Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) is one of the best-known and, thanks to his prolific writing and some clever self-promotion, indisputably one of the most influential Dutch architects of the twentieth century. Born at a time when architects were looking to the styles of the past, he has gone down in history as the leading innovator in architecture around the turn of the twentieth century. Berlage still enjoys a major international reputation, too. The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, which was completed in 1935 – after Berlage’s death, unfortunately – is seen by many as his greatest masterpiece.
Of course the Gemeentemuseum is the quintessential Berlage museum. The decorative art 1880-1940 collection includes many examples of his designs: important early interior designs for wealthy clients, many items of furniture and metalwork designed for his Amsterdam salesroom ’t Binnenhuis (1900-1929), and everyday glassware and crystal designed for the Leerdam Glass Factory. All these designs were based on simple principles – the socialist ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. The structure was the basis for Berlage, with decoration playing a subordinate role, to be used only where it served a purpose. In reality, however, it is not always possible to practise what one preaches, and Berlage did not always adhere strictly to his own rules. Nevertheless, mainly thanks to his publications, he has a reputation as an artist with a highly austere design philosophy.