Exhibition overview gallery 44, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg
The technique for making wood so flexible that it could be bent originated in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1856 Michael Thonet developed a process for steaming and bending solid wood. His technique paved the way for the industrial manufacture of furniture. Gerrit Rietveld was one
of the first Dutch designers to use this technique. The child’s chair shown is a good example. Even now designers are still experimenting with bending wood. ‘This Chair’, a design by Richard Hutten, is made of wafer-thin 3D veneer.
Charles and Ray Eames dedicated their entire careers to modern and mass-producible furniture. The experiments of Charles Eames with bent plywood were finally successful when he and his wife Ray developed a machine that could bend plywood on a larger scale. After the war they used the same technique for a range of bentwood furniture. Following on from this success, the couple continued to work on affordable designs in experiments with moulded plastic. In 1948 they entered a number of pieces of plastic furniture for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design.
At the end of the nineteenth century there was growing regard for Oriental ceramics in the West. The colourful glazes with which pieces from the East were sometimes decorated made a particularly profound impression. Designers experimented with shapes and glazes and elevated ceramics to an art form in the Netherlands. Examples of these glazing techniques are shown on vases by Chris Lanooy and by Bert Nienhuis.
The Dutch had been Japan’s sole trading partners for two hundred years, but in 1853, the country reopened its ports to trade with the rest of the world. This novel Japanese style moved European art and design in a new direction. Felix Braquemond used motifs borrowed directly from Hokusai prints on a tea set and the silver-plated travelling tea service by Christopher Dresser with its harmonious combination of form and function is a fusion of influences from East and West.
In the 1920s the Leerdam glassworks gave the designers Andries Copier and Chris Lebeau the opportunity to experiment with the support of the factory’s master glassblowers. This initiative was intended to give the designers a better understanding of the inherent characteristics of the material. But the successful results of these tests quickly became a goal in themselves and were marketed under the brand Leerdam Unica. Copier was inspired by the ancient Persian and Roman glass he saw in the collection of Museum Boymans.