In 2005 the Gemeentemuseum received a large bequest in the form of a collection of Dutch art pottery from the estate of lawyer Jaap Douma (1917-2002). As well as items by leading names, the collection also includes unusual and interesting designs from smaller potteries. Thanks to this acquisition, the museum is this summer in a position to exhibit a detailed overview of Dutch decorative earthenware dating from the period between 1880 and 1940. The exhibition will include the top pieces from the bequest.
One of the earliest firms to market art pottery was De Porceleyne Fles in Delft. The pottery became particularly well-known for its Nieuw Delfts (New Delft) range, manufactured from 1910 onwards. Both the form and the decoration of Nieuw Delfts were inspired by Islamic earthenware. The orientally shaped pieces are decorated with plant and animal motifs, often including fabulous beasts, applied mainly in green, blue and red on a white slip background. A special, transparent glaze was used to produce the highly distinctive “running” colour effects. While the innovations at De Porceleyne Fles were primarily technical in nature, potteries like De Distel, Rozenburg and Zuid-Holland focused more on decoration.
The Hague Rozenburg pottery made a particularly important contribution to the transformation of Dutch decorative earthenware. This was due first and foremost to the architect T.A.C. Colenbrander (1841-1930), who designed a completely new and innovative range over the 1885-1889 period. His striking designs featured distinctively irregular shapes and fanciful decorative motifs, generally abstracted from nature and executed in an Expressionist palette. At the 1900 World Exhibition, Rozenburg launched the delicate eggshell porcelain that quickly made the pottery’s name around the world. The success of this creamy white porcelain decorated with animals and plants in pale colours attracted many imitators, such as the Regina and Zuid-Holland potteries in Gouda. Throughout the period, there were also factories that produced artist-designed earthenware in which the function of the object was the decisive factor in its design. For example, from 1904 to 1906 the Utrecht-based Faience- en Tegelfabriek Holland produced table services based on designs by H.P. Berlage and Jac. van den Bosch. The simply shaped handles, finials and spouts with their flowing lines are a logical extension of the body shapes of the pieces. Inspired by the philosophy of De Stijl, Cornelis van der Sluys designed geometrically shaped domestic wares for the Eerste Steenwijker Kunst-Aardewerkfabriek ESKAF.
A distinct category is the Depression pottery of the 1930s, which owes its name to the economic difficulties of the time. To cut costs, this type of pottery was left undecorated except for a wide variety of glazes but nevertheless proved unexpectedly popular among consumers. Although some firms gave their designers considerable scope, independent potters like L. Nienhuis (who had earlier worked for De Distel) and Chris Lanooy naturally enjoyed the greatest freedom. A number of married couples like Hobbel-Van Harten and Wildenhain-Friedländer were particularly prominent in this respect. Inspired by ceramics from the Far East, they produced experimental earthenware that owes its impact primarily to exciting combinations of materials, forms and glazes.
The exhibition is accompanied by a Dutch-language publication entitled Het Keramiek Boek. Nederlands vernieuwingsaardewerk 1880-1940 by Titus M. Eliëns (€14.95), who is curating the exhibition. On 7 September, the museum will hold a special ceramics appraisal day in collaboration with auctioneers Christie’s of Amsterdam (time: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.).