“We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a colour, a surface.” Synopsis The Netherlands-based De Stijl movement embraced an abstract, pared-down aesthetic centred in basic visual elements such as geometric forms and primary colours.

Source: De Stijl Movement, Artists and Major Works

One of the most important art movements of the 20th century – De Stijl which originated in The Netherlands during the darkest period of World War 1 and has wielded a considerable influence on avant-garde art and design.

Piet Mondrian Pier and Ocean 1914
Piet Mondrian Pier and Ocean 1914

It was De Stijl which in Dutch means simply “The Style,” that established the convention of orthogonal (right-handed) form and the banishment of all but primary colours (red, yellow and blue plus black, white and grey) as the aesthetic staples of abstract painting and the use of geometrical modules and primary colours in architectural and interior design. These radical innovations in the very concept of painting and architecture proved to have far-reaching consequences in virtually every sphere of visual culture.

It was primarily in painting, and most especially in the paintings of Mondrian and van Doesburg that the movement had its aesthetic beginnings and yet the origins of De Stijl are not easily separated from the architectural ferment of the period. Whereas the painters derived their impetus from Cubism, which they set out to simplify and rationalize into a system of strict geometrical form and pure colour. The architects derived their inspiration from among other sources the early work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which placed a similar emphasis on geometrical rigour.

From the outset of the movement there were disagreements about the priority to be given to one or another of its varied interests. Mondrian, by far the greatest of the painters in the group, appears to have had little interest in architecture, for example and another early convert to De Stijl painter Bart van der Leck, soon recoiled from the emphasis placed on absolute abstraction and promptly defected.

It was van Doesburg, a painter, designer and writer of remarkable talent and energy, who was largely responsible for galvanizing De Stijl’s diverse Interests and differing points of view into a coherent program, and it was he who in 1917 founded the magazine that gave the movement Its name. It was also van Doesburg who spread the word of De Stijl’s ideas and activities to other avant-garde enclaves, establishing contacts with Dadaists, Constructivists and other groups In the 1920s.

Theo van DoesburgComposition VII (the three graces) 1917

The spirit of De Stijl was at once very Idealistic and very practical. Toward the war-ravaged world It observed at the outset of the movement, De Stijl adopted what was Indeed a Utopian attitude, and yet it addressed itself to the workaday, business of redesigning the modern urban environment with Impressive energy, adaptability and Imagination.

If in the end De Stijl remained as divided as it had been at the outset, with the painters (especially Mondrian) opting for perfection while the architects and designers accommodated themselves to more mundane realities, this had more to do with the natures of their respective media than with the philosophy of the movement. In both spheres De Stijl had a powerful impact on the whole course of the modern movement.

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