Crocuses, Clivias, and the Forgotten Legacy of Johanna Daemen

A book on house plants, published in 1929, has a large, stylized Clivia on the cover.
A book on house plants, published in 1929, has a large, stylized Clivia on the cover designed by Johanna Daemen.

Few Americans have heard of the Dutch graphic designer, illustrator, artist, lyricist, and writer Johanna Maria Hendrika Daemen (1891-1944), and it’s a pity. She began her varied career as a teenager, and since it’s Women’s History Month you’ll be pleased to discover much of it would involve publications aimed at women in the marketplace.

In 1907 she entered the School for Applied Arts in Haarlem and in 1909 she began to design book bindings for the publishing house of the Brusse brothers in Rotterdam. Her style would place her with a regional form of Art Nouveau known as the Amsterdam School, but most of her life would be spent in Haarlem.

Snowdrops frame a personified crocus in this sheet music cover from the early 20th Century. As the cover states, the words are by Johanna Daemen and the music is by Jacoba Craamer.
Snowdrops frame a personified crocus in this sheet music cover from the early 20th Century. As the cover states, the words are by Johanna Daemen and the music is by Jacoba Craamer.

Soon she was illustrating short stories for the magazine Woman and her Home and for major Dutch newspaper The Telegraph. She also wrote words set to music by the pianist and singer Jacoba Craamer of Bussum and designed sheet music covers. One of their collaborations would be programmed at the centennial exhibition The Woman (De Vrouw) 1813-1913, which ran from May 2 to September 30, 1913 in Amsterdam. Although their contribution was called ‘From Flower City’, Bussum was known at least as much for producing shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons, conifers, fruit trees, and shade trees back then.

The cover of a book on perennial garden plants designed by Johanna Daemen.

Wartime would bring new ventures. Beginning in 1917, she worked in the studio of glass designer William Bogtman (1882-1955). In 1919 she became a member of the Dutch Association of Craft and Industrial Art (VANK). Late in the 1920s, the Brusse publishing house would have her illustrate books by horticulturist J. M. van den Houten in their Series for Amateurs (or Lovers, Een reeks voor liefhebbers):

Cacti (1927)
Succulents (1927)
House Plants (1929)
Garden Plants (1930)
Wild Plants and Their Use in Our Gardens (1935)

The terraced design and weeping trees on the cover of Rock Garden Plants (1930) by A. P. Smits make a striking presentation for the topic.
The terraced design and weeping trees on the cover of Rock Garden Plants (1930) by A. P. Smits make a striking presentation for the topic.

The most distinguished and memorable work Daemen created was her tribute to the Hungarian violinist Stefan Pártos, a prodigy who died at the age of 16 in Amsterdam in February 1920 while touring. The Sacred Flame: The Fairy-Tale of Stefan Pártos, which she wrote and illustrated, was published in 1927.

A tree, illustration from Johanna Daemen's 1927 tribute to violinist Stefan Partos.

The fantabulous, over-the-top approach she took to illustrations for the book ought to rank her among Kay Nielsen (1886-1957), Anne Fish (1890-1964), John Yunge-Bateman (1897-1971), and Ronald Balfour (1896-1941) as successors to Aubrey Beardsley.

Question: Would the 1928 play by Somerset Maugham intentionally or unintentionally use her title?

There isn’t much information on Daemen’s career in English, but she is covered in a work in Dutch by the art historian Marjan Groot: Women in Design in the Netherlands from 1880 to 1940 (010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2007). The untranslated title is Vrouwen in de vormgeving in Nederland 1880-1940.

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One thought on “Crocuses, Clivias, and the Forgotten Legacy of Johanna Daemen

  • March 27, 2017 at 5:51 am
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    Beautiful and fascinating, thank you

    Reply

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