Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964)

Dutch architect and furniture designer, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was a leading figure of the movement known as De Stijl; his simple shapes, vibrant colors, and geometric assemblies have remained synonymous with De Stijl and its aesthetic.

Photographic portrait of Gerrit Rietveld

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About his life

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born on June 24, 1888, in the Dutch city of Utrecht, where he would spend most of his life. In his early years, he was trained as a cabinetmaker by his father (between 1899 and 1906) and, later on, as a jewelry designer in the studio of C. J. Begeer (1906-1911). Rietveld’s career as an independent architect began in 1919, the same year as his entrance in the De Stijl movement, advocates for geometric abstractism as a means towards harmony and balance, remaining attached to it until 1931. In 1921, he began a period of collaboration with the designer Truus Schröder-Schräde, a Dutch socialite already involved with the avant-garde group, form whom he created the Rietveld Schröder House. By the 1930s, Rietveld’s fame seemed to have passed, but with renewed interest in De Stijl – related production following World War II, he began receiving important commissions once more. Rietveld died on June 25, 1964, in Utrecht.

Gerrit Rietveld, working on a scale model of Schröder House

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Body of work

Focused mainly in Holland, his architectural accomplishments include an Amsterdam jewelry shop (1921), the Row Houses at Utrecht (1931-34); the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennial (1954); the Sculpture Pavilion in the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller at Otterloo, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (1955) and – perhaps most importantly – the Schröder House at Utrecht (1924), currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

To further elaborate on the latter, the house is a family-sized habitation, built to emphasize a geometric balance between the individual shapes, a flexible interior spatial arrangement, whose unconventional yet fresh approach to architecture has included it among the icons of Modern architecture.

Schröder House, Gerrit Rietveld, 1924, Utrecht

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Of equal importance is his furniture design activity: the Red and Blue Chair (1918-1923), which looks almost like a tridimensional version of a Piet Mondrian painting; the Schröder 1 (1923); the Zig Zag Chair (1934) and the Utrecht (1935).

Zig Zag Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1934

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Stylistic traits

Most of his works encapsulate the De Stijl principles: Gerrit Rietveld adopted what he perceived to be a purer form of geometry, consisting of shapes made of straight lines and basic geometries, largely rendered in the three primary colors, plus black and white. He embraced an abstract, stripped-down yet elegant aesthetic. Partly a reaction against the decorative excesses of Art Deco, the reduced quality of De Stijl art was envisioned by its creators as a universal visual language appropriate to the modern era, a means towards reaching a sort of perfect balance, in art as in life.

Red and Blue Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1918-1923

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