic dress in Holland.(2) Its purpose is to trace the origins and development of Dutch artistic dress for women and offer
foundation for more in-depth work on the topic.
Individual and social concerns in these countries for the improvement of women's attire were spurred by progressive attitudes toward women's health, liberation in the physical sense, and toward women's advancement, liberation in the political sense. It is for both reasons that in the United States Amelia Bloomer advocated the wearing of "Turkish style" trousers for the female sex and that the corset was seen as
cruel torture device by dress-reform advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. Artistic dress was characterized by its emphasis on beauty, shape, and color, as well as a utopian or timeless quality. Although artistic dress encompassed comfort and freedom of movement as espoused by dress-reform theorists, it evolved not from the medical and political concerns where the focus was on the body of the woman, but from the aesthetic realm where the focus was the object itself. The criteria, established by William Morris (whose own garb consisted of his personally dyed indigo shirts) and John Ruskin, were that the garment be handmade, individualized, and of the finest materials found in the Middle Ages or earlier.
Attention from innovative artists to women's dress was obfuscated by the powerful allure of the French fashion industry whose creations, while not one of a kind, were "adapted" for each individual and made of the finest fabrics, trimmings, and laces. The desire to wear the latest Paris couturier creations was strong, supported by the cultural elite and artists such as Charles Baudelaire, who defended the artificial over the natural in his discussion of "maquillage" in The Painter of Modern Life. Bohemian women, such artists as Camille Claudel, such actresses as Sarah Bernhardt, and such divas as La Duse favored the Paris couturiers. For women here was tremendous pressure from the advertising world to submit to the dictates of high style. In the 1880s and 1890s this meant being in bondage to the corset, weighted down by the bustle with its meters of fabric, and impeded by the long, cumbersome skirt. It is hardly surprising then that the real inroads to a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing attire for women evolved first in England, then in Germany, Belgium, and Holland.(3)
The aspects of British avant-garde theories about women's dress that were particularly appealing to the Belgians and subsequently the Dutch were the pre-Raphaelite's adaptions of medieval dress. These ideas were put forth by the Rational Dress Society in 1881, the writings of Morris and Ruskin, and especially the designs and essays of Walter Crane, one of the most articulate spokespersons of his generation. The British Arts and Crafts movement, fused as it was with the idealistic notion of high quality art for the common individual, was in sympathy with such Belgian organizations as the Parti Ouvrier Belge (Belgian Worker's Party), which sponsored gatherings of the avant-garde with laborers for community meetings, lectures, and art exhibitions. The writings of Morris, Ruskin, and Crane were read at some of these meetings.
The creation of fin de siecle artistic dress in Holland was tied to the emergence of Art Nouveau in Brussels in the early 1890s. Two artists working in that city who most directly affected Dutch artistic garb were the Belgian Henry van de Velde (1863-1957) and the Dutchman Jan Theodoor Toorop (1858-1928). A cursory look at their years together as members of the artists' group Les Vingt is helpful in establishing the specific melding of "fine" and "applied" art that typifies Dutch artistic garb. It is my opinion that, akin to the later creations of Wiener Werkstatte, antifashion by Dutch artists was extraordinary in its success at combining reform and artistic elements through a highly ornamental drawing style and the technique of batik.
By the 1880s Brussels was host to a number of cultural organizations that featured local and foreign talent. Les Vingt was preceded by the Societe Libre, La Chrysalide, and L'Essor. Open to avant-garde trends without judgment, Les Vingt featured in its third salon Odilon Redon and Felicien Rops, among other invited artists. Symbolist interests in the spiritual primacy of music, the literature of Edgar Allen Poe, the occult, and the dream world were stirring already in Brussels a year before Jean Moras's Symbolist manifesto was written. For example, the publication of the Belgian Symbolist journal La Wallonie began in Liege in January 1886. The influence of the French artists was a powerful one. Van de Velde, already a well-respected artist in avant-garde circles of Brussels, was involved with the artfully designed publications Als ick kan. and L'Art independant. He was keenly interested in French Symbolism, but even in 1890 he, along with Toorop, sought alternatives to the heavy reliance on literary sources in the work of such artists as Redon and Fernand Khnopff.(4) The paths of van de Velde and Toorop diverged, but both men emerged as leaders of the "new" style.
At the eighth salon of Les Vingt in 1891 utilitarian arts were a part of the exhibition. Polychrome vases and bas-reliefs Soyez amoureuses and Soyez mystieuses by Paul Gauguin, posters by Jules Cheret, and picture books by Crane were heralded as more meaningful than painting by many critics. In keeping with the socialist orientation to the needs of the masses, it was stated in L'Art moderne that "in costume, furnishings, goldwork, jewelry, ceramics, the soul of the people is reflected like a clear mirror."(5) Van de Velde, who had been expressing his views on the need for the unity of the principles of fine arts applied to the objects of everyday life, submitted an applique embroidery to the tenth and last salon of Les Vingt in 1893. This was a turning point for the artist who after that year never returned to painting and who, as an architect and a designer of objects and dresses, led the continent with his theories on applied art and with his energetic curvilinear style.
