Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys (21 July 1920 – 1 August 2005), better known as Constant, was a Dutch painter, sculptor, graphic artist, author, musician and architect, as Mark Wigley unfolds in his book, Constant’s New Babylon. The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (1998).
During the last months of his life, Thomas Doebele and Maarten Schmidt made a documentary film about him entitled Constant, Avant Le Départ ("Before Departure"), which features unique footage of Constant working on his last oil painting Le Piège (The Trap). Constant died 1 August 2005 in Utrecht and was survived by his fourth wife, son, three daughters and stephdaughter.
Early period 
Constant ws born in Amsterdam on 21 July 1920 as the first son of Pieter Nieuwenhuijs and Maria Cornelissen. Their second son Jan Nieuwenhuys was born a year later. Both sons bevcame artists although their their parents hasd no apparent interest in art.
As a young child Constant drewaws passionately and showed great talent. He read literature with a special preference for poetry and played musical instruments. During his teenage years he learnt to sing and to read music while in the church choir at a Jesuit school. In his later years, greatly inspired by gypsy music, he only played improvised music. He played guitar, violin and at 45 years of age also mastered playing the cimbalon.
He paints his first oil painting, De Emmaüsgangers, at age sixteen. It depicts the revelation of Jesus to two of his followers in Emmaus. With no money to buy materials he paints this painting on a jute sugar bag with pigments he buys from a house painter. Due to his schooling at the Jesuit school, many of Constant’s early drawings and paintings are religiously inspired. When he's twenty he turns his back on Catholicism.
After one year studying at the Kunstnijverheidsschool (Arts and Crafts School), Constant attends the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunst (State Academy of Fine Arts) from 1939 to 1941. Especially during his New Babylon period he puts his skills as a craftsman to use when building constructions and models. He lives and works in Bergen from 1941 to 1943. And through the Bergense School he’s introduced to the work of Cezanne, which impacts him deeply. This is shown in Zelfportret (Self Portrait), 1942.
When Bergen is evacuated by the Germans in 1943, Constant and his wife Matie van Domselaer, whom he married in July 1942, move back to Amsterdam. To avoid the 'Arbeidseinsatz' (labour supply for the Germans) he goes into hiding and since he doesn’t register himself at the ‘Kulturkammer’ (Nazi Chamber of Culture) he is forbidden to exercise his craft and buy art supplies. To paint he uses tablecloths and bed linen and rinses them out to start again. During the war his brother in law, Jaap van Domselaer, moves into the apartment to hide from the 'Arbeitseinsatz' and he introduces Constant to Plato, Spinoza, Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Marx. Especially the latter will provide great inspiration to Constant for his ideas on art and society.
During the winterfamine of 1944 his first son, Victor Nieuwenhuys, is born. After the war, Constant, his wife and son move back to Bergen only to return to Amsterdam in 1946 where he finds an apartment across from Artis (the zoo). When the war is over Constant's artistic view broadens after a period of captivity and limitation. He liberates himself artistically and experiments with multiple techniques. He is inspired by Cubism especially by Braque. In 1946 his daughter Martha is born, followed by his daughter Olga in 1948.
In 1946 Constant travels to Paris for the first time where he meets the young Danish painter Asger Jorn. The friendship between Jorn and Constant later forms the basis for CoBrA. July 1948 he founds the Reflex Experimentele Groep in Holland (nl) with Corneille, Karel Appel and his brother Jan Nieuwenhuys. The first edition of the magazine Reflex is published with a manifest written by Constant. For Constant art had to be experimental. He had deducted this from the French word 'expérience', art springs from experience of the artist and is continuously changing. The manifest would become one of the most important texts on art in the Netherlands after WWII. In this manifest he states that firstly the process of creation is more important to the experimental artist than the work itself. It is a means to reach spiritual and mental enrichment. Secondly work of experimental artists is a mirror image of changes in general perception of beauty.
Constant, Corneille and Appel, three totally different characters and artists, are united in their quest for innovation. They exhibit their work together and are often seen together in the European artscene. This somewhat to the annoyance of other experimental artists in the Netherlands. Especially the wanderlust of the three is notorious.
