The Regional Furniture Society was delighted to present a Zoom lecture by Hans Piena, Conservator of the Dutch Open Air Museum, Arnhem on Wednesday, 7th April at 18:00 hrs GMT on ‘The History of Dutch Painted Furniture. The lecture is now available on the RFS YouTube channel.
Hans is well-known to members of the Regional Furniture Society. He recently joined our Shropshire conference where he delivered a fascinating talk on the history of Dutch rush-seated chairs, but we first met at Arnhem on our study tour of Dutch painted furniture in 2001.
His new 50 minute presentation, recently delivered at The Rijksmuseum, is the result of his 14 years of research since our visit. It covers the history of Dutch painted furniture which was produced by members of guilds known as ‘witwerkers’. ‘Wit’, meaning white, refers to the pieces in their initial unpainted state. Witwerkers developed great skill in decorating these pieces in faux exotic veneers or with painted stories from the Bible, in imitation of a host of fashionable hardwood items such as cabinets, wardrobes, chests of drawers and tables. It is usually assumed that painted furniture was a rural craft, but Hans will explain that witwerkers emerged in the cities – the first witwerkers’ guild founded in Amsterdam in the early seventeenth century. During the course of the seventeenth century, the influx of immigrants and rise of the middle classes led to a boom in the market for inexpensive painted furniture and the development of a marketing and distribution network into the distant reaches of the Netherlands and overseas as far as Russia and beyond, including, of course, those bow corner cabinets to England that are so familiar. Witwerk evolved to reflect the changes of the finest furniture through the late 18th and early 19th century, sometimes with humorous consequences.