Henry van De Velde

Henry van De Velde

Belgian architect and artist, one of the founders of the Belgian branch of the Art Nouveau style.
Date of Birth: 03.04.1863
Country: Belgium

Biography of Henry Clemens van de Velde

Belgian architect and artist Henry van de Velde was one of the founders of the Belgian branch of the Art Nouveau style. He was a prominent advocate of Art Nouveau, both in his projects, distinguished by the energetic design, and in his public activities as a lecturer, theorist, and writer. He was also one of the founders of the German Werkbund in 1907.

Van de Velde began his career as a post-impressionist painter and was associated with the Brussels avant-garde group called "Groupe XX" and had ties to the labor party. However, following the trends of his time, he left painting to create "real things" and turned to decorative arts and architecture. Starting in 1893, he focused on applied arts, designing furniture and working in book graphics. He was passionate about creating a holistic environment.

After getting married, van de Velde vowed not to subject his wife and family to the immoral surroundings of things that could be bought. He designed everything, from cutlery to door handles, in order to create a system of harmonious surroundings. He decided to build his first house, the "Bloemenwerf" mansion in Ukkel near Brussels. In doing so, van de Velde mimicked the life-structuring experiment of Morris. He designed every component of his house, intuitively following the design method that became a common principle for avant-garde architecture in the early 20th century: "from the inside out." He established the connections between specific areas and determined the most convenient placement of windows and doors. The interior of the house was organized around the double-light hall.

Compared to other architects of the time, van de Velde approached decoration in a functional manner. He believed that there was a "danger in the search for beauty for the sake of beauty." Decorative elements, apart from the ornamental ironwork framing the entrance, were absent. However, everything was brought into harmony with the overall scenario. Van de Velde not only designed clothing sketches for himself and his wife but also engaged in the color composition of the dishes served. As a proponent of Morris's ideas, van de Velde believed that art should actively transform family life and, through it, society as a whole. However, his aestheticism was too steeped in the decadence of the end of the century to inspire trust as the guiding principle for transforming life.

After achieving success at exhibitions in Germany, van de Velde received several commissions in Berlin and moved his studio there from Brussels in 1899. In 1902, he was invited to Weimar by the Saxon Duke. There, van de Velde built the School of Applied Arts (1908) and remained its director. The teaching methods he introduced became one of the foundations of the Bauhaus, founded by Gropius after 1919. During his German period, van de Velde's style evolved from decorative extravagance to a search for a balance between the Dionysian and Apollonian. He aimed to overcome the capricious decorative tendencies of the Secession without resorting to the canonized order of classicism. The interiors of the Folkwang Museum in Hagen (1900-1902) are characterized by their restraint, with balanced neutral exhibition zones and sculptural accents. The sparse decoration was meant to symbolize the work of tautly tensed construction.

In his later works, such as the library in Ghent (1935-1940) and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands (1938-1954), van de Velde embraced the principles of functionalism. From 1926, he served as the director of the National Higher School of Decorative Arts in Brussels.