In Search of Scents Lost - Reconstructing the Volatile Heritage of the Avant-garde

Image project In Search of Scents Lost
Olfactory Reconstruction of the 1942 Exhibition ‘First Papers of Surrealism’, at Villa Rot, Burgrieden, 2015
Cedar, sulphuric acid, Brazilian coffee and now classic perfumes: they are part of our volatile art historical heritage, as they were presented as autonomous art at the first half of the 20th century.

The embedded research project ‘In Search of Scents Lost’ investigates the role of olfaction during the avant-garde, chronologically and geographically stretching from 1913 (first futurist manifesto on smell) to 1959 (final surrealist exhibition featuring a perfume).
Most of these aromatic interventions were meant to provoke, enhance an ephemeral or even synaesthetic experience, or to create specific (estranging) atmospheres, all in line with the avant-garde’s anti-intellectual, anti-institutional endeavors.

At the core of this project are several olfactory reconstructions and interventions based on written art historical sources and chemical analysis (gaschromatography). In collaboration with the fragrance industry and several heritage institutions, Caro Verbeek will diffuse (or put ‘on sniff’) these art historical scents and study their effects, ideally leading to the awareness of a ‘period’ nose.

Project details

Funded by: NWW 2014-2019 (creative industry)
Budget: EUR 125,000

VU University: 0,2 FTE for 4 years
IFF EUR (in kind)
Royal Academy of Arts: 0,1 FTE for 3 years

Project Leaders/Supervisors
Prof. Dr. Inger Leemans
Prof. Dr. Frits Scholten
Prof. Dr. Katja Kwastek
Bernardo Fleming (IFF, partner fragrance industry)
Pauline Kintz (Rijksmuseum, partner, education department Rijksmuseum)

Caro Verbeek, MA
Website: Caro Overbeek


  • Verbeek, Caro (2015). Es liegt was in der Luft – Duft in der Kunst/ Something in the Air – Scent in Art. Villa Rot, Burgrieden-Rot
  • Verbeek, Caro (2014). In Search of Scents Lost – on the Role of Olfaction in Futurism. In ‘Sense of Smell’ 2014, Avans Hogeschool, Breda, pp 60-69.
  • Verbeek, Caro (2013). Inhaling Memories – Smell and Taste Memories in Art, Science and Practice. In ‘Senses & Society’, vol. 8, nr. 2, Bloomsbury, UK, pp 133-148.
  • Verbeek, Caro (2013). Esthetiek met een luchtje. in ‘Karakter – Tijdschrift’ voor wetenschap, nr. 41, Leuven University, pp. 1-4.
  • Verbeek, Caro (2012). Prière de toucher! Tactilism, in Early Modern and Contemporary Art. in ‘Senses and Society’, 7:2, ed. by Jim Drobnick, pp. 225-235.