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European & American Art
Abstraction gallery

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Gerrit RIETVELD

Utrecht, The Netherlands 1888 – 1964

designer

Gerard VAN DER GROENEKAN

Utrecht, The Netherlands 1904 – 1994

maker

Berlijnse stoel [Berlin chair] 1923 Utrecht, Utrecht province, Netherlands
interior design, furniture, painted wood
Primary Insc: No inscriptions
99.2 h x 70.6 w x 58.5 d cm
Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1127
Subject: Art style: De Stijl
© Gerrit Thomas Rietveld/Beeldrecht. Licensed by Viscopy

MORE DETAIL

  • In 1911 the architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld opened his own architecture practice and design studio in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He was associated with De Stijl, the progressive Dutch art and design movement that united the work of a group of Dutch artists, architects and designers between 1917 and 1931. Their work expressed elemental principles of mass, line and primary colour in the production of graphic imagery and objects. Rietveld’s designs for buildings and interiors integrated these principles through simple custom-made painted wooden furniture; many pieces were compositions of planar and linear elements differentiated by the use of primary colours, and black and white. His definition of form through construction influenced design and architecture of the 1920s.

    The Berlin chair was part of an ensemble of furnishings designed by Rietveld when he was collaborating with the painter Vilmos Huszar (1884–1960) in the design of an exhibition in Berlin in 1923. Their exhibit, titled Spatial composition for an exhibition, included several of these chairs. This particular chair was later used as everyday furniture in Rietveld’s home in Utrecht. It is the most sculptural of his furniture, its abstract formalism allowing it to be enjoyed from all angles.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • This chair was designed by Rietveld at the request of Vilmos Huszar (1884-1960) to complement an interior which Huszar was invited to design for the 1923 Juryfreie Kunstschau, Berlin. Hence the chair is known as the 'Berlinjse stoel' or 'Berlin chair'.1 Erich Buchholz (1891-1972), El Lissitzky (1890-1947) and Willi Baumeister (1889-1955) were also invited to design interiors for this exhibition. Huszar's finished design for the interior, in the form of a maquette with a cardboard model of the Berlin chair in place, was published in colour in the architectural journal L'Architecture Vivant in the Autumn-Winter issue for 1924.

    The planar elements of the chair were painted in neutral grey, black and white, complementing the blocks of bright primary colour with which Huszar proposed to decorate the walls of the room. During the Second World War the chair was painted black by Rietveld. In 1975 it was repainted in the original combination of greys, black and white by Gerard van de Groenekan at the request of Bertus Mulder who was responsible for the restoration of the Schröder house, Utrecht, and who wanted the chair for his exhibition 'Rietveld Schröder huis 50 jaar' (Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1978).2

    According to Mr Gerard van de Groenekan, who became an apprentice in Rietveld's furniture workshop in 1918 and was responsible for the construction of most of the furniture according to Rietveld's designs after 1920, the Australian National Gallery's Berlin chair was the first example of this design made specifically for the Berlin pavilion.3 Further examples were made later, most immediately for the Schröder house.

    The Berlin chair is constructed almost entirely from flat planks, and is the most sculptural, even architectural, of Rietveld's chairs. Its strong planar elements — the large black panel that serves both as back and as rear 'leg', the broad black horizontal armrest supported by a slightly narrower white leg panel, and the high, light grey, vertical side panel — anticipate the forms of the Schröder house completed in the following year. Whereas the earlier furniture is composed symmetrically of linear elements, through which space flows freely, the Berlin chair is composed asymmetrically of planes enclosing space like a small building.

    Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.147.

    1. It is generally assumed that the interiors by Huszar, Buchholz, Lissitzky and Baumeister were commissioned for the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung of 1923. This is not the case. These artists were invited to design interiors by the director of the Juryfreie Kunstschau, Hermann Sandkuhl.
    2. Bertus Mulder, correspondence with the Gallery, 2 March 1990.
    3. Gerard van de Groenekan statement of November 1986: 'Ondergetekende G.A. v.d. Groenekan wonende Utrechtseweg 315 De Bilt verklaart hiermede dat hij deze Berlijn stoel (Berlin chair) van massief hout (de latere zijn door mij van multiplex gemaakt ) als eerste examplaar voor Arch Rietveld's eigen gebruik heeft gemaakt in het jaar 1923' (the undersigned G.A. v.d. Groenekan residing at Utrechtseweg 315 De Bilt herewith states that he has made this Berlijn chair (Berlin chair) of solid wood (the later ones are made by me of plywood) as first sample for Arch. Rietveld's own use in the year 1923) (ANG file 87/198, part 1, folio 45).

      Gerard van de Groenekan also pointed out to C. van Fraeijenhove that the example of the Berlin chair now at the Australian National Gallery is smaller than later versions, which are generally around 106 cm tall, and is constructed so that the flat armrest is on the left (as one sits in the chair), as appears in the published plans for L'Architecture Vivant, 1924, whereas in most later versions it appears on the right (C. van Fraeijenhove, correspondence with the Gallery, 23 November and 30 December 1987).

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010