De Stijl

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De Stijl
Theo van Doesburg, Composition VII (the three graces) 1917
Theo van Doesburg, Composition VII (the three graces), 1917
Years active1917–1931
LocationThe Netherlands
Major figuresTheo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Gerrit Rietveld, J.J.P. Oud, Bart van der Leck

De Stijl (/də ˈstl/; Dutch pronunciation: [də ˈstɛil], Dutch for "The Style"), incorporating the ideas of Neoplasticism, was a Dutch art movement founded in 1917 in Leiden, consisting of artists and architects.[1] The term De Stijl is also used to refer to a body of work from 1917 to 1931 created in the Netherlands.[2][3] Proponents of De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour. They simplified visual compositions to vertical and horizontal, using only black, white and primary colors.

De Stijl is also the name of a journal—published by the Dutch painter, designer, writer, and critic Theo van Doesburg—that propagated the group's theories. Along with van Doesburg, the group's principal members were the painters Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszár, Bart van der Leck, the architects Gerrit Rietveld, Robert van 't Hoff, the sculptor and painter Georges Vantongerloo, the architect J. J. P. Oud and the writer Anthony Kok. 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).

According to van Doesburg in the introduction of the De Stijl, the movement was a reaction to the Dutch expressionist architecture of the Amsterdam School movement.

Principles and influences[edit]

Mondrian sets forth the delimitations of Neoplasticism in his essay "Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art".[4] 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". With these constraints, his art allows only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical lines.[5] The De Stijl movement posited 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.[6]

De Stijl November 1921, Dadaism
De Stijl Manifesto I, November 1918

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[3] suggests was mistakenly believed to advocate materialism and functionalism. The "plastic vision" of De Stijl artists, also called Neo-Plasticism, saw itself as reaching beyond the changing appearance of natural things to bring an audience into intimate contact with an immutable core of reality, a reality that was not so much a visible fact as an underlying spiritual vision.[7] 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.

Red and Blue Chair, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, version without colors 1919, version with colors 1923

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.

The Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht, 1924 – the only building realised completely according to the principles of De Stijl.

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 M. H. J. Schoenmaekers. The De Stijl movement was also influenced by Neopositivism.[8] 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" (e.g., 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 De Stijl.


Early history[edit]

From the flurry of new art movements that followed the Impressionist 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 then.

During that period, 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.[9] Quite adept at making new contacts due to his flamboyant personality and outgoing nature, he had many useful connections in the art world.

Founding of De Stijl[edit]

Piet Mondrian, Composition en couleur A, 1917, Kröller-Müller Museum

Around 1915, Van Doesburg started meeting the artists who would eventually become the founders of the journal. He first met Piet Mondrian at an exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Mondrian, who had moved to Paris in 1912 (and there, changed his name from "Mondriaan"), had been visiting the Netherlands when war broke out. He could not return to Paris, and was staying in the artists' community of Laren, where he met Bart van der Leck and regularly saw M. H. J. Schoenmaekers. In 1915, Schoenmaekers published Het nieuwe wereldbeeld ("The New Worldview"), followed in 1916 by Beginselen der beeldende wiskunde ("Principles of Visual Mathematics"). These two publications would greatly influence Mondrian and other members of De Stijl.

Van Doesburg also knew J. J. P. Oud and the Hungarian artist Vilmos Huszár. In 1917 the cooperation of these artists, together with the poet Antony Kok, resulted in the founding of De Stijl. The young architect Gerrit Rietveld joined the group in 1918. At its height De Stijl had 100 members and the journal had a circulation of 300.[10]

During those first few years, the group was still relatively homogeneous, although Van der Leck left in 1918 due to artistic differences of opinion. Manifestos were being published, signed by all members. The social and economic circumstances of the time formed an important source of inspiration for their theories, and their ideas about architecture were heavily influenced by Hendrik Petrus Berlage and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Theo van Doesburg (r) and Cornelis van Eesteren (l) in their studio in Paris, 1923
Van Doesburg and Rietveld interior, c.1919, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The name Nieuwe Beelding was a term first coined in 1917 by Mondrian, who wrote a series of twelve articles called De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst ("Neo-Plasticism in Painting") that were published in the journal De Stijl. In 1920 he published a book titled Le Néo-Plasticisme.[11]

After 1920[edit]

Around 1921, the group's character started to change. From the time of van Doesburg's association with Bauhaus, other influences started playing a role. These influences were mainly Malevich and Russian Constructivism, to which not all members agreed. In 1924 Mondrian broke with the group after van Doesburg proposed the theory of elementarism, suggesting that a diagonal line is more vital than horizontal and vertical ones. In addition, the De Stijl group acquired many new "members". Dadaist influences, such as I. K. Bonset's poetry and Aldo Camini's "antiphilosophy" generated controversy as well. Only after Van Doesburg's death was it revealed that Bonset and Camini were two of his pseudonyms.

