About the architect
Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht in 1888. At the age of 11 he started working in his father’s furniture workshop. In the evening he studied technical drawing at the Utrechtsch Museum van Kunstnijverheid, where he was taught by architect Piet Klaarhamer. After this Rietveld went to work for a local goldsmith and opened his own furniture workshop in 1917.
Rietveld found the handmade furniture from that time too heavy, unnecessarily expensive and too labour-intensive to make. He was interested in machines that could produce simpler and more accessible furniture for a mass market. His work revolutionized the way furniture was designed and produced. In 1919, his chair – at the time with unpainted, beechwood slats – was featured in the art magazine De Stijl, edited by Theo van Doesburg. This was the beginning of Rietveld’s success.
In 1922 Rietveld married Vrouwgien Hadders and they had six children. His youngest son, Wim Rietveld, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a renowned industrial designer. After the completion of the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht in 1924, Rietveld began working from a studio on the ground floor. When his wife died, he decided to live with Truus Schröder where he stayed until the day he died, a day after his 76th birthday. In 1968, the prestigious Institute for Arts and Crafts Education in Amsterdam was renamed the Gerrit Rietveld Academy.
About his work
Rietveld's early work was characteristic of De Stijl, a modernist art movement with members such as Piet Mondriaan and Theo van Doesburg.
His masterpiece, the Red-Blue Chair, was praised for its simplicity and - in Rietveld's own words - "honest design". The abstract composition is inextricably linked to De Stijl, which focused on a harmonic design through geometry. In 1923, Rietveld, on the advice of fellow artist Bart van der Leck, painted the chair in high-gloss primary colours, as a result of which the areas of colour seemed to float.
The Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht is one of Rietveld's most important creations. Truus Schröder admired Rietveld's work and asked him to design a house for her and her children. The final result and the use of light and space in the Rietveld Schröder House was groundbreaking for 1924; thanks to the horizontal windows there was plenty of light, sliding doors divided the space, and the pronounced colours emphasised the geometric forms. In terms of style, the house was reminiscent of a three-dimensional Mondrian painting and received media attention worldwide. Since 2000, the Rietveld Schröder House has been on Unesco's World Heritage List.
Rietveld's latest project, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was one of his most important. Rietveld died a year after the project had started. Nine years later the museum was completed, without deviating from his original sketches.