Maria van de Velde, an artist, writer, and wife of Henry van de Velde, was aware of the British ideas about artistic dress from Crane's designs that appeared in an 1894 issue of Aglaia in an article titled "On the Progress of Taste in Dress."(6) One of the designs inspired Henry to design artistic garments for his wife.(7) Versions of this dress type, which were also inspired by Kate Greenaway's illustrations, appeared in the series of Liberty catalogues on art fabrics and dress of the 1880s and early 1890s. It is known from their correspondence that the van de Veldes admired the elegance of the patterns and the soft drapey quality of Liberty fabrics. Their own creations, however, were made with heavier plain material ornamented with the hallmark curvilinear, flat, heavily outlined applique embroidery and characterized by a primitive directness that can probably be traced to the influence of Gauguin and Emile Bernard.(8)
Toorop, the best known of the Dutch Symbolists, developed by the last salon of Les Vingt his signature wavy, undulating drawing: style, utilizing the same meandering line as that in Henry van de Velde's embroidery exhibited the same year. Toorop often depicted the worker's plight, since class struggle was as of deep concern to him as it was to the formation of Nieuwekunst in Holland, but it is his obsessive images of women that haunt us.
The garments he invented for these female figures, as depicted in his lithographs, are the best source for us to understand the construction of artistic dress of the 1890s, since there is no extant clothing and scant photographic imagery to scrutinize.(9) In Arbeid voor de Vrouw (fig. 1) the central figure wears an uncorseted bodice evident in the natural bust line, and a skirt without fashionable underpinnings, evident in the relatively straight silhouette. (Fig. 1 omitted) Toorop admitted his serious interest in depicting female garments when he wrote on a carte de visite that he hoped to design dresses some day.(1O) The patterns displayed on his stylized gowns, skirts, and blouses seem to relate to batik cotton or silks of Javanese origin. In Delftsche Slaolie (fig. 2), while the pattern of the dress on the left--the lily--probably comes from Toorop's Symbolist repertory and signifies purity, the dress on the right illustrates a lotus-pod motif common to Javanese batiks (see fig. 3). (Figs. 2 and 3 omitted)
For Toorop, born and raised in Java of a family who could trace its ties there to the eighteenth century, of a father who was European and a mother who was half Chinese, such textiles were the ubiquitous fabrics of life. Batik, a wax-resist technique of ancient origins, was the regional technique employed for clothing on the island of Java until the second half of the nineteenth century, when printing methods imitating the batik technique began to replace the laborious methods.(11) Today Javanese batiks remain prized for their intricate, wide-ranging patterns and the graphic quality of the medium. Batik is essentially a drawing process whereby lines are created with the Javanese tjanting implement--a tiny copper bowl with a thin down-curving pipe attached to one end and a bamboo straight handle--before immersing the cloth successive times in the dye baths. In Holland, where he moved when he was thirteen, these batiks caught the attention of the public at the 1883 Colonial and Export Industry Fair in Amsterdam and at the various Dutch ethnographic museums, especially in the Hague.
Batik was the vehicle used by several of Holland's most avant-garde artists about 1890 in the experimental stages of what would be called Nieuwekunst. C. A. Lion Cachet (1864-1945), G. W. Dijsselhof (1866-1924), and Theo Nieuwenhuis (1866-1951) grappled with the new artistic movements in Brussels and England and the theories behind them primarily through this exotic medium that was a part of their national artistic heritage. Nieuwenhuis's design of a floral/botanical motif framed by ogivals (fig. 4) is as much Morrisian in composition as it is Indonesian in spirit. (Fig. 4 omitted) As a fashion accessory, this shawl's integrity and beauty come from the golden shimmer of the cloth applied by Jan Mensing (1869-1952) in the convention of the Indonesian gilded prada cloth made for ceremonial use. That they emerged, along with Johan Thorn Prikker (1868-1932) and Chris Lebeau (1848-1945), to be the leaders of Dutch Art Nouveau testifies to the importance of batik as the nucleus of that movement.(12)
Although not one of the pioneers, the most gifted artist to work with this method was Lebeau. Lebeau was unequaled in his technical mastery of the traditional Indonesian batik technique and use of the tjanting.(13) Most of his contemporaries either painted with wax or stenciled designs to imitate the look of batik, but Lebeau appreciated the subtle modulations and irregularities of the so-called crackle effect left where the dye seeped through cracks in the wax in the dye bath (most visible in the shawl in fig. 5). (Fig. 5 omitted) His adherence to the Javanese craft was in appreciation of history, yet his compositions were the most avant-garde. Both qualities and his temperament were well suited to teaching, and it was in his studio that the second generation of Dutch batik artists was educated. It is significant to note here that while Lebeau is recognized as one of the most creative and versatile artists involved with damask linens, glass, graphic arts, and painting, in Morrisian and van de Veldian terms his success was due to his perfect blending of art and craft. This shawl, in the fully developed Dutch Nieuwekunst style, reflects the influence of van de Velde and Toorop. The finest silk is used to insure that the fabric drapes softly on the woman's body. The motif of the angel reflects a Symbolist mysticism that combined with batik yields a truly masterfully applied art.
