De Stijl: a radical and avant-garde influence

Three years ago, the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands celebrated the centenary of the creation of the De Stijl movement (‘The Style’ in Dutch). An artistic and avant-garde movement founded in 1917 by the painter, architect and art theorist Theo van Doesburg, De Stijl influenced the architecture and urbanism of the twentieth century and breathed new life into painting with the desire to create an abstract and codified language, whose great figure was Piet Mondrian. The movement was born in Holland, and its representatives, painters, architects, sculptors and poets, contemporaries of the Bauhaus School, spread their ideas over a period of fifteen years, in search of a universal harmony integrating all the arts. Their desire: to destroy the “baroque”, i.e. the desire to do away with decorative architecture by using “pure” colours and forms. A look back at an unusual adventure and its protagonists…

The initiator of this movement, Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), was a painter by training and expressed himself in a naturalist style naturalist style until 1915. A major encounter was to change his aesthetic and intellectual vision and intellectual vision of the major arts. In 1915, he discovered the work of of his compatriot Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). This was a shock to a painting that was no longer no longer figurative and already abstract. Mondrian, who had discovered the bold cubism of of Picasso and Braque, gradually turned to abstract art, then in full bloom

Tableau n°2, composition n°VII, huile sur toile de Piet Mondrian, 1913. Mondrian exprime déjà à cette époque une peinture abstraite.
Painting No. 2, Composition No. VII, oil on canvas by Piet Mondrian, 1913. Mondrian was already expressing abstract painting at this time

For his part, Piet Mondrian was inspired by a painting by his compatriot Bart van der Leck (1876-1958), The Tempest (1916), which already followed some of the precepts of what would become the De Stijl manifesto. In particular, Piet Mondrian had the idea of reducing the colours of his next paintings to the three primary colours (red, yellow, blue) that appeared in van der Leck’s painting (in addition to black). He defined what he called neoplasticism, the practice of abstract, austere and geometric art.

In 1917, Theo van Doesburg officially founded De Stijl with Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck, but also with the Hungarian painter and designer Vilmos Huszár (1884-1960), the Belgian artist and sculptor Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965), the Dutch architects Robert van’ t Hoff (1887-1979), Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud (J.J.P. Oud, 1890-1963), Jan Wils (1891-1972), and the poet and writer Antony Kok (1892-1969). In doing so, Van Doesburg launched the group’s manifesto magazine, De Stijl, which lasted until his death in 1931, a year that marked the end of the De Stijl adventure.

Revue De Stijl, 1ère de couverture avec la reproduction d’une œuvre de Theo van Doesburg : Composition 17 (1917), Septembre 1921.
De Stijl magazine,front cover with a reproduction of a work by Theo van Doesburg: Composition 17 (1917), September 1921
 Composition de Vilmos Huszár pour la revue De Stijl.
Composition by Vilmos Huszár for De Stijl magazine
 Sculpture de Georges Vantongerloo, acajou peint, Composition émanante de l’ovoïde, 1917.
Sculpture by Georges Vantongerloo, painted mahogany, Composition emanating from the ovoid, 1917

What guiding principle(s) did the do the actors of the movement claim? They wanted to build a total work of art, via a multidisciplinary approach in the search for an art that art that could intervene in all aspects of life. In concrete terms, their ideas are manifested in the unique use of ‘pure’ colours (blue, (blue, yellow, red) and non-colours (white, grey, black), applied in a flat (uniform colour and luminosity); the use of lines and colour combinations on combinations of colours on flat surfaces, the exclusive use of straight and orthogonal lines orthogonal lines, shapes limited to rectangles and squares, and a space and a space made dynamic by the play of diagonals

Huile sur toile de Piet Mondrian, Composition en Rouge, Jaune, Bleu et Noir, 1921. Un des tableaux les plus connus de Mondrian qui illustre à merveille le style « De Stijl » !
Oil on canvas by Piet Mondrian, Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue and Black, 1921. One of Mondrian’s best-known paintings and a perfect example of the ‘De Stijl’ style!
Huile sur toile de Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Composition of Dissonances, XVI, 1925.
Oil on canvas by Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Composition of Dissonances, XVI, 1925
Huile sur toile de Theo van Doesburg, Simultaneous Counter Composition, 1929.
Oil on canvas by Theo van Doesburg, Simultaneous Counter Composition, 1929.

The rules laid down by the De Stijl movement were to influence the Bauhaus style, the international style in architecture, and even major personalities of the time such as Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens. Thus, in 1921, Theo van Doesburg organised a course on De Stijl’s theories (“Stijl-Kursus”) outside the Bauhaus, at the request of students and teachers. The architects Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were attracted by the ideas of the movement, which wanted to combine the plastic arts with architecture, graphics, typography and design in order to improve the living environment of modern man

Fauteuil en lattes de bois ti 1a, conception Marcel Breuer, 1924. Marcel Breuer, célèbre architecte et designer de renommée internationale et professeur au Bauhaus dans les années 20, s’inspire pour ce modèle aux formes géométriques des idées de De Stijl, et notamment d’un de ses plus fameux représentant : Gerrit Rietveld.
Wooden slatted armchair ti 1a, designed by Marcel Breuer, 1924. Marcel Breuer, a famous architect and designer of international renown and a professor at the Bauhaus in the 1920s, was inspired for this geometrically shaped model by the ideas of De Stijl, and in particular by one of its most famous representatives: Gerrit Rietveld.

