VELDE, Henry van de
(b. 1863, Antwerpen, d. 1957, Zürich)


Belgian architect, designer, and painter. He was an influential figure in progressive circles. Although he first practiced as a painter in Paris in the Neo-Impressionist and Symbolist styles, in 1892 he abandoned painting to concentrate on architecture and design, fields in which he was strongly influenced by the writings of British design reformers John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris.

After studying painting in Antwerp and later in Paris, van de Velde returned to Antwerp in 1886, where he joined the avant-garde artists' association, Les XX. In Brussels, he became increasingly influenced by English Arts and Crafts pioneers John Ruskin and William Morris and abandoned painting to pursue the design of interiors, book graphics, jewellery and metalwork. Like Morris, Van de Velde advocated the idea that all branches of art share a common language of form and are equally important to human existence. He saw ornament not as decoration but as a logical element of the total work and the result of formal, structural considerations. His forms evolved from plants and other natural motifs into an abstract style. He believed that contemporary design should be modern and express the needs of the day.

Van de Velde's career can be divided into five periods based upon changes in his locale. The first Belgian period dates from 1893-1900, this was followed by an important phase in Berlin and Weimar (1900-17), where he became the artistic director to the Grand Duke of Saxony (c. 1902) and in 1908-14 directed the Weimar Kunstgewerbeschule (Weimar School of Arts and Crafts), a precursor to the Bauhaus. The third period was spent in Switzerland from 1917-20. A fourth phase in the Netherlands from 1921-25 was followed by a second Belgian period from 1925-48. In Brussels, he founded the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture, which he ran from 1925 to 1936. He spent the last ten years of his life in Switzerland.

After the turn of the century, Van de Velde became very influential in the field of aesthetics through his teaching and writing. His books, "The Renaissance in Modern Applied Art" (1901) and "A Laymen's Sermons on Applied Art" (1903), were essential theoretical sources for Art Nouveau and the development of 20th-century design and architecture.

Van de Velde married in 1894. Next year he built a family home, Bloemenwerf (1895), near Brussels, for which he designed the architecture and house contents in a coherent, organic whole, down to his wife's dresses and jewellery. The house brought Van de Velde to the attention of the art historian, critic, and publisher, Julius Meier-Graefe, and the art dealer Samuel Bing. Bing, who was opening his boutique, L'Art Nouveau, in Paris, commissioned Van de Velde to design four rooms (a dining room, two salons, and a bedroom) for his shop. These designs were subsequently shown at the Exposition des Arts Appliqués in Dresden, Germany in 1897. From this time on, Van de Velde was in great demand in Germany. The influential German periodical, Pan, published his article on the making and fabrication of modern furniture along with a reduced version of the Tropon poster.

In 1898, Van de Velde founded the Société Van de Velde for the popularization of construction and ornamentation. The same year, he also built a factory in Brussels for the production of interior furniture that was sold at Meier-Graefe's newly-opened Parisian shop, La Maison Moderne.