Ragged, curvy and relentless, the pussy willow catkins in this print are symbolic of the battle for spring that marks the month of March. Designed by Theodor van Hoytema (Dutch, 1863-1917) for a 1911 calendar, one can understand the month it represents even without translating the Dutch word at the top: “Maart” or March. Known for his book illustrations and masterful work in color lithography, this calendar page is one of several van Hoytema works in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design department.
In Van Hoytema’s naturalistic and slightly discomforting illustrations, like this calendar page, the designer celebrates nature and its correlate life cycle. The pussy willows featured in “March” are not jubilant arbiters of spring sunshine; they are embattled heralds of a season in the midst of change. Inspired by the elongated forms, emphasis on nature, and slightly sickly beings that populate the Art Nouveau style, van Hoytema’s prints are at once uncanny and honest.
Caroline O’Connell is Collections Assistant in the Department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.