February 24, 2015

Art Nouveau Townscape

        This lovely, magical wood engraving is by W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, a Dutch artist (1874-1950) who travelled widely both through the Netherlands by houseboat, as well as through the East, especially Bali.  (I featured another of his wood block prints here.)  Being an engraving, this piece is very finely detailed, with different beautiful textures for roofs, walls, trees, grass, and even a delicately patterned border.  The thing I find most interesting and appealing about it, though, is how it combines what I assume is reasonable realism with distinctly art nouveau style.  I don’t have a photo of this view of the town of Veere from this era, so I have no way of knowing how much artistic license Nieuwenkamp took with the shapes of the buildings or their arrangement, but I’m assuming that this was at least accurate enough to be recognizable.  At the same time, however, he’s made the clouds and trees quite stylized, flowing and twirling in a way probably never seen in life.  It’s almost as if he applied an art nouveau filter to the scene, but the filter has a fade so that the stylization is weakest in the center of the piece and gets stronger and stronger as it goes out toward the edges.
        Nieuwenkamp has succeeded in that delicate balance that I’m always striving for:  how to show something of beauty so that the viewer recognizes and appreciates it as a celebration of the world, but at the same time to do so with a distinctive aesthetic or take on it so that the viewer looks at it and appreciates it in a new way.

[Picture: Stadhuis te Veere (Town Hall in Veere), wood engraving by Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp, 1901-2 (Image from William P Carl Fine Prints).]

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