Lecture 015.021

RIETVELD’S BEUGELSTOEL. THE EARLY MODELS MADE OF VULCANISED FIBRE

In 1927 the Dutch architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld developed the so called ‘beugelstoel’, a tube-framed chair. It is one of the earliest Dutch steel-tube chairs and the first of its kind with a one-piece seat and backrest. The bent backrest of the early tube-framed chairs was made from vulcanised fibreboards.
Vulcanised fibre is a synthetic cellulose product which was predominantly used by the electric industry in addition for a type of suitcases. Of special interest are those early products of fibreboard, of which only a few have been preserved. Since mass production started in the 1930s the early models are of both art-historical and furniture-historical importance. The Chair of Restoration, Art Technology and Conservation Science at the Technische Universität München produced in cooperation with the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam a thesis, which examined the few early pieces, preserved in Dutch collections. On the basis of
existing documents, it was tried for the first time to reconstruct the history of Rietvelds ‘beugelstoel’. An analysis of the materials was carried out on a chair of the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, since specialised literature and sources do not convey much information, regarding to the manufacturing process and materials used.
The five examined chairs were systematically compared. Four of the frames are made of massive iron rods, while one frame is made of steel pipe, which influences the type of construction. The shift from steel pipes to iron rods can be seen as a development in the design process. Variations in the dimensions and in surface design, in addition to tool marks, make it clear that it is a customised handmade creation and not an industrial production process. Deformation and cracks of the fibreboards are characteristic in all of the examined pieces. Historic photographs indicate that the cracks resulted from the manufacturing process. The material investigation provides a good example of the materials used by Rietveld. The examination of fibreboard and iron rods gave information on material properties and construction methods. In addition, samples of the surfaces were analysed by the RCE. It revealed that the iron rods were coated with aluminium paint and that the surface of the backrest contains brilliant black-stain and wax.
The early pieces made of fibreboard, from the collections of the Netherlands, can be attributed to Rietveld’s experimental workshop in Utrecht. Determining which pieces were actually handmade by Rietveld himself is not yet possible. It is also unclear to which extent the collection pieces were subsequently revised, partially by Rietveld. From industrial production, only pieces with backrests made of plywood are known. It became apparent that Rietveld offered earlier models of chair backrests made of
plywood.There is still need for research to distinguish the early plywood ‘beugelstoel’
from the mass produced models.

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