With its overlapping pattern of abstracted florals and its animated orange circular motif, this exhibition poster designed by artist Johan Thorn Prikker (b.1868-1932) is a true icon of the Nieuwe Kunst (Art Nouveau) style in Holland. Created for an exhibition of Dutch art at the Kaiser-Wilhelm museum in Krefeld, Germany, Thorn Prikker employed several signifiers of Dutch nationalism to advertise the event, most notably the orange (for the House of Orange-Nassau), the tulip, and Indonesian batik.
Batik textiles were a major source of pride to the Dutch nation in Thorn Prikker’s time and represented the cross-cultural exchange with their Indonesian colonies, most importantly Java. This eastern form of textile design breathed new energy and vitality into western applied arts. Johan Thorn Prikker and his contemporaries re-appropriated batik designs by applying them to upholstery, apparel, wall-coverings and posters, enabling batik to become the primary aesthetic ingredient in the Nieuwe Kunst.
Johan Thorn Prikker, a major contributor to the Symbolist movement in the Netherlands, gained recognition early in his career for his paintings and drawings. However by the turn of the century, Thorn Prikker soon became an ardent exponent of the applied arts, contributing to a wide range of other media, from book covers and stained glass to furniture, mosaics and carpets. In the Krefeld poster, we clearly see Thorn Prikker’s skills in both batik and stained glass, where he harnesses line, color, light and dark to a beautiful effect. In his essay, Feast of Diversity: Nieuwe Kunst Book Design, Alston Purvis noted that Dutch Art Nouveau graphics were unique from their contemporaries’. He states, “the Netherlands version was far more playful and provocative, reflecting the complexity and diversity of Dutch society.” When looking at Thorn Prikker’s poster, this statement rings true. Where the patriotic orange and the Javanese ornament come together – the diverse and playful style of Dutch Nieuwe Kunst is found.