Later in the year 1948 on the terrace of café Notre Dame in Paris the Experimentele Groep in Holland links up with Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret from Belgium and Asger Jorn from Denmark to form CoBrA. The name CoBrA is made up by Dotremont and is formed by the first letters of their hometowns: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The members oppose aesthetics in painting and bourgeois art in general. Constant had already outlined their ideas in his manifest in the Reflex magazine that holds his famous quote: "A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a man, or all of these together" 
Constant is productive during the CoBrA period. White Bird (1948), Ladder (1949) and Scorched Earth I (1951) are some of his noted works from this period. They publish a CoBrA bulletin and more and more artists from several different disciplines join their ranks. In 1948 Constant, together with poet Gerrit Kouwenaar (nl), publishes a poetry album Goede Morgen Haan. And in a very short period of time there are two large CoBrA exhibitions, one in Amsterdam in 1949 and one in Liege in 1951.
The director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (Municipal Museum of Amsterdam), Willem Sandberg, is very supportive of young artists and fully supports he CoBrA group by giving them seven large rooms to exhibit their work in. However, most of the CoBrA works are fairly small due to lack of money. Sandberg gives them an advance to create some larger works and in the week before the exhibition, Constant, Corneille, Appel and Eugène Brands create several large pieces of art that have become iconic for the movement. The architect Aldo van Eyck is commissioned to shape the exhibition. The exhibition is unconventional to say the least. The works of art as well as the way they are presented give rise to harsh critique from press and public. A critic from Het Vrije Volk (Free People) writes 'Geklad, geklets en geklodder in het Stedelijk Museum' (Smirch, twaddle and mess in the Urban Museum of Amsterdam). An often heard remark from the public is that their kids could probably do the same, only better. The CoBrA artists are considered scribblers and con artists.
At the even larger exhibition in Liege in 1951 and with the publication of the tenth edition of the CoBrA bulletin the group dissolves itself. As Christian Dotremont, the international secretary, states in Museum News in 1962 the group would rather 'mourir en beauté' (die in beauty) than become a regular artist interest group. However short the existence of the group, CoBrA has forever changed the landscape of postwar European art.
Situationist International 
After CoBrA Constant's work becomes more abstract. Back in Amsterdam in the summer of 1952 he develops an interest in spatial architecture and three-dimensional work. With Aldo van Eyck, whom he met during his CoBrA time, he creates a space for the exhibition 'Man and House' at the Urban Museum Amsterdam from 1952-1953. In 1954 he works on a project with Gerrit Rietveld. Together they create a model house for warehouse de Bijenkorf.
In 1952 Constant receives a scholarship from the Art Council of Great Britain to study in London for three months. There he meets, amongst others, Henri Moore, Anthony Hill, Kenneth Martin, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton and Victor Pasmore. He experiences the art climate in London as very welcoming. Opposed to Paris he feels that art is judged more objectively. Constant lives near Kensington Gardens and walking through the bombed city every day he starts to wonder how people live and how cities should be built. His stay in London raises his awareness on how the constructions that surround us influence us. He notices how modern constructions are mostly practical and immensely dull and provide no room to develop a playful and creative lifestyle.
In the summer of 1956 Asger Jorn invites Constant to Alba, Piemonte, Italy, for a congress dedicated to 'Industry and the Fine Arts' initiated by 'Mouvement pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste' (International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus. At this congress Constant presents his lecture Demain la poésie logera la vie in which he pleads for a free architecture which stimulates a creative lifestyle instead of impeding it. The Lettrist International are also at the congress and they plead for a unitary urbanism (the synthesis of art and technology). Later that year Constant visits Debord in Alba, which proves to be an inspiration to both. In 1952 Debord founded the 'Lettrist International', he is a writer, filmmaker and strategic activist.
Debord wants to establish an even more radical movement which will totally abandon the arena of fine art and will solely focus on questions of psychography, a total dissolution of boundaries between art and life. In 1957 he and Asger Jorn bring together the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and the Lettrist International by establishing the Situationist International. They specifically deny their status as an art movement.
Constant does not join the SI just yet. He objects to the SI on the grounds that the movement seems to be established mainly by artists who have their own interest at heart more than a common goal. When the group openly pleads for 'unitary urbanism', as defined by Constant and Debord, Constant joins the SI. An intensive correspondence between him and Debord follows. Constant writes several theoretical articles for the French SI journal and stages events at several museums in Paris as well as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where he shows his New Babylon series in 1959.
The success of the New Babylon show in 1959 prompts the SI to plan a group exhibition there also for April–May 1960. This exhibition will never take place. Disagreements in the group result in a split and several expulsions. In 1960 Constant leaves the group for the same reason he initially objected to joining. By 1961 no one remains of the original artistic core except Debord himself.
