Poster, Tropon est l'aliment le plus concentré (Tropon, the most concentrated food supplement)
Tropon Werke manufactured a product to improve public health, which was a protein developed from egg white. In 1898, Tropon’s general manager, Eberhard von Bodenhausen, appointed Henry van de Velde as the firm’s director of advertising and graphic design. In this poster, Van de Velde depicts egg whites separating from the yolks and flowing around the words “est L’Aliment le plus concentré” in a highly original abstract composition. The sinuous treatment of the line and the manner in which the colors, forms, and lettering are integrated and arranged expresses the art nouveau graphic style at its height. Van de Velde's graphics and packaging for Tropon received the respect and admiration of the entire graphic design community—the poster appeared in four publications that year.
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, jewelry, 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 as the result of formal, structural considerations. His forms evolved from plant 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. A first Belgian period dates from 1893–1900; this was followed by an important phase in Berlin and Weimar (1900–17), where he directed the Weimar Kunstgewerbeschule (Weimar School of Arts and Crafts), a precursor to the Bauhaus. A 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. The last 10 years of his life were spent 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 for the development of 20th-century design and architecture.
An example of his aesthetic theory, from an unpublished manuscript called the Manuscript on Ornament (1916–18), sheds light on his composition for Tropon. Taking his cue from the recently publicized Paleolithic linear cave drawings in Altamira, Spain, Van de Velde argued that line, rather than geometry, was the basic component of all art because it was an instinctive manner of visual description and the creative carrier of human energy. He referred to line as the “creative force.”
Van de Velde married in 1894; the 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 jewelry. 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; the 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 (8 ½ by 11 inches) 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.
This poster would be the first example of Van de Velde’s work to join the museum’s collection and would provide a foundation for future Van de Velde acquisitions. The acquisition of the poster would also be a major contribution to the 19th-century section of the museum's forthcoming exhibition, Rococo: The Continuing Curve. The work is especially important as Van de Velde was a major theoretician of the art nouveau movement.
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Poster, Tropon est l'aliment le plus concentré (Tropon, the most concentrated food supplement); Germany; lithograph on wove paper, lined; 2007-2-1