Henry Van De Velde – The Deutsche Werkbund – Modernist Architecture

During the earliest years of the Modernist Movement, designers and architects drew from leaders such as William Morris in the Arts and Crafts movement. In continuing Morris’s desire for equal opportunity art, Modernist designers aimed to bring art and design to the masses by attempting to make all things beautiful, not matter their function. They stood for thoughtful and tasteful design in everyday and industrial objects.

The Deutsche Werkbund was a leading German organization of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists that had a great impact on the movement in the early years of the 20th century. As mentioned in my previous post, Germany intended to make it’s mark on the world as industries were booming and new products were produced and shipped globally. They wanted their piece of the pie and intended to do so through clever designs. Unfortunately, the organization was divided into two main schools of thought. On the same side of the table as Peter Behrens was Henry Van de Velde. Their philosophy, which I share, was that artists should not be limited by strict design rules. Alternatively, frontrunners such as Hermann Muthesius, argued that design should be streamlined and standardized.

In Henry Van De Veldes early career, he was a painter and was greatly inspired by Van Gogh. His style was more expressionistic in this period of this life, which may be what caused him to believe in freedom of expression in design. He decided that painting was not the right medium for him to reach the world with his innovative spirit. His interests in architecture and design were budding and he felt that better opportunities existed for him to experiment with his ideas. He built his home and designed the “…interiors and furniture for the influential art gallery “L’Art Nouveau” of Samuel Bing in Paris in 1895. This gave the movement its first designation as Art Nouveau.”

He quickly became highly sought after and in 1905, he was asked by the Grand Duke of Weimar to launch an educational facility that would make him famous. I found a site with some great snippets and photos of his work which highlights this achievement:

“The School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar. Henry van de Velde not only designed this building; he was also head of the school until 1915. Here he was able to realize his ambitious plans for art education as total immersion in art and crafts. The Bauhaus grew out of the van de Velde School of Arts and Crafts.”


The School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, Henry Van De Velde

In 1914, Van De Velde confronted Herman Muthesius at a meeting for the Deutsche Werkbund and this moment caused the movement to branch out in differing directions. Henry Van De Velde was Belgian, and after World War I began, he returned to Belgium and helped to found the distinguished architecture and visual arts school La Cambre. Van De Velde’s style evolved and matured from his early expressionism and even Art Nouveau roots for which he was known. He continued working and teaching and in 1926, he began teaching at Ghent University. Other than the library for which he was the architect, Van De Velde ceased to work as a designer and architect, but rather focus the whole of his career on his teachings. Henry Van De Velde was a loyal artist, designer, and motivator and his efforts are eternalized through the effects of his contributions.

-Links are included for citation purposes.


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