If Theo van Doesburg is the theorist and animator of the movement through the De Stijl magazine, and And Piet Mondrian its most famous representative for his painting which sublimates reality sublimates reality by the sheer force of geometric lines and 3 primary colours, the third third important figure of the movement is Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). This designer, architect and cabinetmaker from Utrecht, like van Doesburg, produced buildings and buildings and furniture in the 1920s in line with the theories developed by De Stijl

In 1918, when he knew nothing about the the Dutch avant-garde, Gerrit Rietveld designed the Red and Blue Chair and Blue chair. In 1919 he met the creators of the movement and joined it 5 years later in 1923, he applied the principles of De Stijl by lacquering the seat with the 3 lacquering the seat with the three fundamental colours. True to the minimalism advocated by by De Stijl, the Red and Blue chair became a major piece of the movement and is considered today to be one of the most emblematic pieces of 20th century pieces of 20th century design. It redefined modernity for the time modernity

La légendaire Chaise Rouge et bleue de Gerrit Rietveld (1918-1923). Elle figure aujourd’hui en bonne place sur le catalogue de l’éditeur Cassina, dans la collection « Des Maîtres ».
The legendary Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld (1918-1923). It is now featured prominently in the Cassina catalogue, in the “Masters” collection.
Chaise Berlin, design Gerrit Rietveld, 1923.
Berlin chair, design by Gerrit Rietveld, 1923
Une autre création emblématique de Gerrit Rietveld : la fameuse chaise Zig-Zag (1932-1934). Une forme minimaliste pour une assise fonctionnelle car étonnamment stable, une économie de moyens poussée à l’extrême.
Another emblematic creation by Gerrit Rietveld: the famous Zig-Zag chair (1932-1934). A minimalist form for a functional seat that is surprisingly stable, an economy of means taken to the extreme.
Table d'appoint en bois peint, conçue en 1923 par Gerrit Rietveld pour la maison Schröder, Utrecht, fabriqué par G. A. van de Groenekan.
Side table in painted wood, designed in 1923 by Gerrit Rietveld for the Schröder company, Utrecht, manufactured by G. A. van de Groenekan.

In 1924 Gerrit Rietveld was commissioned by Truus Schröder, a pharmacist and De Stijl member, to design her house, which became the Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht. Gerrit Rietveld applied the principles of De Stijl to the house. The project is an asymmetrical assembly of simple elements enhanced by the primary colours blue, red and yellow. Rietveld sought to create a synthesis of the arts between painting, sculpture and architecture. He uses the straight line and the right angle, and creates modular living spaces in the manner of a Mondrian painting. The windows are large openings facing outwards to let the interior space bathe in light.

Maison Schröder, plans et conception de Gerrit Rietveld, 1924. Propriété du Centraal Museum, le musée d’art d’Utrecht, le bâtiment a été inscrit par l'UNESCO en 2000 sur la liste du patrimoine mondial.
Schröder House, plans and design by Gerrit Rietveld, 1924. Owned by the Centraal Museum, the art museum of Utrecht, the building was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List in 2000.
Autre vue de la Maison Schröder. –  'Picture by Hay Kranen / CC-BY'
Another view of the Schröder House . – Picture by Hay Kranen / CC-BY
 Détail des fenêtres de la Maison Schröder qui ne s’ouvrent que dans une seule position :  90° par rapport à la façade. –  'Picture by  Sailko'
Detail of the windows of the Schröder House which only open in one position: 90° to the façade. – Picture by Sailko
Intérieur de la Maison Schröder
Interior of the Schröder House

Another architectural achievement style: the renovation of the Aubette on the Place Kléber in Place Kléber in Strasbourg. Jean Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp were responsible for modernise the right wing of the building, which had become a faded leisure centre. They asked their friend Theo van Doesburg to help them design the interior of the building the interior of the building. Van Doesburg and the Arps agreed to to create a harmonious whole according to the rules of De Stijl. The construction work, which from 1926 to 1928, resulting in a new kind of leisure complex new kind of leisure complex…

Salle du Ciné-bal de l’Aubette. Les compositions au plafond et les murs de la salle ont été exécutées en relief. Les décors géométriques ont été réalisés par van Doesburg. Les fenêtres, les portes et tous les autres éléments reflètent une orthogonalité voulue. –  'Picture by  Claude Truong-Ngoc'
The Aubette’s Cine-Ball room. The compositions on the ceiling and walls of the hall were executed in relief. The geometric decorations were made by van Doesburg. The windows, doors and all other elements reflect a deliberate orthogonality. – Picture by Claude Truong-Ngoc
 Salle du Ciné-bal de l’Aubette, vue de l’Est. Le Ciné-Bal est classé monument historique en 1985.  –  'Picture by  Claude Truong-Ngoc'
The Aubette’s Cine-Ball, seen from the east. The Ciné-Bal was classified as a historical monument in 1985. – Picture by Claude Truong-Ngoc
Salle des fêtes de l’Aubette. Un quadrillage géométrique de l’espace saisissant ! L’aménagement intérieur du centre de loisirs a été redécouvert dans les années 70. La Salle des fêtes est classée monument historique en 1989.  –  'Picture by  Claude Truong-Ngoc'
The Aubette’s festival hall. A striking geometric grid of space! The interior of the leisure centre was rediscovered in the 1970s. The village hall was listed as a historical monument in 1989. – Picture by Claude Truong-Ngoc
L’escalier d’accès au 1er étage, une œuvre géométrique à part entière...
The staircase to thefirst floor, a geometrical work in its own right…

A realist and somewhat utopian manifesto, De Stijl was gradually fragmented by theoretical disagreements and disappeared with the death of Theo van Doesburg. The fact remains that for its time, De Stijl was terribly modern, announcing the victory of the international style. In any case, De Stijl continues to fascinate art and design enthusiasts, and still influences contemporary designers.

François Boutard