Art Nouveau advertisement for NILLMIJ


This beautiful Art Nouveau advertisement was made for the Nederlandsch-Indische Levensverzekering- en Lijfrente-Maatschappij (NILLMIJ).

The NILLMIJ was an insurance company in the Dutch East Indies. The company was founded in 1859 by a Dutch colonist and was known for its modern Art Nouveau buildings. The NILLMIJ had offices in Batavia (now Jakarta), Surabaya, Semarang, Bandung and Medan. The branch offices in The Netherlands were located in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Bookmark NILLMIJ by Jan Rotgans, Collection Virtueel Verzekeringsmuseum

Art Nouveau design
The design of the advertisement dates from around 1900. The ‘en profil’ pose and the circular medallion in the background are typical for the early Art Nouveau. The depicted woman with her beautiful tiara with inlaid gemstones and other precious jewels shows some resemblance with the work of Alphonse Mucha and Henri Privat-Livemont; only their work is more sophisticated. She’s the personification of ‘Insulinde’. This nickname for the Dutch East Indies was introduced by Eduard Douwes Dekker (better known as ‘Multatuli’) in his book Max Havelaar, which for the first time exposed the oppression of the local population.

Emerald belt
The large diamond on her tiara refers to Indonesia as the crown jewel of the Dutch colonies. The white, red and green gems symbolize the natural riches of the archipelago. The green stones are emeralds and refer to one of the last passages of Multatuli’s book in which he addresses the Dutch king directly: ‘I dedicate my book to you, Willem the third, king, grand duke, prince… more than prince, grand duke and king… emperor of the beautiful empire of Insulinde, that winds around the equator, like a belt of emerald…’

Jan Rotgans?
Unfortunately, the ad is not signed. So we can’t be sure about the designer. But it must have been someone who was well aware of the Belgian and French Art Nouveau. I suspect it’s a design by Jan Rotgans, who worked in a similar style and made a bookmark for the NILLMIJ around the same time (shown above). Rotgans depicts an old bearded man – probably father time – with a sealed book. The accompanying slogan reads: ‘The future is for everyone a closed book… a NILLMIJ insurance policy gives you peace and security.’

Postcard: NILLMIJ head office in Jakarta. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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