Utilitarian object? Small-scale abstract sculpture? Both. When I first had the opportunity to investigate this lamp close up, I was struck by the way it’s form, composed of the simplest geometric shapes—circle, sphere, cylinder, cube, seemed to articulate a perfect balance between the functional and the artistic.
The lamp was designed by Dutch architect Jacobus Johannes Pieter (J.J.P.) Oud in 1927, as a wedding gift for his friends Harm Kamerlingh Omnes and Titia Easton. Created to sit on top of a piano, cantilevered out to light the sheet music and keyboard below, it features a cylindrical bulb housing asymmetrically attached to a thin shaft, in turn attached to a circular base, and a heavy spherical counterweight sitting on the back of the shaft. The contrast between the matte metal surfaces and the shiny chromed-metal counterweight heightens the play of forms. Oud had the lamp made by W. H. Gispen, who later put it into production as the “Giso 404” piano lamp.
Oud described himself as a “poetic functionalist,” and like most early modernist architects rejected ornamentation and historicism of any kind. He, architect/designer Gerrit Reitveld, and the artist Theo van Doesburg were leaders in the avant-garde De Stijl (The Style) movement. This group of artists, architects, and designers was brought together by van Doesburg, and published the periodical De Stijl from 1917-1928. It was an international publication spanning architecture, design, and the visual arts. However, by 1922 Oud and van Doesburg had a disagreement and Oud left.
Oud was also strongly influenced by the geometric work of the Bauhaus. In addition, he believed that using standardized building components could create a new kind of harmony and beauty, and result in less costly and more efficient construction methods, eliminating the need for specialized labor which was in short supply in the years after World War I. His buildings were similar to the paintings of Piet Mondrian and von Doesburg, whose works were composed of ‘standardized’ elements (rectangles, squares, primary colors). The Giso 404 lamp is a wonderful construction of standardized elements on a small an intimate scale.