New Babylon 
Back in Amsterdam after his stay in London Constant starts to focus mainly on architecture and the urban environment. Focal point in his work is finding out what potential added value art can provide in intensifying daily life, in which there is room for creative expression. He abandonds painting to work solely on his New Babylon project from 1954 to 1969.
With New Babylon Constant envisions a "world wide city for the future" where land is owned collectively, work is fully automated and the need to work replaced with a nomadic life of creative play. New Babylon is inhabited by homo ludens, who, freed from labor, will not have to make art, for he can be creative in the daily practice of his life.
In Constant's own words: The project of New Babylon only intends to give the minimum conditions for a behaviour that must remain as free as possible. Any restriction of the freedom of movement, any limitation with regard to the creation of mood and atmosphere, has to be avoided. Everything has to remain possible, all is to happen, the environment has to be created by the activity of life, and not inversely.
The New Babylon project consists of a series of models, constructions, maqquettes, collages, drawings, graphics and texts expressing Constant's theories of urban development and social interaction. A few examples of spatial constructions for which he uses modern mateials like stainless steel, aluminum and perspex are Het Ruimtecircus (1956) (Spatial Circus) and Het Zonneschip (1956) (Sunvessel).
In 1974 the New Babylon project officially comes to an end with a large exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (Municipal Museum of The Hague). Because he lacks room to store the vast collection of constructions, maquettes, maps and structures he sells them all to the museum. In 1999 Constant's New Babylon: City for Another Life, opens at the Drawing Center in New York. It is his first solo exhibition in the United States and it's curated by Mark Wigley. There is a symposium conducted in conjunction with the exhibition.
According to the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas Constant has made a lot of architects think with his New Babylon: "He was an example of courage".
After ten years of only working on New Babylon, Constant returns to painting, watercoloring and graphics in 1969. Till half way through the 1970s the subjects of his imaginary world New Babylon still crowd his work. However, more and more he's inspired by contemporary and political issues, including such things as the Vietnam War, African famine and Kosovo refugees. Marxism is a strong influence. Rudi Fuchs says in his foreword for the Catalogue of Constant Paintings in 1995 "there are people who consider Constant's later work as a return to tradition. I, however, do not share this opinion. Because I consider his later development from the 1970s as greater penetration into the garden of painting."
In the tradition of the Venetian Renaissance painters, Titian and Tintoretto, Constant applies himself to the technique of colorism. Following this technique the artist doesn't make use of charcoal or pencil sketches but applies colour directly on the canvas with the paintbrush constructing soft transitions instead of sharp contours. The most important feature of this technique is the way light is expressed in the painting by integrating it into the color. This technique is laborious. The painting comes to life layer by layer. Constant paints with oil on canvas and every layer he applies then needs to dry. In this period Constant produces a mere 3 to 4 painting per year.
Public Space 
In 1949 Constant decorated a garden wall in Tibirkelunde, Sjelland, Denmark.
In 1963 The Gate of Constant was placed at the entry of a sports park in the west side of Amsterdam. Constant designed the 40 feet high concrete structure as a commission of the Municipality of Amsterdam. For almost three decades the structure adorned the entry in anonimity until Rita Doets, a former employee of the municipality, left money in her legacy to construct an information sign next to the gate. Apparently she had been impressed by the work and had always regretted the fact that so few people knew of its origins. Constant's widow, Trudy Nieuwenhuijs, was present at the inauguration. She was pleased that the structure was now once again connected to Constant.
In 1966 Constant designed a fountain for the Kooiplein in Leiden. For years the structure didn't function and slowly withered. When the square was redesigned in 1999, the fountain was repaired. New equipment made sure that the shoppers were not bothered by the water.
Fondation Constant 
In 2012 Constant's widow, Trudy Nieuwenhuijs, re-organised the foundation Collection Constant. She renamed it Fondation Constant. The foundation's purpose is to manage, protect and preserve the art collection and legacy of Constant. To honour the artist’s profound appreciation for the French language the foundation is referred to as Fondation Constant. Fondation is French for foundation. A month before he died Constant wrote a letter in which he expressed his wish to have a catalogue made of all his work. One of the foundation's tasks is to honour the artist's wish.
Constant, Avant le Départ (2005), 82 min
Constant died in the summer of 2005. Thomas Doebele and Maarten Schmidt filmed the artist during the last months of his life. They followed him and his dog, Tikus, on their daily stroll to the artist's studio, where he finished his last painting Le Piège (The Trap). A personal tale about a great painter in the last months of his life, working on the final details of the horizon of his last painting.
