Hello folks, our journey in modern art history resumes, and this time will review the De Stilj (or neoplasticism) movement!
De Stijl, Dutch for “The Style”, also known as neoplasticism, was a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917. In a narrower sense, the term De Stijl is used to refer to a body of work from 1917 to 1931 founded in the Netherlands.
From the flurry of new art movements that followed the Impressionists’ revolutionary new perception of painting, Cubism arose in the early 20th century as an important and influential new direction. In the Netherlands, too, there was interest in this “new art.”
However, because the Netherlands remained neutral in World War I, Dutch artists were not able to leave the country after 1914 and were thus effectively isolated from the international art world—and in particular, from Paris, which was its centre at that time.
During that period, painter Theo van Doesburg started looking for other artists to set up a journal and start an art movement. Van Doesburg was also a writer, poet, and critic, who had been more successful writing about art than working as an independent artist. Quite adept at making new contacts due to his flamboyant personality and outgoing nature, he had many useful connections in the art world.
The artistic philosophy that formed a basis for the group’s work is known as neoplasticism — the new plastic art (or Nieuwe Beelding in Dutch).
Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white.
Indeed, according to the Tate Gallery’s online article on neoplasticism, Mondrian himself sets forth these delimitations in his essay ‘Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art’. He writes,
… this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.
The Tate article further summarizes that this art allows “only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical line.”
The Guggenheim Museum’s online article on De Stijl summarizes these traits in similar terms:
It [De Stijl] was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines.
The name De Stijl is supposedly derived from Gottfried Semper’s Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik (1861–3), which Curl suggests was mistakenly believed to advocate materialism and functionalism. In general, De Stijl proposed ultimate simplicity and abstraction, both in architecture and painting, by using only straight horizontal and vertical lines and rectangular forms. Furthermore, their formal vocabulary was limited to the primary colours, red, yellow, and blue, and the three primary values, black, white, and grey. The works avoided symmetry and attained aesthetic balance by the use of opposition. This element of the movement embodies the second meaning of stijl: “a post, jamb or support”; this is best exemplified by the construction of crossing joints, most commonly seen in carpentry.
In many of the group’s three-dimensional works, vertical and horizontal lines are positioned in layers or planes that do not intersect, thereby allowing each element to exist independently and unobstructed by other elements. This feature can be found in the Rietveld Schröder House and the Red and Blue Chair.
De Stijl was influenced by Cubist painting as well as by the mysticism and the ideas about “ideal” geometric forms (such as the “perfect straight line”) in the neoplatonic philosophy of mathematician M.H.J. Schoenmaekers. The works of De Stijl would influence the Bauhaus style and the international style of architecture as well as clothing and interior design.
However, it did not follow the general guidelines of an “ism” (Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism), nor did it adhere to the principles of art schools like the Bauhaus; it was a collective project, a joint enterprise.
In music, De Stijl was an influence only on the work of composer Jakob van Domselaer, a close friend of Mondrian. Between 1913 and 1916, he composed his Proeven van Stijlkunst(Experiments in Artistic Style), inspired mainly by Mondrian’s paintings. This minimalistic—and, at the time, revolutionary—music defined “horizontal” and “vertical” musical elements and aimed at balancing those two principles. Van Domselaer was relatively unknown in his lifetime, and did not play a significant role within the De Stijl group.
Works by De Stijl members are scattered all over the world, but DeStijl themed exhibitions are organised regularly.
Museums with large De Stijl collections include the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (which owns the world’s most extensive, although not exclusively De Stijl-related, Mondrian collection) and the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, where many works by Rietveld and Van Doesburg are on display.
The Centraal Museum of Utrecht has the largest Rietveld collection worldwide; it also owns the Rietveld Schröder House, Rietveld’s adjacent “show house,” and the Rietveld Schröder Archives.
De Stijl Artists
This list is not exhaustive. Because of the loose associations many artists had with De Stijl, it is difficult to get a complete overview of contributors.
- Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981), painter and sculptor.
- Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965), painter.
- Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931), painter, designer, and writer; published De Stijl, 1917–1931.
- Cornelis van Eesteren (1897–1981), architect.
- Jean Gorin (1899–1981), painter.
- Robert van ‘t Hoff (1887–1979), architect.
- Vilmos Huszár (1884–1960), painter.
- Anthony Kok (1882–1969), poet.
- Bart van der Leck (1876–1958), painter.
- Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), painter.
- Marlow Moss (1890–1958), painter and sculptor.
- J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963), architect.
- Gerrit Rietveld (1888–1964), architect and designer.
- Georges Vantongerloo (1886–1965), sculptor.
- Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, painter.
- Jan Wils (1891–1972), architect.
Hope you enjoyed the article as much as i did compiling the info and the images! See you next time!