Art Nouveau bookbinding

This Art Nouveau style bookbinding was designed by Henry van de Velde and made by Paul Claessens for the book L’Art de la reliure en France aux derniers siècles (The Art of Bookbinding in France over the Past Centuries), published by Edouard Fournier in 1864.

It is not only the first bookbinding designed by Henry van de Velde (in 1893-95), but also the first Art Nouveau bookbinding made in Belgium, which makes it even more exceptional. Fortunately, the preparatory drawings for the bookbinding have also been saved.

Henry van de Velde opted for a classic technique and materials, combined with a rather sober motif for this publication, which deals with the art of bookbinding in France. An approach that contrasts significantly with the elaborate decoration usually afforded to older bookbinding.

The green Moroccan leather is embossed with golden lines and curved motifs, interspersed with stylised campanulas. Henry van de Velde used a gilding iron to achieve this effect. The edges of the cover are decorated with a double frame of golden hatched lines, together with a motif of golden lozenges. The doublures and flyleaves are covered with yellow silk that is patterned with pomegranate stems.
It would seem that Henry van de Velde ordered the silk in England, since not only its design, but also its subject – pomegranates – were often used by English companies. William Morris (1834-1896), one of the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement, also used pomegranates in his designs. Morris had a huge influence on the young van de Velde, as can be seen in the aesthetic and decoration of this book. It is an excellent illustration of the movement’s influence.

This bookbinding is also a wonderful example of how the talented young van de Velde gradually found his own style. Here, the flowers are still in a relatively figurative style, but they would later develop into the more linear forms that are specific to Art Nouveau.

The owner of the book wished it to be safeguarded as part of our public collections and this led him to sell it directly to the Heritage Fund. The Fund made the acquisition so that this precious bookbinding would not only be secure, but also accessible to everyone by entrusting it to the Bibliotheca Wittockiana.

Material / technique: 
Paper, leather
19 x 11,5 cm
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Heritage Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Bibliotheca Wittockiana