After van Doesburg's death[edit]

Theo van Doesburg, activities in Weimar (outside the Bauhaus Weimar 1919–1925). Private courses, introduction of the Cubist architecture of "De Stijl", 1921–1922. Retrospective in Landesmuseum Weimar, 16 December 1923 – 23 January 1924

Theo van Doesburg died in Davos, Switzerland, in 1931. His wife, Nelly, administered his estate. Because of van Doesburg's pivotal role within De Stijl, the group did not survive. Individual members remained in contact, but De Stijl could not exist without a strong central character. Thus, it may be wrong to think of De Stijl as a close-knit group of artists. The members knew each other, but most communication took place by letter. For example, Mondrian and Rietveld never met in person.

Many, though not all, artists did stay true to the movement's basic ideas, even after 1931. Rietveld, for instance, continued designing furniture according to De Stijl principles, while Mondrian continued working in the style he had initiated around 1920. Van der Leck, on the other hand, went back to figurative compositions after his departure from the group.

Aubette dance hall in Strasbourg, Theo van Doesburg in collaboration with Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Arp, 1929

Influence on architecture[edit]

The De Stijl influence on architecture remained considerable long after its inception; Mies van der Rohe was among the most important proponents of its ideas. Between 1923 and 1924, Rietveld designed the Rietveld Schröder House, the only building to have been created completely according to De Stijl principles. Examples of Stijl-influenced works by J.J.P. Oud can be found in Rotterdam (Café De Unie [nl]) and Hook of Holland. Other examples include the Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames, and the interior decoration for the Aubette dance hall in Strasbourg, designed by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Jean Arp and van Doesburg.

Present day[edit]

Works by De Stijl members are scattered all over the world, but De Stijl-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 Amsterdam's 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.

The movement inspired the design aesthetics of Rumyantsevo and Salaryevo stations of Moscow Metro opened in 2016.[12][13]


See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Linduff, David G. Wilkins, Bernard Schultz, Katheryn M. (1994). Art past, art present (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. pp. 523. ISBN 978-0-13-062084-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "De Stijl". Tate Glossary. The Tate. Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 31 July 2006.
  3. ^ a b Curl, James Stevens (2006). A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (Paperback) (Second ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860678-9.
  4. ^ Mondrian, Piet. "The New Plastic in Painting" in The New Art - The New Life: the collected writings of Piet Mondrian. Thames and Hudson. pp. 27–74. Retrieved 14 April 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ Tate. "Neo-plasticism – Art Term – Tate".
  6. ^ "The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum-Guggenheim] Collection Online: De Stijl". Archived from the original on 29 April 2014.
  7. ^ Denker, Susan A. (September 1982). "De Stijl: 1917–1931, Visions of Utopia". Art Journal. 42 (3): 242–246. doi:10.1080/00043249.1982.10792803.
  8. ^ Linduff, David G. Wilkins, Bernard Schultz, Katheryn M. (1994). Art past, art present (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. p. 523. ISBN 978-0-13-062084-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Theo van Doesburg (1918). Translated by Janet Seligman; Introd. by Hans M. Wingler; Postscript by H.L.C. Jaffé (eds.). Grundbegriffe der Neuen Gestaltenden Kunst (Grondbeginselen der Nieuwe beeldende Kunst [Principles of Neo-Plastic Art]) (in German, Dutch, and English). London, UK: Lund Humphries (1968). ISBN 978-0853311041.
  10. ^ Dujardin, Alain; Quirindongo, Jop (26 January 2017). "This 100-Year-Old Dutch Movement Shaped Web Design Today". Backchannel (blog). Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  11. ^ Piet Mondrian, Le Néo-Plasticisme, Principe Général de l'Equivalence Plastique, Paris, 1920, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg
  12. ^ "Marble and Mondrian: a tour of Moscow metro". DW. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Type design for Rumyantsevo Moscow Metro station". Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  14. ^ "Ilya Bolotowsky". Sullivan Goss. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Burgoyne Diller". Sullivan Goss. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b c "de Stijl". 28 December 2008. Archived from the original on 5 April 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  17. ^ "Robert Van 'T Hoff in The Kröller-Müller Museum". Het Nieuwe Instituut. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  18. ^ "Vilmos huszar De Stijl". MoMA. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  19. ^ "AD Classics: Endless House / Friedrick Kiesler". ArchDaily. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  20. ^ White, Michael (20 September 2003). De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-7190-6162-2.
  21. ^ Hauffe, Thomas (1998). Design (Reprinted ed.). London: Laurence King. p. 71. ISBN 9781856691345. OCLC 40406039.
  22. ^ Gottfried, Schlütersche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG. "Spaces for the Permanent Collection -". Hannover.
  23. ^ White, Michael (20 September 2003). De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-7190-6162-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blotkamp, Carel, ed. (1982). De beginjaren van De Stijl 1917–1922. Utrecht: Reflex.
  • Blotkamp, Carel, ed. (1996). De vervolgjaren van De Stijl 1922–1932. Amsterdam: Veen.
  • Jaffé, H. L. C. (1956). De Stijl, 1917–1931, The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art (1st ed.). Amsterdam: J.M. Meulenhoff.
  • Janssen, Hans; White, Michael (2011). The Story of De Stijl. Lund Humphries. ISBN 978-1-84822-094-2.
  • Overy, Paul (1969). De Stijl (1st ed.). London: Studio Vista.
  • White, Michael (2003). De Stijl and Dutch Modernism. Manchester [etc]: Manchester University Press.

External links[edit]