This brief summary of Dutch artistic fashion for fin de siecle women dispels the myth that the linen frock of the reform movement, a matronly sacklike garment, was Holland's sole contribution to antifashion. Indeed, the leading artists of the avant-garde created beautiful art to wear reflecting a unique blend of Symbolist and Indonesian sources (fig. 6). (Fog. 6 omitted)
1. The term "artistic" dress was first used by pre-Raphaelite artists to describe the costumes worn by their models and female friends and depicted in their paintings. As they defined it, artistic dress was based on loosely fitted historical (primarily medieval) garments that were beautiful but contemporary avant-garde ideals.
2. My focus is on women's garments because they are the most artistically compelling body of work--oftentimes very personal creations made for intimate friends or partners. Judging from the photographs of the time, Dutchmen were not as interested in artistic dress for themselves as much as were the English aesthetic movement artists and some continental artists.
3. Rare illustrations of French artistic dress are Maurice Denis's depictions of such attire in his 1897 portrait of Yvonne Lerolle, in which the garments are made of heavy fabric that falls in solid folds with Watteau-like pleats at the back. It is worth noting here that other French artists of the avant-garde, disillusioned with Paris, depicted women in regional garb. This may have been, in part, an anti-Paris, antibourgeois stance. Gauguin, for example, featured Tahitian and Breton dress in his works. I thank Travers Newton for his insightful comments on the Nabis, Gauguin, and costume and for his critical reading of this text. In Belgium and Holland, the avant-garde artists van de Velde and Toorop featured provincial reform and artistic costume more often than Parisian haute couture in their paintings.
4. Susan Marie Canning, A History and Critical Review of the Salons of "Les Vingt" 1884-1893 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1980), 98-123.
5. Ibid., 312 (translation mine).
6. See Claudine Lemaire, "Abandon, Grace, Souplesse." in Art Belgique Nouveau, exh. cat. (Brussels: Palais des Beaux Arts, 1980), 180.
7. Van de Velde was a prolific writer on the subject of handmade useful objects as the true art. His most thorough text on clothing as a work of art was written for a 1900 exhibition, Die kunstlerische Hebung der Frauentracht, in Krefeld, Germany.
8. Van de Velde. who shared an interest in Japanese prints with these artists, exhibited alongside them in the 1891 salon. The influence of Gauguin and the flat, abstracted, and unmodulated color of the Nabis can be seen in van de Velde's paintings of 1892-93, a typical example of which is Haymaking, 1893, in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zurich.
9. Toorop's work of this time is best discussed in R. Siebelhoff, The Early Development of Jan Toorop (Ph. D. diss., University of Toronto, 1973). I thank Cliff Ackley, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for sharing this information with me and for his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Dutch Nieuwekunst.
10. I am grateful to Carin Schnitger for telling me about the carte de visite in the collection of the Municipal Archives, Amsterdam. According to my research, there are no complete Dutch artistic dresses extant. Fashion accessories exist in the collections of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the Wolfsonian Foundation, Miami Beach. Florida. Photographs of women in batik artistic dress appear in Pieter Mijer, Batiks and How to Make Them (New York: Dodd Mead, 1919), 78, and in Sierkunst en Vrouwenkleeding, Toegepaste Kunsten in Nederland Series (Rotterdam: W. L. & J. Brusse's Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1927), 14.
11. For a concise explanation of the batik process and illustrations of batiks of the type familiar to Toorop, see Susan Arensberg MacMillan, Javanese Batiks, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1978).
12. See B. Bake. "Het begin van de beoefening der batikunst in Nederland," Maanblad voor beeldende Kunsten 2 (1926): 205-11, and Nederlandse Batikkunst 1890-1930 (Tilburg: Nederlands Textielmuseum, 1991).
13. The best monograph on Lebeau is by Mechteld de Bois, Chris Lebeau (1878-1945), exh. cat. (Assen, The Netherlands: Drents Museum, 1987).
MARIANNE CARLANO, curator of textiles and costumes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, co-authored Early Modern Textiles: From Arts and Crafts to Art Deco (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993).…