Gerrit Rietveld (1888 -1964) was a Dutch designer, who is unique because he never left his hometown to pursue his career elsewhere. He grew up working in his father’s carpentry workshop in Utrecht before working for a jeweler as a draughtsman. In the early 1900s, Rietveld took classes in architecture and made connections with local architects who helped further his understandings of the principles of applied art. A turning point in design and furniture of the time, as well as in Rietveld’s personal career was the opening of his workshop in 1917. Because of WWI and the shortage of materials and accessibility to a wide range of shapes and sizes, Rietveld’s designs became characterized by their innovative and creative use of standard and easily accessible wood sizes. As an intellectual thinker, Rietveld associated with the De Stijl movement and was published as a contributor to the journal De Stijl: Maandblad voor nieuwe Kunst, wetenschap en Kultur. In the later 1930s, he was commissioned to work on various private villas and mansions, while continuing with his furniture experiments.
As a man of many talents, Gerrit Rietveld’s appreciation of a variety of mediums allowed for working with various artists and creatives. In a world that was reeling from the disasters of war, artists were trying to come up with ways to reconstruct spaces and remake living essentials in such a way that was easy and could be mass-produced if needed. Rietveld’s understanding of construction and innovative creation put his work at the forefront of Dutch contribution to Modern design and furniture, with recognition toward the end of his life for architectural work. He was commissioned to build various apartment blocks and institute buildings and was even asked to design exhibition spaces such as the Dutch Pavilion at the 1954 Venice Biennale. His final commission was that of designing the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam but he died before it was completed and thus his plans were completed and carried out by his associates.
Gerrit Rietveld, Red Blue Chair (circa 1980s) H: 85cm W: 60cm D: 66,5cm, lacquered wood, Holland
Typical of Gerrit Rietveld’s simple and practical aesthetics, the Red Blue Chair (Roodblauwe Stool) is made from blocks and planks of wood that were of standard proportions and thus readily available at the time. The original design was made in 1918, with a singular colour wash on the wood. In 1923, while associated with the De Stijl movement and working closely with Piet Mondrian, the colours applied to the chair became the classic primary colours with black. Painting the back in red, the seat in blue and the arms and legs in black, the ends of each plank painted yellow – the chair represented an abstracted and stripped down reinterpretation of the classic armchair. This two-dimensional painting system is in line with Neoplasticism and is most recognizable as in the style of Piet Mondrian’s planar paintings that became so iconic. Rietveld’s designs were the product of intense philosophical thinking that attempted to find new answers for human existence after the atrocities of the war. Thus, the simplified forms and abstracted shapes became an answer to the chaos that existed in the world at the time.