De Stijl
Dutch Abstract Art Group Founded by Theo Van Doesburg.

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Composition With Blue And Yellow,
(1932) Philadelphia Museum Of Art
by Piet Mondrian, one of the
leading abstract painters and
the creator of several of the
greatest 20th century paintings
of the abstract idiom..

De Stijl (1917-31)
History, Characteristics of Neo-Plasticism, Elementarism

De Stijl (meaning, the style) was a casual organization of Dutch painters, architects and sculptors, as well as the journal which the group used to propagate their ideas on abstract art and design. De Stijl was founded and dominated by Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931); its leading members included Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), the Utrecht painter and designer Bart van der Leck (1876-1958), the Antwerp sculptor Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965) and German painter Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (1899-1962), as well as the architects Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) and J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963). To begin with, De Stijl promoted Mondrian's artistic concept of Neo-Plasticism, but from 1921 onwards Van Doesburg also promoted Dada ideas and a revised form of Neo-Plasticism known as Elementarism. This led to Mondrian's departure from the group. One of the more influential of the avant-garde modern art movements, De Stijl had its greatest impact on architectural design - see for instance Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and Mies van de Rohe (1883-1969) - and the applied arts, notably typography and furniture design.

The Rietveld Schroder House
Built in 1924 by Dutch architect
Gerrit Rietveld, for his client
Mrs. Schroder-Schrader, it is the
only known building constructed
entirely according to the design
principles of De Stijl.

For a guide to concrete and
non-objective art, see:
Abstract Paintings: Top 100.
For a list of important styles,
see: Abstract Art Movements.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For the chronology and dates
of key events in the evolution
of visual arts around the world
see: History of Art Timeline.

For details of the best modern
artists, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters (1830-2010)
20th Century Painters (1900-2000)

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.

History of Formation

De Stijl was the brainchild of the Dutch painter, designer, writer, and critic Theo van Doesburg. While serving in the army, he encountered Mondrian's paintings, in which he saw his ideal. He then met him at an exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and, after many discussions, they formed the De Stijl art group. At the same time they also founded the De Stijl journal, edited by Van Doesburg, to which Mondrian contributed numerous articles. Although its circulation rarely exceeded 300 copies per issue, its readership was influential within artistic circles and widespread.

Membership of De Stijl rose quickly. In addition to those listed above, other artists who were members of, or associated with, De Stijl include the painters Vilmos Huszar (1884–1960), Amedee Ozenfant (1886–1966), Marlow Moss (1890–1958), Jean Gorin (1899–1981), Jean Helion (1904-87), Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965), Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981), and Max Bill (1908–1994), and the architects Robert van 't Hoff (1887–1979), Jan Wils (1891–1972), and Cornelis van Eesteren (1897–1981).

All signed the De Stijl manifesto which committed them to the theory of Neo-Plasticism, as developed by Mondrian. The group were also influenced by a variety of other elements, including Picasso and Braque's Cubism, Tatlin's Constructivism and Malevich's Suprematism, theoretical works such as The New Image of the World (1915) and Principles of Plastic Mathematics (1916) by M.H.J. Schoenmaekers, and of course the architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).


Neo-Plasticism - Characteristics

Neo-Plasticism ("new art" ) is grounded in the idea that the true purpose of art is not to reproduce real objects, but to express the absolutes of life: see, non-objective art. Mondrian explained his theory of Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art (De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst) in the first dozen or so issues of the journal De Stijl. In 1920, he published a book entitled Le Neo-Plasticisme. His aim was to promulgate a new design-paradigm of harmony and order, by reducing all art to essentials of form and colour. Rejecting naturalistic art, he wrote: "this new art will find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour". His Neo-Plasticism was an ideal type of abstract art which could only be expressed in the purest of forms. Thus only squares and rectangles, and only straight horizontal or vertical lines could be used; while only primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and the three primary values (white, black and grey) could be applied.

In painting, these principles are exemplified in Van Doesburg's Arithmetische Compositie (1924), Neo-Plasticism - Composition VII (1917) and in Mondrian's Composition A (1929), Composition With Blue And Yellow (1932), and Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red (1937–42). In architecture, Neo-plasticism is best illustrated by the Rietveld Schroder House and, in furniture, by the Red and Blue Chair.

Developments in De Stijl

Problems arose within the group from 1921, as Van Doesburg began devoting more time to the Bauhaus Design School - founded by Walter Gropius - and the Russian Constructivists. In addition, he befriended the Hanover Dada artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), with whom he toured Holland in 1922, promoting the Dada message. He also accepted theoretical articles for the magazine from Dadaists like Schwitters, Tristan Tzara (1896-1963), Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971), and Jean Arp (1886-1966), and edited a Dadaist/ Constructivist publication (a supplement to De Stijl magazine) entitled Mecano. The fact that he wrote under a pseudonym failed to calm his critics within the group. In 1924 Mondrian broke with the group when Van Doesburg relaxed the Neo-Plasticist doctrine specifying only horizontal/vertical axes, and permitted the use of diagonal lines in his new theory of Elementarism. By this stage, however, Van Doesburg had succeeded in upsetting many other members, which led to widespread fragmentation in the group and a total lack of cohesion. Nevertheless, De Stijl continued to exert influence within The Netherlands and Germany. In 1930, Van Doesburg issued his Manifesto of Concrete Art, but died the following year. Even after his death, a new abstract style known as Art Concrete evolved out of the remnants of De Stijl and the Futurists.


Although it is fair to say that De Stijl's impact was greatest on the theory (rather than the practice) of modern art, it had significant influence on the development of geometric painting, as well as architecture and applied art. This influence is seen most clearly in the work of the Bauhaus Design School and in the International style of modern architecture, which was taken up by numerous American architects under the influence of ex-Bauhaus designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who emigrated to Chicago. For more information, see: American Architecture (1600-present).


Works by De Stijl artists can be seen in several of the world's best art museums, notably MoMA in New York, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Centraal Museum of Utrecht. The latter holds the largest Rietveld collection in the world.

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