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Art nouveau in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famous throughout the world for its beautiful architecture and friendly atmosphere. From the 17th/18th century canals to the 19th century museums, there is a lot to see. However, Amsterdam is also known for having missed out on the Art Nouveau movement, which took Europe by storm between c.a 1895-1914. Perhaps this was because of the sober mentality of the Dutch, or we could link it to the fact that Dutch architecture had always been quite distinct from its neighbors -think for example about the large windows and the seeming refusal to really take part in the facade putty ‘trend’- and they wanted to keep it that way. Or maybe Amsterdam’s architects were too busy with creating their own, Art Nouveau-influenced style, the Amsterdam School that started not much later? Or, perhaps, none of the above. Because one could argue that Art Nouveau in Amsterdam did in fact flourish, but just went under the radar. And for that reason Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kunst deserves some love.

Visch & Fruithandel Neeltje Roeraede , F.M.J Caron, Haarlemmerdijk 39, 1896

Residential building, ceramics made in Utrecht, s'Gravesandeplein 15-17, 1903

Hotel American/Café Américain, Willem Kromhout en H.G Jansen Leidsekade 97, 1902

Residential building, L. Kok jr. , Jan Luikjenstraat 64, 1902

De Burcht van Berlage, H.P Berlage, Henri Polaklaan 9, 1900

The Netherlands have never truly had a court culture with kings and palaces, but instead one of citizens, merchants and regents. This is represented in Dutch architecture. The Grachtengordel in Amsterdam with the four grand canals of the city (Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and the Singel) is full of huge mansions (herenhuizen) with impressive facades and back gardens, but there are no true palaces like you see in the rest of Europe -the building on the Dam square which is now the Royal Palace was in fact built as the city hall and was transformed to a palace by Napoleon’s brother Louis in 1808.

Gebouw Helios, Gerrit van Arkel, Spui 17, 1897

Building for the Algemeen Handelsblad, Eduard Cuypers, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 243-240, 1903

During the Dutch golden age (c.a 1588-1672) Amsterdam was for a brief moment the centre of the world, but there wasn’t one monarch or family with all the wealth and neither was there a prominent nobility to speak of: it’s riches were spread between hundreds to thousands of merchants. And these merchants were in the end workers, self-made men. This, combined with the dominance of Calvinism within the Netherlands made for a very distinct and generally more modest style of architecture when compared to most of Europe.

Building for the Algemeen Handelsblad, Eduard Cuypers, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 243-240, 1903

Bakery D.C Stähle, Gerrit van Arkel, Spuistraat 274, 1898

Gebouw Helios, Gerrit van Arkel, Spui 17, 1897

Office building built for B. Sanders & Zoon, J.W.F Hartman, Damrak 37, 1904

To some extent this modesty stayed throughout the centuries and is visible in the Dutch Nieuwe Kunst. Compared to the Belgian and French Art Nouveau it is not that excessive and decorative. Yet the key element is still there, namely elegance. Round shapes, stained glass, ironworks and, something typically Dutch: painted tiles, they are all there, just not in abundance -most of the time. There are some examples of lavish and exuberant Art Nouveau in Amsterdam, the crown jewel being the Nouveau/Deco/Amsterdam School hybrid cinema Tuschinski. Not all buildings you see are completely Art Nouveau, many of them are hybrids -like Tuschinski-, with influences such as Traditionalism. But the elements of Art Nouveau are unmistakably present.

Multiple use building, Gerrit van Arkel, Keizersgracht 766, +/-1670; renovated in art nouveau style in 1894

Royal Tuschinski Theater, H.L de Jong, Reguliersbreestraat 27, 1921

Royal Tuschinski Theater, H.L de Jong, Reguliersbreestraat 27, 1921

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