about Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

GERRIT RIETVELD (1888 – 1964)

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands, as the son of a carpenter on June 24, 1888. Today we would probably call Gerrit Rietveld a self-made-man: early on, Rietveld started to learn and work in his father’s carpenter’s workshop. At the age of 16 Gerrit Rietveld enrolled for evening art courses at the museum of his hometown. Two years later he started to take private classes at an architect’s office late in the evening in order to learn how to draw construction plans. During the day Gerrit Rietveld continued to work in his father’s carpenter’s workshop. 

In 1912, at the age of 24, Gerrit Rietveld opened his own cabinet maker’s office and workshop. In the beginning he was alone but later on was joined by “Gerard van der Groenekan”. In the following years they produced a large number of furniture together. In 1917/18 Rietveld also designed the prototype of a later design classic: the “red and blue chair”, though in the beginning it was not blue and red but made of plain and simple wood.

In order to create today’s world-famous red and blue painting, Rietveld had to meet the De-Stijl movement first. This group, consisting of architects and designers, set themselves the target to realize a new art determined by ascetic forms of expression and a purism restricted to functionality. So in their manifesto they wrote:

“Traditions, dogmas and the domination of the individual (natural) are opposed to this realization.”

Gerrit Rietveld painted his chair in the purist complementary colors “red and blue“ and published his design in the De-Stijl magazine in 1923. This chair attracted a lot of attention and was displayed at an exhibition in the German Bauhaus shortly afterwards. In addition to that it became the central element of the De-Stijl movement.

Gerrit Rietveld´s furniture designs were always breathtaking constructions made of plain and simple materials: in difficult times, during the economic crisis, Rietveld even designed furniture made of old crates. Rietveld´s designs have one thing in common – they are all limited to symmetrical forms, corners and edges. Another world-famous design is his “Zig-Zag-Chair” (1934) consisting of only four boards. 

Gerrit Rietveld died in Utrecht on June 25, 1964.