Height: 13.200 cm
Width: 27.300 cm
Room 48: Europe 1900 to now
Porcelain gravy boat, designed by Henry van de Velde, made by Meissen
Dresden, Germany, AD 1903-4
In the Art Nouveau style
The Belgian designer Henry van de Velde (1863-1957) trained as an artist in Antwerp before embarking on a career in decorative art in 1892. He was a pioneer of the Art Nouveau style, designing interiors and furniture for two fashionable Paris shops, La Maison Moderne and Maison de l'Art Nouveau, during the 1890s. In 1898 he founded his own decorating firm in Brussels, moving to Germany in 1900. By this date he had begun to design in a wider range of materials, including silver, glass and ceramics.
This gravy boat is from a service called Peitschenhieb, meaning 'Whiplash', which explains the unusual form of the vessel, particularly the continuous diagonal line from the handle to the integral saucer. Dynamic linear motifs of this kind are a recurrent theme in van de Velde's work and were widely adopted in Art Nouveau design in general.
The Meissen factory had wished to update their range and engaged van de Velde and Richard Riemerschmid (1868-1957) as distinguished outside designers. The idea of designing and making the gravy boat and saucer in one piece was revolutionary, but this service was expensive to produce and was neither a critical nor a commercial success. A German critic called L. Gmelin dismissed it, saying 'Van de Velde has not understood how to do justice to the delicacy of the material.'
J. Rudoe, Decorative arts 1850-1950: a c, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
K.-J. Sembach, Henry van de Velde (London, Thames and Hudson, 1989)
G.P. Weisberg, Art Nouveau Bing. Paris style (New York, Abrams, 1986)
J. Rudoe, 'Aspects of design reform in the German ceramic industry around 1900', Journal of the Decorative Arts, 14 (1990), pp. 24-34