Klaarhamer according to Rietveld, Centraal Museum Utrecht

December 20, 2014 - March 22, 2015

Gerrit Rietveld saw Piet Klaarhamer as his mentor and example. But Klaarhamer more or less fell into obscurity, while Rietveld became world famous. Rietveld always acknowledged Klaarhamer’s significance, however. In the In Memoriam that he wrote following Klaarhamer’s death in 1954, he referred to him as a craftsman, frontrunner and innovator.

The exhibition portrays the nature and dynamics of their relationship. It also examines the reciprocal influence between Klaarhamer and a number of other artists associated with the De Stijl movement. Of particular interest is Klaarhamer’s long-lasting friendship with Bart van der Leck.

In addition to around 60 furniture pieces, the exhibition displays a large selection of photographs, designs, drawings and paintings. Many of the furniture pieces are still owned by family members and are still used until today. Some outstanding exhibits include a reconstruction of Klaarhamer’s living room at the address of Oudkerkhof 48bis in Utrecht, and of part of the weekend house De Kluis in Blaricum.

The earliest furniture designs by Rietveld, in the first decade of the 20th century, show a strong resemblance to those by Klaarhamer. However, from 1919 Klaarhamer designed furniture pieces that are very similar to Rietveld’s Red and blue chair and comparable pieces.

As an architect, in the 1910s and 1920s Klaarhamer designed several dwellings in the vicinity of Utrecht’s Wilhelminapark and in the neighbourhood of Oog in Al. Typical features of his architecture are the straightforward forms and the functional arrangement of interior space. Rietveld: ´His most important work that I'm familiar with are the first dwellings for the 'Buiten Thuis' housing association bordering the 'Oog in Al' park in Utrecht.´ From 1925 to 1938, Rietveld himself lived in a dwelling designed by his mentor on Bachstraat.

Piet Klaarhamer (1874 – 1954)
Piet Klaarhamer was a perfectionist: a designer of furniture and architecture, who purposefully designed even the smallest details. He was a pioneer, in search of a suitable, contemporary form of craftsmanship. In the first two decades of his career, his work was met with mounting acclaim. His work and career reached a high point in 1919, when his work was commissioned by the leading industrialist Cornelis Bruynzeel. Together with Vilmos Huszár he designed the well-known Bruynzeel boy’s bedroom for the family home ‘De Arendshoeve’. However, the year 1919 would not just be his year of glory; in fact it also marked the downturn in his career. In that same year, the art journal De Stijl chose to portray not his work but Rietveld’s reclining chair (which would later be painted to become the famous Red and blue chair).

Outshone by his pupil and for a lack of recognition and clients, in 1933 Klaarhamer withdrew from his profession and even left the city of Utrecht. He devoted the remaining two decades of his life to philosophy, to finally die in virtual obscurity in 1954.