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Henry van de Velde

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image of Quaerendo

In Quaerendo, 1 (1971), pp. 164-81 and 2 (1972), pp. 55-73 I analysed Henry van de Velde's first steps as typographer, including, in particular, his role in the designing of the avant-garde Flemish magazine Van Nu en Straks (founded 1893) in the earliest years of the Art Nouveau movement. My conclusion was that the typographical design was the work of a collective, possibly with Elskamp and Van Rijsselberghe, and that the ornaments alone were the work of Van de Velde and Van de Velde only. In Verslagen en Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taalen Letterkunde, 1977, No. 1, pp. 109-44, P.J. Lissens describes three proofs and a copy of a prospectus for Van Nu en Straks which he found in the Museum of Flemish Culture in Antwerp. In this prospectus Van de Velde is named as the magazine's art director. According to Lissens this indicates that contrary to what I suggest in Quaerendo, Van de Velde was responsible for the typography. In the magazine itself, however, Van de Velde's name does not appear. Why not? The editor of Van Nu en Straks, August Vermeylen, was short of both time and cash, but still demanded high standards. The first proof of the prospectus, set by the Antwerp printer Buschmann, he rejected, substituting for it a new design by Van de Velde. The latter, however, kept making changes and was always dreaming of a new type-face of his own (which would take years of preparation). The whole thing was beginning to drag on too long for Vermeylen's liking, and in addition it was costing too much. Typographical compromises had to be made for the magazine itself, to which Van de Velde very probably declined to lend his name. Despite the fact that the newly discovered documents shed new light on various details, I hold fast to my original view - including my contention that the Brussels printer Deman and possibly Theo van Rijsselberghe were the first in Belgium to strike out in a new typographic direction.


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