Goddesses of Art Nouveau

The Allard Pierson in Amsterdam presents the first exhibition in the Netherlands devoted to the Art Nouveau fascination for the female figure. Around the year 1900 they were both the dream and the nightmare of a gene­ration of artists who sought to escape reality. Innocent virgins, cruel mistresses, pious Madonnas and other female clichés dominate jewellery by René Lalique, posters by Alphonse Mucha, book illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and many other works by renowned designers.

Divine-looking women

Art Nouveau set the tone in Europe and beyond between 1890 and 1914, and drew most of its inspiration from nature. Buildings, interiors and decorative objects feature organic shapes and are adorned with motifs derived from flora and fauna. Moreover, the imagery is replete with beautiful females whose elegant bodies and long flowing hair were borrowed from antiquity, Byzantine icons and medieval legends. These divine-looking women were worlds away from a society in which the first feminists were campaigning for education, the right to vote, and careers of their own.

Serpentine dance

The survey includes drawings, paintings, jewellery, glass, ceramics, textiles and metalwork as well as book covers, book illustrations, posters and feminist literature. One gallery is devoted to female artists active within Art Nouveau. The museum is also screening film footage from the revolutionary Serpentine Dance developed by Loïe Fuller. A separate space focuses on contemporary art inspired by the exhibition theme. Visual artist Matthias Oostrik createan interactive installation with dancer Suzan Tunca.

The exhibition has been compiled by guest curator Dr Yvonne Brentjens and is organized in collaboration with the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe and the State Museum of Braunschweig.

‘Goddesses of Art Nouveau’ is made possible thanks to support from the Mondriaan Fund, the dr. Hendrik Muller’s Vaderlandsch Fonds, the De Gijselaar-Hintzenfonds, the Amsterdams Universiteitsfonds and the Vrienden van het Allard Pierson.


The book ‘Goddesses of Art Nouveau’ was published in October 2020 with publisher WBOOKS.

Interview with Dr. Yvonne Brentjes