Avantgardism, arts, and politics in Dutch history

This is a Dutch video about the death of Lodewijk van Deyssel in 1952.

As I mentioned, the Hallen in Haarlem in The Netherlands, part of the Frans Hals museum, have several exhibitions on late nineteenth and twentieth century art.

One of these is on Haarlem resident, novelist, literary critic, and art critic Lodewijk van Deyssel, 1864 – 1952 (pseudonym of Karel Johan Lodewijk Alberdingk Thijm).

The Hallen exhibition ‘Het waare schoone’ (True beauty) is especially about Van Deyssel’s views on visual arts.

Van Deyssel criticized other authors on art, like French Rembrandt biographer Emile Michel, for lacking a ‘spiritual’ view on painters like Rembrandt.

Van Deyssel admired Rembrandt, and the Dutch seventeenth century in general, greatly, in a more or less nationalistic way.

He saw that century as an example for his own movement: the Dutch 1880s literary movement.

This movement, avantgardist when it began, succeeded in destroying the earlier nineteenth century grip on Dutch literature by bourgeois conformity as, eg, expressed in pious poems by vicars.

It replaced these with influences like impressionism, naturalism, and symbolism.

The magazine of the 1880s movement was De Nieuwe Gids (The New Guide).

Apart from Van Deyssel, some prominent people of that magazine were the poet Willem Kloos, and his wife, Jeanne Reyneke van Stuwe (1874-1951).

Ms Reyneke van Stuwe was the daughter of a lieutenant-colonel in the Dutch colonial army in Indonesia, who had played a major part in conquering the economically important plantation region Deli, later turned sugar businessman: the sugar crisis (a theme in his daughter’s novels) made his success short-lived.

The problem of avant-garde movements, especially in fast changing times like the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is how avant-garde they can remain in the light of social and artistic developments arising after they arose.

Will they become at least somewhat ‘old hat’ in a way somewhat similar to the old conformism against which they originated?

De Nieuwe Gids had chosen its name to point out that the older Dutch literary magazine De Gids had lost its avant-garde position from when it had started in the early nineteenth century. However, the new magazine would eventually get into similar problems as the old Gids.

Already in the 1890s, there were breaks in the ranks around De Nieuwe Gids.

As the Dutch labour movement then arose, some artists wanted not only changes in art, but in the relationships of power in society as well.

Some of those around the 1880s movement, like poets Herman Gorter and Henriette Roland Holst, chose socialism.

While others, including Van Deyssel and the Kloos-Reyneke van Stuwe couple, did not.

Still later, in the 1930s, fascism threatened life and freedoms, including artistic freedom.

A millionaire, already in the 1920s one of the first Dutch fascists, and Ms Kloos-Reyneke van Stuwe’s biographer, Alfred Haighton, then influenced De Nieuwe Gids.

By the time Haighton, then a SS member, died in 1943, De Nieuwe Gids dying soon after him, lacking Haighton’s money now, the magazine had become a nazi propaganda mouthpiece.

Neither Van Deyssel nor Ms Kloos-Reyneke van Stuwe had done anything to oppose this direction of their magazine.

Article on Van Deyssel’s biographer, Harry G.M. Prick: here.

To create a genuine artistic “avant garde” means confronting critical historical issues. By David Walsh: here.

Stuckism in 21st century Britain: here.

Dadaism and Jeff Koons, from Art for a Change blog: here.

Surrealism and commercialisation: here.


20 thoughts on “Avantgardism, arts, and politics in Dutch history

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    • Thanks for your comment Sarahlynn! My blog post was indeed about the Netherlands about a century ago; but it intended to say something on avant-garde movements in art history in general.


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