New Babylon de Constant (2005), 13 min
New Babylon visually captured by Constant's son Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyfert.
Constant oder der Weg nach New Babylon (1968), 55 min
For ten years Constant worked on his New Babylon project as a reaction to the architectural and social reality. Film maker Carlheinz Caspari follows Constant and his visions.
Accompanying Simon Vinkenoog to Constant's New Babylon (1962), 15 min
Lies Westenburg visits Constant at his studio with writer Simon Vinkenoog. Simon Vinkenoog and Constant discuss the ideas behind the New babylon project.
Gyromorphosis (1958), 7 min
In Gyromorphosis, film maker Hy Hirsch strives to display the kinetic qualities of the New Babylon structures of Constant Nieuwenhuys. One by one he puts parts of the structures in motion and films the details with colored lighting having them overlap each other, appear and disappear. He creates a sensation of acceleration and suspence suggested by the work itself.
In 1940 Constant held his first exhibition together with Hans Wiesman at the Aalderink art galery in Amsterdam. In 1947 he had his first solo exhibition at the Santee Landweer art galery in Amsterdam.
A few of Constant's exhibitions over the years are mentioned here. The list is by no means complete:
- 1953 For a spatial colorisme in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Constant with Aldo van Eijck
- 1956 XXVIII Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Venice
- 1959 II. Documenta, Kassel
- 1959 Constant. Constructions and models Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
- 1961 Niw (sic!) Babylon in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
- 1964 4. Documenta, Kassel.
- 1964 Académie Royale, Kopenhagen.
- 1964-1965 '45-'85 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 1967 New Babylon in Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo.
- 1974 New Babylon, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 1974-1975 Constant. An illustration of freedom [drawings 1945-74], Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
- 1978 Constant. Paintings 1969-77, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
- 1980 Constant. Paintings 1940-1980, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 1985 Work from the period 1975-1985, Centraal Museum in Utrecht
- 1985 Arbeiten auf Papier 1948-1985, in Kultur-historischen Museum der Stadt Bielefeldt
- 1986 Constant 1945-1983, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn
- 1993 Constant. Drawings, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 1994 Constant. Models / Constructions, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 1994-1995 Constant. Œuvreprijs 1994, Chabot Museum, Rotterdam
- 1996 Constant: paintings 1948-1995, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam & Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum Ålborg
- 1997 Situacionistes. Art, politica, urbanisme, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
- 1998 Constant, etchings and lithographs, Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas, Venezuela
- 1998-1999 Constant - New Babylon, Witte de With (Centrum voor hedendaagse kunst), Rotterdam
- 1999 Another City for Another Life: Constant’s New Babylon, The Drawing Center, New York
- 2001 Constant, une rétrospective, Musée Picasso Antibes
- 2002 Constant. New Babylon, Documenta 11, Platform 5, Kassel Hauptbahnhof
- 2004 Constant graphic, Cobra Museum
- 2005-2006 Tribute to Constant, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- 2006 Play! The art of play, Cobra Museum
- 2008-2009 Constant. In his studio, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
- 2009 Time as Matter. MACBA collection. New Acquisitions, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
- 2009 Intensely Dutch, Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australië
- 2011 Klee und Cobra. Ein Kinderspiel, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
- 2012 Klee and Cobra. A Child’s Play, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek & Cobra Museum
In 1966 Constant represents the Netherlands with his New Babylon at the Biennale of Venice; in 1999 a retrospective of the New Babylon project is organised in New York and in 2002 New Babylon gets an honorary position at the Documenta 2002 in Kassel.
Public Collections 
Constant's artworks can be found in the following public collections.
- Rijksmuseum – Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam
- Stedelijk museum Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Museum formerly known as Amsterdam's Historical Museum
- Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
- Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
- Centraal Museum, Utrecht
- Groninger museum
- Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
- Stadsgalerij Heerlen
- Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht
- Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
- Cobra Museum for modern art, Amstelveen
- Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede
- Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
- Tate Gallery, London, England
- Tate Modern, London, England
- Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National dʼart moderne, Paris, France
- FRAC - le fonds régional dʼart contemporain et architecture de recherche - Orléans, France
- Staatliche Museen, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
- Kunstmuseum Bochum, Bochum, Germany
- Lehmbruck-Museum, Duisburg, Germany
- Krefelder Kunstmusea, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany
- Kunsthalle in Emden, Germany
- Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, Denmark
- Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg/Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Denmark
- MACBA, Spain
Museums outside Europe
- SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California, US
- MoAFL, Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US
- 1961 Sikkens Award together with Aldo van Eyck
- 1966 Premio Cardazzo at the Venice Biennale
- 1971 refuses the royal decoration of 'Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau'
- 1974 David Röell Award for his work as a drawer
- 1985 Singer Award for his entire body of work
- 1991 Resistance Award of the Foundation Artist Resistance 1942-1945
- 1994 Oeuvre Award from Foundation Fund for Fine Arts, Design & Engineering
Below the list of books on Constant or on the groups he initiated or was part of. This list doesn't include his own writings.
