Lot 181
  • 181

GERRIT THOMAS RIETVELD | Fireguard from the Birza Residence, Amsterdam

15,000 - 20,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
  • Fireguard from the Birza Residence, Amsterdam
  • painted steel and wood
  • 35 3/4  x 31 5/8  x 10 1/4  in. (90.8 x 80.3 x 26 cm)
  • circa 1927


Commissioned directly from the artist by Mr. and Mrs. Birza, Amsterdam
Christie’s Amsterdam, European Ceramics, Delftware, Glass, Art Nouveau and Art Deco Including 'The Birza Room,' An Important Collection of Rietveld Furniture, May 27, 1986, lot 142
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Gerrit Rietveld: A Centenary Exhibition, Craftsman and Visionary, Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, October-November 1988; Struve Gallery, Chicago, December 1988-January 1989; Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, February-March 1989


Gerrit Rietveld: A Centenary Exhibition, Craftsman and Visionary, exh. cat., Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, 1988, p. 34 (for the present lot illustrated)
Peter Vöge, The Complete Rietveld Furniture, Rotterdam, 1993, p. 73 (for the present lot illustrated)


Overall very good condition. The painted surface with scattered minor surface scratches, abrasions, wear, light surface soiling and minor losses throughout consistent with age and use. The metal with some corrosion throughout, partially visible in the catalogue illustration. The upper edge lacking one screw on the proper right side, which was likely never present from the time of production due to the slight misalignment if the holes of the front and top. The legs were likely a modification by Rietveld to enhance the functionality of the piece within the Birza Residence. The handle with some light wear to the painted surface and corrosion to the hinge. The opposite side appears to have had a matching handle at one point but is no longer present. The interior of the screen with some scattered white accretions concentrated to the bottom portion of the screen. A fascinating and highly unusual work by Rietveld which could be adapted today for use as a console table.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Gerrit, Truus and the Birza Room
Lots 181-183

Since the Birza name is mostly associated with Gerrit Rietveld’s revolutionary one-piece fiber chair, it is often overlooked that the commission was amongst the first interiors realized by Rietveld in close cooperation with Truus Schröder-Schräder.  Rietveld’s metamorphosis from local cabinetmaker to internationally renowned architect could not have been without the involvement of Schröder (who later dropped her maiden name Schräder). To call her Rietveld’s muse would not do justice to her role as his soulmate and promoter, or even, as Rietveld wrote, his “conscience.”  The Rietveld- Schröder house in Utrecht that made Rietveld’s reputation still carries both their names as a testament to their unique relationship.  While Schröder stimulated (and partly financed) Rietveld’s career in architecture, Rietveld in turn encouraged her to establish herself as interior architect and become his associate.  In 1925, shortly after completion of the house, Rietveld moved his practice to a room on the ground floor and put a plate next to the front door saying “Schräder & Rietveld Architects.”

During the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s, Rietveld and Schröder worked together on several interiors, mostly refurbishing existing rooms for a small circle of friends and relatives.  As commissions were scarce, Rietveld profited from Truus Schröders’ extensive upper middle-class network in and outside Utrecht.  The introduction to J.W. Birza, a pharmacist in Amsterdam, was probably made through Truus’ sister, An Harrestein-Schräder, who lived close to the Birzas and was married to a physician.  A great admirer of Rietveld’s work, An Harrenstein was the first client of the Schräder & Rietveld partnership, asking them to remodel the living room and bedroom in her house on Weteringschans in Amsterdam.  The Harrenstein living room, completed in 1926, has specific elements that can be regarded as the Schräder & Rietveld trademark: an open-plan space enhanced by the careful arrangement of furniture and color planes, in which the heating element forms a dramatic accent.  In the Rietveld-Schröder house, no expense was spared in the custom-made heating pipes with eccentric twists, whereas the Harrenstein interior was visually dominated by a long, suspended stovepipe.

In the Birza room, the wrought iron fire guard (lot 181) makes an equally bold statement as a counterweight to the harmonious balance of shapes and colors; it is raw and technical and at the same time irresistibly decorative with its semicircular shape and the regular pattern of pierced holes.  To make hand-made objects (the guard was executed by a local blacksmith) look like industrial products is typical for Rietveld, the Birza chair shaped out of a single sheet of fiberboard being another great example of this philosophy.  It is impatience rather than compromise: instead of waiting for industry to pick up on new ideas, he simply made do.

The sheet-iron of the fire guard is painted black, matching the fitted desk units and chests of drawers alongside the opposite wall as well as black-stained billet chair and fiber chair.  The built-in cupboard to the left wall was painted beet red, which was repeated in the leather writing surface on the desk.  Underneath the large windows to the right, a table was placed with a white painted round drop-leaf top on a black base.  The carpet probably was a shade of green, which would match the later added pair of Zig-Zag chairs (lots 182 and 183), which show a turquoise layer underneath their coats of grey. The zigzag chairs probably came together with a rectangular extension for the round drop-leaf table which Rietveld designed for the Birzas in the mid-1930s.  Underneath a sketch of the table, Rietveld added a small drawing of a Zig-Zag chair and a note to Birza: “How about these new zigzag chairs? They’re very good and can be painted in green. They’re fl. 7 a piece.”

With the Birza room, Rietveld moved further away from his De Stijl idiom, using curves instead of straight angles in the screen, the table top, the billet chair and the fiber chair.  It probably was Truus who added the earthy color palette of beet red and green.  About twenty years later in 1950, Rietveld wrote to Birza: “It was one of the purest interiors I ever did and on seeing it again I was always surprised by its feeling of space.  I must say that you enhanced the color scheme very effectively by hanging paintings and drawings.”  In 1958, Birza wrote to Rietveld to congratulate him on his seventieth birthday, adding: “We are proud to consider ourselves faithful ‘Rietveldrians.’  The ground floor room that you [conceived] so long ago and that shows the mastering of space which is your secret, now is my office.  It is my daily pleasure to be in this room.”  Birza’s letter was addressed to Vreeburg Utrecht, the loft apartment where Rietveld used to live with his wife and family.  But Rietveld moved out a year earlier, after the death of his wife, to finally live together with Truus Schröder in the Rietveld-Schröder house; almost half a decade after their first encounter.


Rob Driessen (Amsterdam, Netherlands) is an art historian and independent consultant in the field of 20th Century Decorative arts & design specializing in the work of G.Th. Rietveld.