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Gerrit Rietveld - "Utrecht" armchair

The angular and geometric lineament of this prototype of the very rare pre-war "Utrecht" Armchair by Gerrit Rietveld endows it with a gravity defying appearance. The compact, box-like nature of the chair is emphasized by the execution of the armrests - which turn into the front legs - and the absence of hind legs. The seat and backrest create an angle of which the join functions as the hind legs.

The first version of the "Utrecht" chair was produced in 1936 by the company Metz & Co. This chair was upholstered with brown sail-cloth and finished with the clearly visible stitching which characterizes the design to this day. After the Second World War, the sail-cloth was replaced by a woollen upholstery, again with eye-catching white stitching. In 1972, the Italian firm Cassina acquired the rights to produce all objects and furniture by Gerrit Rietveld. They started the production of the "Utrecht" Chair in 1988 and continue to do so to this day.

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht on June 24 1888, to Johannes Cornelis Rietveld and Elisabeth van der Horst. At the age of twelve, Gerrit started working in his father's furniture workshop in Utrecht. Though the days were long and Gerrit detested the old-fashioned furniture pieces his father produced, the job conveyed to him a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship of furniture makers.

In 1904 Rietveld enrolled in evening classes in drawing and the study of ornamentation at the Kunstindustrieel Onderwijs der Vereeniging of the Museum van Kunstnijverheid in Utrecht. Two years later, he attended classes given by the architect Pieter Klaarhamer (1874 - 1954), a student of Hendrik Berlage. The contact with Klaarhamer proved to be a critical point in Gerrit Rietveld's career, as it was through him that the young student became aware of recent national and international trends in architecture and applied arts.

After his studies, Rietveld set up his own furniture workshop in Utrecht and took on Gerard A. van de Groenekan (1904 - 1994) as an apprentice. Free to create furniture according his own judgement and taste, Rietveld designed an unpainted armchair in 1918. One year later Gerrit Rietveld became involved with the journal De Stijl: Maandblad voor Nieuwe Kunst, Wetenschap en Kultuur. He would remain a contributor until its demise in 1931. Under the influence of De Stijl painters - most importantly Piet Mondriaan - Rietveld began experimenting with the use of primary colours in combination with white, black or grey during the early 1920s. These experiments led to the acclaimed "Red and Blue" Chair, a revision of the 1918 armchair, now painted in black and bright primary colours. Rietveld stated that colours must follow the form and emphasize it.

Rietveld's first architectural commission was issued by Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräder in 1924 and would become one of the best known examples of De Stijl. Truus Schröder-Schräder had an important impact on the design of the so-called Schröder house (or Rietveld Schröder House), working with Rietveld and asking for changes in the plan to better fit her lifestyle. The fluid connection between the inside and outside as well as the interior layout in a dynamic, changeable open zone, were created on her request. She became a lifelong friend and supporter of Gerrit Rietveld.

From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, Rietveld concentrated on designing mass-produced furniture and architecture. He experimented with chairs made from one piece of material and designs for housing modules known as kernwoningen. The Dutch company Metz & Co started the production of Rietveld's furniture designs in 1930. They manufactured the "Zig-zag" Chair and the so-called Kratmeubel ("Crate" furniture). During the 1950s and 1960s, Rietveld was in great demand as an architect, receiving commissions from the Dutch government - the Dutch pavilion for the 1954 Venice Biennale and the Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh - as well as large-scale house-construction. Gerrit Rietveld died on his 76th birthday in the Schröder House, where he had lived with Truus Schröder-Schräder since the death of his wife.


- BLES F., Rietveld, 1888 - 1964. Een biografie¸ Amsterdam 1982.

- GABRIËLS J. (ed.), Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 1880 - 2000, Amsterdam 2001.

Object information

Sail canvas
Date and place:
The Netherlands, ca. 1934-1937
71 x 71 x 80 cm
Private collection, Frantzen family, Hilversum, The Netherlands

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