Expressive Decoration and Rational Rivets: An Ink Set by Eduard Cuypers
by Kylièn Bergh and Ingeborg de Roode
by Kylièn Bergh and Ingeborg de Roode
May 19, 2023
This research log by research intern Kylièn Bergh and curator Ingeborg de Roode discusses the design of an ink set by the architect Eduard Cuypers (1859-1927), which exemplifies the relation between function and decoration in early modern design and architecture. This and other works of the time are on display at the exhibition MODERN — Van Gogh, Rietveld, Léger and others, which is co-curated by Ingeborg de Roode and Stedelijk’s researcher Maurice Rummens.
A brass pen tray is sunk into the rectangular body of a copper object that is roughly thirty centimeters wide, accompanied by two symmetrical geometric ink jars, and held together by a few dozen rivets. Mechanical and symmetrical are perhaps the most apt words to describe this ink set by the architect Eduard Cuypers (fig.1-3). The design dates back to the beginning of the 20th-century when the stage was set for the building tension between expression and rationality, or decoration and function. On the one hand, there is an increasing tendency to reject decoration altogether, on the other hand, it develops a tendency to embrace the traces of mechanical manufacturing as decoration. In this sense the ink set is a curious example: while manufactured by hand, it also embraces the machine aesthetic. Yet how many rivets does an ink set actually need? Are the elements of mechanical manufacturing applied for function or decoration?
Eduard Henricus Gerardus Hubertus Cuypers (1859-1927) started his architectural agency in Amsterdam in 1881. He was trained as an architect by his uncle P.J.H. Cuypers, who among other things designed the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and in the decorative arts by his father H.H. Cuypers who aided in the decorative painting of the Rijksmuseum. Prior to the tilt into the 20th century, Eduard Cuypers became involved in the large-scale project of developing mansions on the Amsterdam canals (herenhuizen) from 1899 until 1905. As an architect and designer Cuypers was an eclectic pragmatist whose designs both advocate a rational approach to architecture and are influenced by traditional styles. He initially looked to the British Arts and Crafts movement as ideal, yet was simultaneously inspired by Indonesian folk art, 17th– and 18th-century architecture, and neo-renaissance and Jugendstil motifs. He thereby laid the foundation for the Amsterdam School with an approach that stimulated the integration of foreign and historical influences. As art historian Titus Eliëns has described, “Cuyper’s varied architectural approach and lack of dogma paved the way for leading architects of the Amsterdam School such as De Klerk, La Croix and J.M van der Mey, who all worked under him.”
For Cuypers, the building functions as a whole. In other words, architecture and interior design are intertwined in an intimate relationship. Due to his well to do commissioners, Cuypers, more than his contemporaries, could afford to dedicate his attention to customizing the interior in agreement with his architectural convictions. In the pursuit of domesticity, Cuypers paid attention to each detail. His convictions and interest in foreign influences were widely spread, not only through his role as mentor and inspirer, but also through the various editions of Het Huis (The Home). With this journal, and in an exhibition hosted in his Amsterdam showroom, Cuypers recognized the importance of women as the target audience.
The donation of his ink set in 2018 marks a brilliant contribution to the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, namely because objects designed by Eduard Cuypers are scarce in museum collections. Whereas the exhibition Living in the Amsterdam School at the Stedelijk in 2016 addressed his prominent role as instigator of the Amsterdam School, no three-dimensional objects had yet been added to the collection to support, demonstrate or advocate it. Since then, the Kunstmuseum in the Hague has also received a donation—his furniture set from 1903—which shows the influence from the British Arts and Crafts movement in terms of decoration (fig. 4).
The ink set, characterized by utilizing pragmatic aspects for decorative purposes, is the pursuit of a harmony between function and decoration. Rivets, for example, are rationally applied for a symbolic function to evoke symmetry and a sense of the contemporary era; influenced by the mark of mechanical manufacturing.
In 1905 Cuypers published a drawing of the ink set in a catalogue put out by his company, both called Het Huis. He wrote that decoration “should arise from the construction” and that the visible rivets “contribute to the good standing of the object.” Therefore, the rivets are used to decorate the handmade artifact and both reveal and celebrate its construction. An embrace of the technical means of manufacturing is exemplified too in a clock designed by H. P. Berlage and becomes central to the proposition of the Nieuwe Kunst movement (Dutch art nouveau) (fig. 5) The artifact seems to provoke a sense of expressive rationality in which the decoration is in agreement with the rational determining factors of its construction – and thus adheres to a symbolic function. Looking for the tension between decoration and function, rational rivets or expressive symmetry, inform one of the many lenses through which to approach the exhibition MODERN – Van Gogh, Rietveld, Léger and others.
