The Rietveld Connection

The Rietveld Chair

At age 74, it’s rare to get a really surprising birthday present. However, my brother Simon managed that the other day when he brought over a beautiful copy of the famous Rietveld chair (and table) which he had built especially for my birthday.

What a precious gift! It triggered off a series of emotions and memories from the past 60 years. Here are a few of my encounters with a Rietveld chair.

1960’s Den Haag
I (Marius) was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, but spent my formative years (7-19) in The Hague. Dad (Jo) worked for the Hydrographic Office of the Dutch Navy, where he was a draftsman (1947-1966), working on Marine Charts. However, his training and ambition was as an artist/illustrator, rather than as a draftsman. 

I was, at least in part, wondering about my own lack of artistic ability. My own educational path was painful and patchy, but while at High School (MULO) in The Hague, the city offered passes to local museums. Consequently, I spent many hours wandering around  a couple of terrific museums, the Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum (recently renamed Kunstmuseum).

GemeenteMuseum Den Haag
GemeenteMuseum Den Haag

The Gemeentemuseum is a wonderful 1930’s building designed by Berlage and has the world’s best collection of paintings by Mondrian and … there I first saw a chair by Gerrit Rietveld. All three were part of an art movement called “De Stijl” in the early part of the 20th century.

It dawned on me that you didn’t have to be an artist to appreciate art and that art extended beyond realistic representations on canvas.

Later in the sixties, Dad decided that moving to Australia might be a solution to his ambitions, while I found a “home” away from the arts, in technology.

1976 Dit & Sjaak

Jacques Velthoven at the wheel.
Jacques Velthoven at the wheel.

In 1976, my Australian employer, a medical electronics company, sent me to Europe for training. On free weekends, I took the opportunity to visit relatives, among the favourites, Sjaak and Dit Velthoven in Zuidhorn. A visit to them was always stimulating, whether it was Sjaak spinning wool or Dit designing dresses. And of course, I admired the Rietveld chair in their living room, a copy built by their eldest son, Willem. Proving it was not just an abstract art object, but one available and accessible as an everyday item. Also at that time, I met Thomas, their youngest (12 year old) son who we went shopping for “raw milk” from a local farmer with).

2017 Thomas
In 2017, Joy and I went to Europe on a 2 month holiday to celebrate my 70th birthday, which included a visit to the Nordic countries and a cruise down the Norwegian Coast.

VelthovenChair20170607
The Velthoven version in Norway

Well ahead of our trip, I had contacted Thomas Velthoven, who had moved to Norway with his family. It promised to be a unique opportunity to once again catch up again with a member of the Velthoven family.

Unfortunately, a short time before our trip, we learnt that Thomas had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Nevertheless, his wife, Annemiek encouraged us to still visit them when we were in Oslo. By that time, Thomas’ illness had taken hold of him, but we valued the opportunity to meet up and get to know his family.

Much to my surprise, the “Velthoven” Rietveld chair was in their lounge room, some 40 years since I last saw it at Sjaak and Dit’s place.

2021 Birthday present
When Simon told me he had a present in the back of his car. I was stunned to find a Rietveld chair… One carefully scaled to suit my large derriere, but a real Rietveld chair. And a side table to boot!

Rietveld Chair & Table
Simon’s Rietveld Furniture efforts in all their glory.

I had previously admired the Rietveld chair which Simon had made for himself.  He had been similarly impressed by the work of Gerrit Rietveld and built one for himself after admiring the collection at the Centraalmuseum  in Utrecht during a visit which he and Anne made to the Netherlands for his own 70th birthday in 2019.

Here are some images of that trip (click or tap to enlarge ):

A Collection…
Not the same, is it?
Rietveld History (NL)
Rietveld History (EN)

Thank you, Simon.

References:
Picstory – Family history
Mauritshuis – The Hague
Gemeentemuseum (Kunstmuseum) – The Hague
De Stijl – en, nl
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

August Update

Joh. C. CoomansAfter some distractions in the first half of the year and a terrific holiday in Europe, I’m back working on the picstory.net website. As I’ve given myself 10 years to build it, what’s six months off occasionally?

There are now pages for around two hundred family members (most of them pretty basic) and over 250 photos and other items of interest.

Some of the recent enhancements:

  • A new category – “Other Items” for things I couldn’t fit in elsewhere, like newspaper clippings and memorial booklets.
  • An illustration for the front page – yes, it’s Dad/Jo Coomans, the inspiration for this site ( “what to do what all that stuff he left behind?”). He’ll also show up as the icon for the site.
  • My first translated letters. I can’t see how I can translate more than a few representative ones, but I’ll try.

I’d love some feedback/critique of the site. Here are a few things which I don’t like and will look towards changing:

  • While the miniature photos on a personal page are Ok, even if a bit small, documents end up looking all the same. I think I will end up adding titles below the document miniatures.
  • For some people, the sheer number of items will end up ovewhelming (ie when I upload hundreds of Dad’s artworks). Not sure how to solve it yet, I might have to group the items.
  • Similarly, for some events there are lots of photos, threatening to ‘flood’ pages, for example I uploaded our wedding album. What I ended up doing is only link selective photos to Joy’s and my personal pages. You would need to go to the year (1971) to see the other photos.

Lots more things to consider, but that’s enough for now. I look forward to feedback / suggestions / critiques. Fire away in the comments or email me at mh@coomans.com

A family history project

RommelKamer
Tiny part of the room…

When Dad vacated the family home in mid 2014, we found a rich treasure of artwork, letters, documents, photographs and other “artifacts of life” in his “Rommelkamer”[junk room]. Not to mention the skull in the bedroom cupboard…

I ended up with a lot of the “treasure”, photographing his paintings and drawings and doing my best to preserve anything valuable or of historical interest.

That still left the question of what to do with it all? Was there a way of preserving it as a digital collection and exposing  it to others?

fpIt might also be interesting to document some of the history of our family in moving from one continent and society to another. Underlying the contents of Dad’s room was a story which would be interesting to develop…

So I’ve been experimenting (fiddling) with a way to tell the story for the past few months. In a subsequent post, there will be an opportunity to document some of the design decisions which were made along the way. For the moment, you can have a look at its beginnings at  http://picstory.net

And feel free to comment, criticise and/or question the project.

15-Jo-Adri
Jo Coomans and Adrie Kooij

You might ask, for example, why there are so few of the family’s ‘assets’ on that site just yet. That’s because it seemed logical to start with “a framework” formed by the family tree before adding the ‘assets’. There are some examples already how that might work, though.

I have given myself ten years to get this into a reasonable shape, so use your imagination when browsing and feel free to assist! Oh, and before I close this off, I’m focused mainly on people and events in the already distant past but will respect any feedback and /or requests for privacy.

Meanwhile, follow along!