Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof started his artist career as an innovative craftsman, especially in the area of decorations in flat ornament that he would apply to furniture and wall decorations. Dijsselhof was thus one of the driving forces behind the New Art, the renewal of the Dutch arts and crafts industry inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century. As an all-round artist, he made furniture, textiles, bookbinding, glass, embroidery patterns and paintings. This would make him the best known to the general public. An important theme in his paintings were the fish, turtles and lobsters that he studied extensively in the Aquarium of the Amsterdam zoo Artis.
Dijsselhof was the youngest member of a farming family with fourteen children. His cradle was located in Zwollekerspel, a former municipality located around the city of Zwolle. The family lived very withdrawn. His parents were well-read and had a broad interest in science and culture. At the primary school, his drawing and painting talent was discovered by the master, who introduced Dijsselhof to Jacob Eduard van Heemskerck van Beest. The former naval officer, who lived near the Dijsselhof family, was a well-known marine painter and would teach Dijsselhof for a year. On the advice of Van Heemskerck - and with the permission of his father - Dijsselhof went to The Hague to study at the Academy of Visual Arts. He then attended the National School of Applied Arts and the National Normal School for Drawing Education in Amsterdam. There Dijsselhof met the artists Theo Nieuwenhuis, Lambertus Zijl and Joseph Mendes de la Costa with whom he founded the artists' association Labor et Arte. Developments in the visual arts were discussed with other young Amsterdam artists such as Isaac Israels and Jan Veth. Dijsselhof was a supporter of the ideas of the English Arts and Crafts movement, a social movement and a movement in applied art in the second half of the 19th century. At the same time, similar movements started in various European countries - Jugendstil in Germany and Art Nouveau in France. The Dutch branch of that movement would be called Nieuwe Kunst, with Dijsselhof as one of the most important representatives.
Dijsselhof was committed to honest craftsmanship and detested the ugliness and soullessness of machine-made utensils. 'Look around and see how soulless everything is.' According to him, only efficiency and decoration resulting from the nature of the material used could lead to beauty. He has pursued this ideal for much of his life, practicing new skills such as wood carving, batik and furniture and letter design. His main source of inspiration was plants and animals, which he also used as ornaments for his chairs, screens and wall decorations. He used the woodcut, a forgotten printing technique, to decorate diplomas and books. With Carel Adolph Lion Cachet he experimented with the batik technique from Indonesia. Dijsselhof also designed entire interiors, often with decorated strings made in batik. He applied much of what Dijsselhof had learned in the design for the living room of the Amsterdam physician W. van Hoorn. This 'Dijsselhof room' - a Gesamtkunstwerk - can still be visited in the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (the former Gemeentemuseum).
In a special for them by art dealer E.J. furniture workshop founded by Wisselingh & Co, Lion Cachet - decorative artist / book cover designer - furniture designer Theo Nieuwenhuis and Dijsselhof worked on designing and creating complete interiors. These interiors, for which the three designed furniture, fabrics, wall paneling, clocks and lighting, stood out because the decorations were innovative. They are among the most beautiful that New Art has produced in the Netherlands.
From his apprenticeship at the Applied Arts School, Dijsselhof already came to Artis to draw animals to model there. But most of all he could be found at the Aquarium, a novelty in those days, to capture the fairytale underwater world of the fish there. When Dijsselhof released his first fish paintings in 1891, people were immediately enthusiastic and sold within a few days, especially to fellow artists such as Hendrik Willem Mesdag and George Hendrik Breitner. After his academy time, Dijsselhof mainly focused on his work as a decorative artist in the furniture workshop. But there came a time when the assignments failed to materialize and the exclusive artisan workshop became a financial fiasco. Only the work of Dijsselhof's wife, the needle artist Willie Dijsselhof-Keuchenius, who painted with 'the needle' was in great demand.