- Klee and Cobra. A Child's Play. Michael Baumgartner en Kirsten Degel, Ludion, Amsterdam, 2012
- Constant. The late period. Trudy van der Horst, BnM publishers, 2008
- In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni. The Situationist International (1957-1972). JRP|Ringier, Zurich, 2006
- Constant. Grafics. Waanders uitgevers/Editions Cercle d’Art, Zwolle/Paris, 2004
- CoBrA. The color of freedom. The Schiedam collection. NAi publishers, Rotterdam, 2003
- Après nous la Liberté. Constant and the artistic avant-garde in 1946-1960. Marcel Hummelink, academic thesis privately published, 2002
- The Activist Drawing Retracing. Situationist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond. Edited by Catherine de Zegher and Mark Wigley, The Drawing Center, New York, 2001
- Constant. Une rétrospective. Musée Picasso, Antibe, 2001
- Constant. L’atelier d’Amsterdam. Jean-Clarence Lambert, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 2000
- The Child in Cobra. Cobra Museum for modern art, Amstelveen, 2000
- Constant’s New Babylon. The hyper-architecture of desire. Mark Wigley, Zero, Rotterdam, 1998
- The A of COBRA in word en image. 50 years Cobra. Jaski Art Galery, Amsterdam, 1998
- Cobra. Copenhague. Bruxelles. Amsterdam. Art éxperimental 1948-1951. Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts et Hirmer Verlag, Munich, 1997
- Constant. Schilderijen/Paintings 1948-195. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 1996
- Constant. Aquarellen/Watercolors 1975-1995. Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1996
- Constant. Les Aquarelles. Jean-Clarence Lambert, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1994
- Cobra. Richard Miller, Nouvelles Édirions Françaises, Paris, 1994
- Constant. Les trois escpaces. Jean-Clarence Lambert, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1992
- New Babylon. Constant. Art et Utopie. Jean-Clarence Lambert, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1992
- Documents Relatifs À La Fondation De L’Internationale Situationiste 1948-1957. Éditions Allia, Paris, 1985
- Cobra 1948-1951. Éditions Jean-Michel Place, Paris, 1980
- Cobra. History, foreplay and meaning of a movement in art after the second world war. Willemijn Stokvis, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1980
|“||Creation and revolutionary struggle have the same objective: the realisation of life.||”|
- Constant, une rétrospective, Musée Picasso Antibes, 2001
- Trudy van der Horst, Constant. De Late Periode, BnM uitgevers, Nijmegen, 2008
- "constant". Kunstkanaal.net. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- "Constant Nieuwenhuys Zelfportret". Galerienieuwschoten.nl. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- M. Hummelink, Après Nous La Liberté. Constant en de artistieke avant-garde in de jaren 1946-1960, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2002
- Fanny Kelk, Constant, G.I.N. Gallery, Amsterdam 1977
- De A van CoBrA in Woord en Beeld, Jaski Art Gallery, Amsterdam, 1998
- Fanny Kelk, Constant, G.I.N. Gallery, Amsterdam 1977, p1
- [dead link]
- Libero Andreotti, Situacionistes, Situationists, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 1996
- Drawing Papers 3, Another City for Another Life: Constant's New Babylon. An Hommage to Constant by Catherine de Zegher, The Drawing Center, New York, 1999, p.3
- Constant, The Decomposition of the Artist: Five Texts by Constant, The Drawing Center, New York, 1999, a12
- M. Hummelink, Constant. Paintings 1948-1995, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 1995, p.4
- Trudy van der Horst, Constant, De Late Periode, BnM uitgevers, 2008,
- Links to some of his paintings and photographs
- Interview from 2003
- Après Nous La Liberté (painting)
- Constant & New Babylon
- Gallery Delaive, large collection of Constant originals