Date: 1 Dec 2002

Beeldspraak in Zilver

Piece -- materials: silver, gold leaf; dimensions: 27 x 27 x 28h;

In December 2001 / January 2002 a major exhibition took place at the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, a retrospective: "Imagery in Silver", 25 years of art in silver by Jan van Nouhuys. In one hall, almost all of his work of the past 25 years, since the founding of his studio, was shown. Jan Rudolf de Lorm, curator metalwork-department of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam held a speech at the opening where a large number of people were present. Since the essence of his speech best sums up what this retrospective was all about it is published below.


When you work with a historical silvercollection in a museum, like I do, you realise that 95 % is silver to be used and silver to show off, and only 5% deserves to be called art. After 25 years with a number of groupexhibitions, this is the first ever solo exhibition in a museum of the silversmith who deserves to be called: artist in silver, Jan van Nouhuys.

Let us go back in time a little. In the 19th century the crafts are under pressure ; guilds are abolished, industrialisation is growing ; the linking of monetary value to silver is ended. At the beginning of the 20th century we see a revival of craft with a high degree of art (Dutch silversmith Zwollo is well-known for that).

After World War II the craft of silversmithing almost vanishes. With the projects of Silver in Motion (Zilver in Beweging), started in 1990, van Nouhuys has been a pioneer who has revitalised the craft. From being a traditional silversmith and restorator of antique silver, he developed into a free artist in precious metal. That is to say, freedom within boundaries ; bound in the commission ? NO ! Bound to four logical starting points, or rather invitations, according to Jan. They are: function, material, technique and form. Function is called by Jan the fourth dimension of his work. Polishing the fifth ; the care and love of the user.

Technique : in 1980 Jan travels to London together with Bram Aardewerk (antique silver dealer) and Titiaan de Geer (colleague silversmith) to study the so-called dolphin dish made by Christiaen van Vianen. They dig deep into the roots of their craft. Their conclusion is that the dish has been made out of a thick piece of silver (and not out of a thinly rolled sheet). Van Nouhuys makes several objects in those years in the auricular style. It is like moulding in silver. "These experiences have infected my approach." Technique as point of departure for form. SO NOT FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION BUT FORM FOLLOWS TECHNIQUE (AND MATERIAL).

As an art-historian you want to look for context, interpret ; even now I can't contain myself, but luckily for us the subject himself is present and can rebuke me for my presumption ; I look at van Nouhuys in the tradition of the artists / freedomseekers who protested against the set of rules of academism : the auricular style in the 17th century, the rococo in the 18th ; later the art nouveau.

With nature as starting point, organic forms, averse to any straight line, even the cubic has to be hidden inside a ball. Motion is essential in more than one way. There are candlesticks with knuckle-bone-like forms, humorous sloping jugs as abstracted beings : Miaow and Woof. Also the centuries old technique of sawing-work in a new disguise : an impressive series of very convincing powerful works, and a lot more.

I began by saying that this is the first solo-exhibition in a museum and before I finish I must add that I think it would be a disgrace if museums did not acquire his work. I like to end with something Jan said to me about his approach to his work : "ACTUALLY IT IS ALL ONE BIG PARTY, ISN'T IT!" Let's celebrate his party with him !