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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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…
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.