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HENRI VAN DE VELDE
 
 
 
 
  Name Henry Clemens Van de Velde
     
  Born April 3, 1863
     
  Died October 25, 1957
     
  Nationality Belgium
     
  School  
     
  Official website  
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
 

Henri van de Velde was a leading figure of Belgian Art Nouveau. He was born in Antwerp into a family with strong interest in the arts. His father was a pharmacist and a director of the local arts festival. After having contemplated a career as a composer, van de Velde chose to become a painter instead. He studied at the Antwerp Art Academy (1880–83) and at the atelier of Carolys Duran in Paris (1884–85). On his return from Paris in 1886, van de Velde moved to the Belgian countryside, where he started to develop a more holistic approach toward art and environment. In 1887, he discovered pointillism, which allowed him to develop a more analytic approach to painting and form, and from 1890 on, he started to broaden his artistic production to the realm of applied arts, then to interior design, and finally to architecture.

At the same time, van de Velde established himself as a theorist and propagandist. In 1894, he started a series of lectures that promoted the revival of architecture and decorative arts by combining the moral principles of the English Arts and Crafts movement with the acceptance of machine production and social changes. These lectures were published in 1901 under the title Die Renaissance im Kunstgewerbe (The Renaissance of Applied Arts). Van de Velde’s theoretical position was informed by readings of William Morris, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Leo Tolstoy, in which art and beauty were understood as a significant force for social advancement and cultural renewal.

His first venture into architecture came with his own house, Bloemenwerf (1895–96), in Uccle, near Brussels, where van de Velde, who had no architectural training, collaborated with local craftsmen in a design that is somewhat a combination of a traditional farmhouse and an urban villa. It was van de Velde’s first attempt to create a total work of art in which furniture, wallpaper, and even his wife’s reform dress are understood as an integral part of architecture.

Van de Velde’s reputation spread rapidly in the mid-1890s. The reception was particularly favorable in Germany, and in 1895 the German art dealer Samuel Bing and art critic Julius Meier-Graefe commissioned him to design three room interiors. First exhibited in the Salon Art Nouveau in Paris the same year (and further in 1897 in Dresden), these interiors, characterized by dynamic, curved forms, launched van de Velde’s career as a furniture maker and interior designer while also launching a new style: Art Nouveau. Bing and Meier-Graefe played an important part in van de Velde’s career, the former becoming van de Velde’s dealer in Paris and the latter the first critic to write about his work.

In 1900 Karl Ernst Osthaus invited van de Velde to design the interiors for the Folkwang Museum (1901–04) in Hagen, Germany. Only five years after the completion of their own house, the family moved to Berlin. Contrary to his hopes, Berlin did not offer a breakthrough for other larger projects, and in 1902 he accepted the offer of the duke of Sachsen-Weimar to become the director of the Weimar Kunstgewerblicher Institut. The duke also commissioned van de Velde to design the new school buildings: the Kunstgewerbeschule (school of applied arts, 1904) and the Kunstschule (art school, 1906), which became his first major architectural commissions. During his 12-year tenure at Weimar, van de Velde embraced and inspired the future generation and developed a successful architectural practice. The most notable works from this period include several private villas for Weimar’s cultural elite; van de Velde’s own second house, called Hohe Pappels (1908); a Tennis Club (1908) in Chemnitz; an interior design of the Nietzsche Archive (1911); and most notably the theater for the 1914 Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne.

Van de Velde’s resignation in 1914 came right after the 1914 Werkbund meeting in Cologne, where he came under a fierce attack by Hermann Muthesius (1861–1927) for representing a reactionary and outdated individualist position and resisting the need for standardized production and typification. Van de Velde recommended Walter Gropius as his successor, thus laying the foundation for the future Bauhaus.

This so-called Werkbund debate is indicative of why many other members of the first generation of the Modern movement, such as Peter Behrens and Frank Lloyd Wright, came to surpass van de Velde in their historical significance as pioneers of 20th-century architecture. However, van de Velde was one of the seminal thinkers around 1890, when 19th-century architectural historicism came into a crisis. Informed by Einfühlung (empathy) theory, van de Velde believed that line was the fundamental element of art. According to his motto “a line is a force” (Kunstgewerbliche Laienpredigten, 1902), form is an outcome of spontaneous, creative expression based on inner necessity, both structural and emotional. This led to a design strategy based on the combination of constructive and functional logic and dynamic formal expression.

Van de Velde’s life after leaving Weimar in 1917 was divided among Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium, where in 1925–47 he held a professorship at the University of Ghent. His mature work includes the Belgian Pavilions for the Paris (1937) and New York (1939) World Exhibitions and the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller (1937–54) in Otterlo. After his retirement, van de Velde returned to Switzerland to write his memoirs, Geschichte meines Lebens (1962; The Story of My Life), a wonderfully creative testimony of his long and eventful life.

EEVA-LIISA PELKONEN

 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
 

3 April 1863 Born in Antwerp, Belgium;

1880–83 Attended the Academie voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp ;

1882–84 studied painting at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp

1884–85 studied in Paris ;

1885–94 Painter and interior decorator, Antwerp and Brussels ;

1894–95 Lecturer, University of Brussels ;

1895–98 In private practice as an architect and designer, Brussels ;

1898–1900 under the title Société van de Velde ;

1900–0 practiced in Berlin ;

1902–14 founder and director, Kunstgewerbeschule (later Bauhaus School), Weimar ;

1906–14 practiced inWeimar ;

1914–21 practiced in Switzerland ;

1921–25 practiced in Wassenaar, Netherlands ;

1925–36 founder and director, École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et des Arts Décoratifs, Brussels ;

1925–47 practiced in Brussels ;

1925–47 professor of architecture, University of Ghent;

1926–35 chair of architecture, University of Ghent.

25 October 1957 Died in Zurich, Switzerland.

 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
 

Delevoy, Robert L., Henri van de Velde, 1863–1957, Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1963 Delevoy, Robert L., Maurice Culot, and Yvonne Brunhammer, Pionniers du XXe siècle: Guimard, Horta, van de Velde, Paris: Tournon, 1971 Hüter, Karl-Heinz, Henri van de Velde: Sein Werk bis zum Ende seiner Tätigkeit in Deutschland, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1967 Sembach, Klaus-Jürgen, Henri van de Velde, New York: Rizzoli, and London: Thames and Hudson, 1989 Weber, Klaus, Henri van de Velde: Das buchkünstlerische Werk, Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 1994

Selected Publications

Déblaiement d’art, 1894 L’Art futur, 1895 Die Renaissance im Kunstgewerbe, 1901 Der neue Stil, 1906 Vernunftsgemässe Schönheit, 1909 Die drei Sünden wider die Schönheit, 1918 Les Fondements du style moderne, 1933 Geschichte meines Lebens, edited by Hans Curjel, 1962

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