Fig. 1. Eduard Cuypers, ink set, design 1905 or earlier, copper, brass, glass, made by Het Huis, Atelier voor Decoratieve Kunst, Amsterdam. Coll. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, gift of D.J. Veltman en C.M. Veltman-Sonnenberg, Ouderkerk aan de Amstel
Fig. 2. Detail of ink set with marks.
Fig. 3. Eduard Cuypers, parts of a 15 piece hall set, circa 1903, stained and painted oak, copper, stained glass, made by Het Huis, Amsterdam. Coll. Kunstmuseum, The Hague – gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maas-Piek, 2020. Foto: Jan Zweerts.
Fig. 4. H.P. Berlage, clock, design 1904, lacquered brass, copper, iron, lead, paint, made by Becht & Dijserinck, for ’t Binnenhuis. Coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, gift of G.D.H. Stibbe te Oisterwijk and E. Stibbe te Bergeijk.
Kylièn Bergh is a researcher and practitioner in the field of graphic design. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague and is momentarily engaged in the master program Design Cultures at the VU in Amsterdam. He gained experience, both as author and designer, at various cultural institutes including Museum Rijswijk and Stroom in The Hague. Contributions to publications include an article for Tubelight, various editions for The Department of Energy and the publishing of self-initiated research projects.
Ingeborg de Roode is curator of industrial design at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam since 2001. She has organized various exhibitions including Designing for children: Aldo van Eyck’s playgrounds (2002), Marcel Wanders. Pinned Up (2014), Touch and Tweet: interactive installations (2015), Living in the Amsterdam School (2016), Solution or Utopia? Designing for refugees (2017), and, in collaboration with Pao Lien Djie, Studio Drift. Coded Nature (2018). She was co-curator of the exhibition It’s our F***ing Backyard. Designing Material Futures (2022) with Stedelijk’s design curator Amanda Pinatih, and co-curated the exhibition MODERN – Van Gogh, Rietveld, Léger and others (2023) with Stedelijk’s researcher Maurice Rummens. Catalogues accompanied several of these exhibitions. She has written for Het Financieele Dagblad, published several opinion pieces in NRC Handelsblad and articles in catalogues of, among others, the Centre Pompidou, MoMA, and Vitra Design Museum.
 Eliëns M. Titus, Marjan Groot and Frans Leidelmeijer, Dutch decorative arts 1880-1940 (Bussum: V+K Publishing, 1997), 213.
 Constant van Nispen, Eduard Cuypers: Architect Met Eigen Koers (Hilversum: Verloren, 2021), 87.
 The journal Het Huis, initiated in 1903, changed its name and format twice. The former name Het Huis. Maandelijksch Prentenboek gewijd aan huisinrichting, bouw- en sierkunst, meubelen was in 1905 renamed Het Huis Oud en Nieuw. From 1928 until the final issue in 1931, it was named Het Nederlandsche en Ned.-Indische Huis Oud en Nieuw. Besides Het Huis, from 1913 Eduard Cuypers published a second magazine on traditional and modern Indonesian houses, Het Nederlands-Indische Huis, Oud en Nieuw. In 1916 this magazine was replaced by its successor with a more general interest in the country, Nederlandsch-Indië, Oud en Nieuw. Maandblad gewijd aan: handel en verkeer, cultures, mijnbouw en hygiëne. See Eliëns, Groot and Leidelmeijer, Dutch decorative arts 1880-1940, 213.
 Marjan Groot and Ingeborg de Roode, Living in the Amsterdam School: Designs for the interior 1910-1930 (Bussum: Uitgeverij THOTH, 2016), 102.
 Translated from the catalogue Atelier voor Dec. Kunst Het Huis”, 1905. In Dutch: “…moet uit de constructie de versiering ontstaan…” and about the rivets “deze zichtbare verbinding medewerkt tot het goede aanzien van het voorwerp”. He calls the ink set an ink tube (inktkoker).