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Art Nouveau artist Johan Thorn Prikker fled the Netherlands

06 October 2008
The bride, painting by Johan Thorn Prikker
The bride, painting by Johan Thorn Prikker

Although he worked with Jan Toorop, Henry van de Velde and Peter Behrens, virtually no-one in the Netherlands has heard of him – Johan Thorn Prikker (1868-1932). Very little attention has been paid to him thus far, despite nearly all major Dutch and German museums having work by him in their collections. Christiane Heiser has researched the oeuvre of this multitalented painter and designer, who eventually developed his own modern style via symbolism, Art Nouveau and expressionism. She also investigated the circumstances under which Thorn Prikker left the Netherlands in 1904. The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen is currently preparing an exhibition on the basis of her research. Heiser will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 20 October 2008.  

Up to his departure for Germany, in 1904, Thorn Prikker lived and worked in The Hague, creating paintings, murals, textile, furniture, lamps, carpets and other interior design items. In Germany he would become the best-known pioneer of modern monumental stained glass art.

Cooperation with the Belgian avant-garde

Just like Jan Toorop, in 1892 Thorn Prikker joined the Belgian avant-garde circle Les XX (The Twenty). He became friends with the designer Henry van de Velde. Heiser: ‘This group of Art Nouveau architects and designers were followers of the idea of so-called “community art”. This concept was used for the combination of a “Gesamtkunstwerk” [joint work of art] and the belief that art must contribute to a good society. One nice example is the villa De Zeemeeuw (1901) in Scheveningen, designed by Henry van de Velde and decorated by Thorn Prikker. ’ At that time, the old trades were threatened with extinction due to rising industrialization. This is why the villa and its interior were created using traditional methods and ‘honest’ materials. 

Conflict with Berlage

At the time, H.P. Berlage had already become the most influential architect in the Netherlands. He appears to have been critical of Thorn Prikker’s decision to join the Belgian group. Heiser: ‘Thorn Prikker was an anarchist, just like most of the Belgian artists. Berlage’s circle was socialistically orientated and in addition concentrated more on English Arts and Crafts than on Belgian Art Nouveau. They didn’t think the Belgian style was tight enough, it was too floral, too exuberant, too Catholic and too decadent. Their open criticism resulted in Thorn Prikker getting a bad press. He received no more commissions and began to have financial problems.’ In 1904, Thorn Prikker, disappointed and bitter, left the Netherlands.

Pioneer of German glass art

Germany welcomed him with open arms. He was appointed a teacher at various schools of industrial art, first in Rhineland and later in Munich and Cologne. This led to more commissions for him as well. In Germany he became interested in Gothic stained glass and after 1910 he devoted himself to the production of monumental stained glass windows. Over time he developed his own form language. In the 1920s, he was recognized in Germany as the most important master of modern glass art. Heiser: ‘I would even go so far as to say that Thorn Prikker, through applied art, was one of the pioneers of abstract art. The way he combined ornaments and figures was completely unique.’

Curriculum Vitae

Christiane Heiser-Schmid (Germany, 1970) studied Art History and Germanic Studies in Bochum, Saarbrücken and Paris. Heiser’s supervisor at the Faculty of Arts is Prof. Wessel Krul. Her research was financed by the Ubbo Emmius Fund. Heiser has just been appointed external curator for the Johan Thorn Prikker exhibition in 2010 at he Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the Musuem Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf.

More information

- Christiane Heiser-Schmid,

- The thesis has been published under the title: " Kunst-Religion-Gesellschaft. Das Werk von Johan Thorn Prikker zwischen 1890 und 1912. Vom niederländischen Symbolismus zum Deutschen Werkbund" (Groningen 2008).  

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.
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